On Moroccan Opulence
Editor-at-Large Peggy Levinson talks spicy colors, George Cameron Nash, and Van Cliburn.
I recently met with designer Sherry Hayslip for a little state of the union. “Moroccan may be the new Tuscan, just based on the tsunami of Moroccan-influenced design elements appearing everywhere from the new house designed by Cole Smith and Braden Power in Highland Park to products at West Elm and Neiman Marcus and everywhere in between,” she said. “The new Moroccan rooms at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City are stunning and sure to influence fashion and design as well.”
After we spoke, I began noticing that she was right. You can’t browse a catalog without getting bopped on the head with a perforated metal pendant. We do tend to love a style to death, so Tuscan has morphed and broken into a thousand little architectural manifestations here. I’m not thinking we’re going to start seeing crenellated roofs in the Park Cities, but the vibrant colors and patterns of Marrakesh are a welcome respite from red tile roofs and umber plaster walls.
Color and pattern dominate Moroccan style. A luminous blue is inspired by the Mediterranean Sea and a cloudless sky; the contrasting colors of spices like turmeric, paprika, and saffron channel the endless miles of the Sahara. Moroccan artisans are firm believers that a piece of work—be it tile, wood, fabric, or leather—is not finished until it is covered with decorations. Because the Prophet forbids the depiction of the human form, artists paint designs with stylized trees; flowers; and ornate, abstract Islamic figures with mathematical symmetry.
These elements are popping up everywhere from big-box retail to the toniest designer showrooms. Crate and Barrel has a great patterned ottoman that can be paired with a different-patterned tray for a casual table with a Moroccan vibe. West Elm has devoted one of its catalogs to the many-hued patterns of Marrakesh. Ann Sacks has colorful Iznik tiles, and the newly opened Stark Showroom on Slocum Street features rugs from Morocco. The new fabrics from Pierre Frey showcase opulence with saturated, spicy colors of mustard, teal, and paprika.
Speaking of opulence, George Nash pronounced that it’s “back” in a grand gesture honoring his friend and mentor Gerald Hargett. The look is ornate and layered with pattern and far less straightforward than the clean, modern style we’ve been seeing. David Sutherland Showroom’s Sees Design collection has curvy, Victorian-style chairs in plush red velvet. Even the beiged-out, masculine, “man cave” atmosphere of Restoration Hardware sports antiqued silver Venetian mirrors. Textural fabrics in neutral colors are being replaced by embossed velvet and heavily embroidered silks and linens. After years of the straight lines of open-pore wenge wood, I’m seeing carved wooden chairs with layered, complicated finishes. We can only get so straight and so white (this is not a political statement) until we welcome back curves and color.
On May 17, Christie’s will auction furniture and accessories that belonged to famed pianist Van Cliburn. If you grew up in Texas, you must know the story of the 23-year-old Fort Worth kid who achieved worldwide recognition by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. At that time, the United States and Russia were in the midst of the Cold War, and we were frantically building bomb shelters and teaching children to hide under desks in case of attack. Meanwhile, a neighborhood boy won the grand prize in Moscow and was proclaimed “the Texan who conquered Russia.” Since then, Cliburn has performed all over the world. A peek at the auction brochure gives you a little hint at the kind of opulence he appreciated and collected. In his words: “From the beginning of my concert life, I would spend my earnings from performances searching for something beautiful of timeless quality to remember different concerts in various cities. I have always found throughout my life that beauty raises your consciousness and provides incalculable inspiration.”