Moroccan Interiors by Lisa Lovatt-Smith
I grew up in a Spanish California house, a style of architecture that was popular in Los Angeles before World War Two: a languid old home with rounded arches, thick stucco walls, a wrought-iron banister alongside the staircase to the second floor, and a red tiled roof that summoned up an image of the sun-drenched Mediterranean. It is a style that is no longer popular; today homes like this are being torn down right and left to make room for more modern stuff — or call it post-modern, or Rodeo Drive Renaissance, or any of the other number of mongrel styles that make up Los Angeles.
Personally, I love the old Spanish homes of California and regret their slow demise. It is an architectural style in which there is sleepy, static peacefulness, a sense of time arriving at a well-needed siesta, an idea of a home as a quiet refuge from a frantic world. When I was a child, I didn’t realize that the origin of this aesthetic was North Africa, via Spain — a long trek from Morocco to Los Angeles, with a few modifications along the way, such as the two-car garage. My wife recently brought home a coffee table-sized book full of gorgeous color photographs called “Moroccan Interiors,” by Lisa Lovatt-Smith in which I found the platonic blueprint, so to speak, of my childhood dream.
“Moroccan Interiors” is published by the German company, Taschen, and is part of a series that includes “Paris Interiors” and “Provence Interiors”, with more interiors planned for the future including New York, London, Venice, Mexico, India, the Alps, Tuscany, and even smoggy L.A. With Morocco, at least, the word “interior” is somewhat misleading since we often have a view of lovely gardens, deserts, mountain settings, and seasides too. The hundreds of photographs are in themselves sumptuous and stunning, more like paintings, a bedazzlement of color and form. The text is in English, French, and German — an international pastiche for the jet set.
Morocco, we soon discover, is a place of varied geography with many mutations of style, from palaces to simple peasant homes. The photographs start in the southern part of the country and show us nomadic tents and traditional homes of mud walls with wooden beams holding up the ceilings. Life in these Berber dwellings is lived close to the floor on pillows and multicolored rugs and low tables, yet there is a beauty here that is the foundation for grander things. The basic idea for Arab-Islamic architecture, whether rich or poor, is a floor plan of rooms surrounding an inner courtyard, with no formal frontage onto the street. It is a protective kind of style, hiding the intimacy of one’s domestic life from the outside world; from the street, you see only blank walls and doors. But once inside . . .the courtyards, the luscious gardens, the tranquil beauty of it all is a kind of visual poetry.
In Islam, of course, it is forbidden to represent the human figure, and so Islamic art tends to consist of intricate geometrical patterns, a fact which has greatly influenced their architecture. Fisherman cottages have their own loveliness, but it is in the homes of the wealthy where we get to see geometrical patterns in their full riotous beauty — whether tiled floors, or a line of repeated arches, or gardens planned around an intricate
Nearly half the houses we are allowed to visit in “Moroccan Interiors” belong to foreigners, arty expatriates as well as vacation homes for the international wealthy who spend most of the year in other places. We get to see, for instance. Yves Saint-Laurents’s retreat in Marrakech, which he calls “Villa Oasis” — a green garden with palm trees and a pond surrounded by buildings that are decorated in a combination of Art Deco and Moorish styles. Believe me, you will love his bathroom, not to mention a drawing room fit for any Paris pasha, the entire house a veritable French dream of Orientalism.
The photographs in this book go on and on, one stunning home after another, and a lifestyle that is going to make you drool with envy and want to book passage to North Africa at the first possible instant. “Moroccan Interiors” is the ultimate coffee table book, a fabulous visual treat from start to finish.