Moroccan Furniture: History & Styles

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Ottomans and ogees. Bold colors, rich textures and influences from Africa, Arabia and Europe. What do these things have in common? In this lesson explore history and styles related to Moroccan furniture.

What Is Moroccan Furniture?

We decorate our homes in different ways and many styles influence us.

Have you ever visited a home full of colorful textiles, low stuffed cushions and tables with beautiful decorative carving? You might have been looking at examples of Moroccan furniture.

Moroccan furniture is influenced by art and design from a place called Morocco. The country of Morocco sits on the edge of Northern Africa, with coastlines along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This location means Morocco has long been a crossroads of cultures and religions, combining influences from Africa, Europe and Arabia.

And note, you might see Moroccan style furniture also called souk style. The name refers to a type of marketplace called a souk found in North Africa and the Middle East. Like Morocco itself, and Moroccan furniture, souks are filled with styles, materials and colors.

Colorful woven rugs in a souk in Morocco
souk textiles

History of Moroccan Furniture

Before we explore furniture styles, let's cover some relevant history.

Several cultures played a role in what we today call Moroccan style. They include the Berbers, a desert people from Northern Africa who were merchants and warriors. They tended toward colorful carpets and elaborate wood carving; and the Moors, Arabs who conquered much of Africa, including Morocco, in the 700s, bringing with them the religion of Islam. More on that in a moment.

The Moors later conquered the Iberian Peninsula, which we know as present-day Spain. This brought to Morocco an influx of Roman and Mediterranean influence, because the Romans had ruled the Iberian Peninsula prior to the Moors' arrival. And in the early 20th century, Morocco became a French protectorate (sort of like a colony), allowing other European elements to enter the mix.

Today, the result is Moroccan style, a fascinating mix of elements springing from this diverse history. It's a distinct blend of color, form and pattern that influences architecture, interior design and furniture design.

Moroccan Furniture Styles

Moroccan furniture is informal and colorful. It combines natural materials like wood with colorful fabrics and patterned surfaces.

Moroccan sofas are low to the ground
Moroccan sofa

Couches and sofas are low to the ground, upholstered or covered with materials like wool, silk and velvet. They might have plentiful overstuffed pillows and cushions on them, perhaps even a bolster. A bolster is a long, thick pillow used for support, sometimes placed under a series of other pillows. Cushions may be edged with decorative fringe.

Colorful cushions in a souk in Morocco
Moroccan cushions

In additions to cushions and upholstery, rugs and other decorative textiles are common. Textiles are brightly colored in shades of purples, reds, gold, blue and green, balanced by earth tones like reddish-orange terra cotta. Contrasting them are mirrors, lamps and other accessories with metallic finishes like bronze or brass.

Metal accessories and geometric patterns are common in Moroccan furniture
metal and geometry

Other furniture pieces include ottomans and poufs. An ottoman is a low, overstuffed cushion without a back or arms but with short legs. Sometimes it's also called a hassock. It can serve as a footrest, seat or table. Often it has storage space inside. Several ottomans can be used together as sectional furniture. A pouf is similar but slightly smaller and doesn't have legs. It sits directly on the ground.

Example of a pouf, made of leather

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