If I remember correctly, the history of the Moors was more or less skipped over in my school days. But the Moors' influence throughout antiquity should not be overlooked. Now that I live in southern Spain, of course, I really can’t miss it, especially where architecture, design, and home decorating are concerned.
While antique Spanish furniture is typically a blend of Arab, Gothic, and classical Italian styles, some of the most lasting details -- including the azotea and patio -- came straight from the Moors, who controlled Al-Andalús (as Andalucía was once known) for over 800 years.
The Moorish influence still reigns supreme in modern Spanish décor, especially when it comes to practicality. Here are a few examples to experiment with in tu casa.
This is basically a wooden cabinet, but very characteristic throughout the history of Spanish design. Unlike those made in Italy, which are fitted with secret compartments and elaborately decorated, the Spanish escritorio has a basic box-like shape.
Por tu casa, try this secretary desk from Target.
In the Bedroom
The Spanish Moors were known for their silk or stamped leather tapestries. That might be a bit much for the contemporary bedroom. However, I do rather like the idea of turning the bed into something more luxurious, like the one pictured here draped in linen and dressed with decorative pillows. Also note the use of simple white cloth with ornamental wall fixtures, a kind of tapestry in miniature.
Por tu casa, dress up your bed with a few jewel-colored pillows from West Elm or canopy bedding from Bed Bath & Beyond.
The Signature Piece
The Moorish Spanish did not use very much furniture. One characteristic that I’ve noticed in the homes I’ve visited is that, while they do use much more furniture than their forebears, there is almost always a signature piece that really stands out, usually a bureau or bookshelf made of chestnut, cedar, cypress, or pine.
I asked Angela Conteras, whose decorating sensibilities I’ve always admired, what she would call her signature piece. She had a hard time picking a favorite, but this is one of them, a hand-painted wooden bureau that she found in an antique market.
Por tu casa, try this decorative cabinet from Pier 1 Imports.
El Baño Árabe
The ancient irrigation systems in Spain date back to the 4th century when the Romans ruled the land. When the Moors arrived, they renovated them, so to speak, turning them into complex waterways that supplied water to domestic patios, baths, pools, and public fountains.
This modern bañera or bathroom pays homage to that tradition with colorful jewel-toned azulejos, richly painted walls, and Arab-influenced lighting fixtures.
Por tu casa, get thee to your nearest Home Depot.
Traditionally, a round or square table with a heater underneath, a Mesa Camilla can be found in most family homes -- although it’s a rather modern conception. The influence here would definitely be the tapestry, in this case obscuring practicality with beauty.
The reason for the Mesa Camilla is that homes are built with heat in mind, an architectural innovation the Moors brought with them from Africa where the hot Saharan winds can mean summertime temperatures of well over 100 degrees. In the meantime, winter brings the rainy season, which isn’t brutal so much as it's damp. Trust me, after days of endless rain that dampness can chill you to the bone. The Camilla doubles as a great dining room table and a more economical alternative to central heating.
Por tu casa, go nuts at your favorite fabric store.
Images via K. Emily Bond and (bottom one) Angela Contreras