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Cultivating a Taste for Moroccan Spice


Q: We spent a few days in Morocco on our vacation and came home enchanted with the colors and patterns, especially the ceramic tiles and hand-woven rugs. My husband thinks they are too "exotic" for our conservative community, but I'd still like to know more about Moroccan style and where to find any in the U.S.

A: Do I have a resource for you! You're not the first Westerners to develop a "craving for Morocco's spicy design mix," as author Maryam Montague puts it. Interior designers have long beaten a path to Morocco, looking for inspiration and new ideas.



In her new book "Marrakesh By Design," expat Maryam recounts how she and her husband became so smitten with the country's saturated colors and exuberant designs that they've ended up building a house and a guest hotel there.

You're looking at a photo of their central great room, with its high ceiling, arched doorways and opening to the inner courtyard, or "riad," as I've just learned to call it.

The centerpieces of the room -- that hexagonal table and vibrant red rug -- could look at-home, even in your "conservative community."  Or if you, like Maryam, are tired of a "world filled with beige interiors," go the whole Marrakesh mile and add that cluster of antique lanterns and famed turquoise pottery from the remote village of Tamegroute. The author thoughtfully includes a shopping section in the back of her book.

Q: In our l880s Victorian, we have a steep, narrow stairwell that runs from the third floor children's rooms down to the kitchen. The Realtor says it used to be the servants' backstairs. A previous owner put in a skylight, but at night the stairs are too dark. We are thinking of hanging a light fixture down the well. What's right for the Victorian period?

A: Whatever sheds enough light for safety's sake. Look for an elongated fixture that's open on top so light pours upward as well as down.
Or you could steal an idea spotted on the recent Hampton House Tour sponsored by the Westhampton Garden Club, Long Island, N.Y., through some of the posh-est real estate in North America.

The old McBride house in the quaint hamlet of Quiogue is a Victorian cottage built as a summer retreat in the1870s. Turreted in front, it harbors a steep servants' stair in back, down which the current owners have hung a long chain with a homemade lighting fixture: a wooden birdcage housing light bulb, instead of a bird. A little metal bird figure swings from the end of the pull-chain.

Other bright ideas collected on the biennial House Tour are:

-- A traditional white Murano-glass chandelier hung from the "porch-blue" painted ceiling in the drop-dead contemporary house designed for himself by architect Stuart Disston.

-- The renaissance of interest in pocket doors, those staples of Victorian-era parlors, are now showing up in remodeled and contemporary houses.

-- Ditto a return of classic Scandinavian modern furniture, back from the '60s, mercifully still minus rya rugs, although a flokati occasional floats in.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design. 

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