Future classic

Future classic

Timeless marble and colourful Moroccan accessories translate beautifully into contemporary interiors. By Tess Paterson

As more and more of our everyday objects are being designed for obsolescence, so there is a growing tendency to appreciate things that are built to last. As far as surfaces go, it’s hard not to admire the cool, sensuous longevity of marble. Michelangelo’s David is more than five centuries old, yet it is still as glorious as the day it was completed. Gleaming white marble was also among the many tons of stone chosen to build and embellish the Taj Mahal. Within the home context, this versatile material can add a lustrous gleam to everything from walls to tableware. Undeniably enjoying a resurgence, marble is now taking on a resolutely modern identity.

The exquisite geometry of Moroccan tilework continues to weave its magic on today’s interiors too. The stunning patterns seen in buildings such as the Ben Youssef Madrasa or the Saadian tombs in Marrakech translate effortlessly into hot-weather areas such as ours. From kitchen floors to shower rooms, it’s all about richly detailed, highly sophisticated spaces.

Modern Moroccan

Rocking the kasbah has now become a whole lot easier with the abundance of Moroccan-inspired accessories available. Centuries-old, the complex decorative style associated with tiles and ceramics is both highly detailed and wonderfully easy to live with. ‘The appeal of this style is the incredible combination of patterns, colours and textures,’ says Kundra Bowley of Cape Town’s Moroccan Warehouse. ‘It is decoration without fear – spontaneous and sometimes quite playful.’

Bowley says there is a strong move towards adopting a modern Moroccan style – internationally and in Morocco itself. ‘The beautifully modernised riads [large traditional houses, usually with courtyards] are so cleverly transformed. There are also contemporary, and quirky restaurants popping up everywhere. And what’s so amazing is that they use all the traditional Moroccan elements, yet give it a modern twist.’

A perfect example of this is Jasper Conran’s L’Hôtel Marrakech – an uber-sophisticated escape in the heart of the city’s medina [old walled area]. Close to the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque and the frenetic souk [marketplace], it’s a mix of 1930s glamour and the finest Moroccan craftsmanship. The result is uncluttered, refined and utterly fabulous. Not far away, the Riad Les Yeux Bleus is decorated in a spectrum of bold jewel tones, from earthy rusts to cerulean blues. The sun-dappled courtyards, simple octagonal floor tiles and gorgeous metal lanterns create a comfy, contemporary haven.

Making it work

After a trip to Mexico a while ago, I learned the hard way that bringing back a few beautiful, handmade clay plates was not going to transform my entire home. The vibrancy and colour-rich energy of Mexico was pretty hard to replicate. Moroccan style is no different.

If you are after that elusive sense of authenticity, it helps to start off with the right canvas. ‘One of the effects that really works is a wall finish that is not perfectly flat or smooth-looking,’ says Bowley. ‘I love screeded walls, which have that slightly uneven look. In Morocco, it’s common to utilise tadelakt, a waterproof lime-plaster finish, on walls.’

‘The ultimate is the combination of that surface with accents of encaustic tiles on walls and floors. As long as the tiles are laid and sealed correctly, they’ll last a lifetime.’

But, as with any style that’s undergone years of refinement, avoid the temptation to copy it blindly. When it comes to floors, for instance, you shouldn’t try to recreate the full-blown madness of the souk. ‘Using patterned floor tiles is a matter of personal taste and budget,’ says Bowley. ‘However, it’s good to have some sort of contrast to the busyness. In a pared-down modern interior, an entire floor of decorative tiles can be an amazing mix.’

With its desert surrounds, the traditional Moroccan aesthetic has an abundance of earthy hues, from tangerine and gold to crimson and amber. Opting to use cooler colourways, such as tones of cobalt blue or emerald green, can create a glamour all of its own. For tableware, ‘mix and match’ takes on a whole new meaning, so layer bright cloths, place mats and crockery in a bold, happy clash. ‘Have fun combining Moroccan-style accessories with your own existing tableware,’ suggests Bowley. ‘And, remember, there are lots of options in grey, black and white – they’re just as beautiful and sophisticated.’

Marvellous marble 

‘There’s such a universal appeal to marble,’ according to Oren Sachs, MD of WOMAG. ‘It is timeless and elegant with a distinctly opulent feel.’ It has numerous applications, from the usual bathrooms, to furniture and lighting. ‘One of the most common uses for marble is on walls,’ says Sachs, ‘but people are moving towards various uses through-out the home.’

Of course, custom-made bathroom vanities remain popular – few things say ‘luxe home spa’ like a swathe of marble surrounding an ultra-modern basin.

When it comes to kitchen countertops, marble’s porous quality and tendency to stain can make it a tricky choice. It’s not ideal for those reasons, but it is possible to utilise it. ‘If your heart is set on a marble countertop, keep in mind that it will need to be sealed regularly,’ says Sachs. ‘On the other hand, it’s perfect for baking! Marble will naturally maintain a cool, even temperature, making it ideal for pastry work.’

Marble flooring is a highly sophisticated option, and there are numerous variations of tiles and slabs to choose from. ‘Marble is one of the softest, most natural stones out there. Floors should be re-finished with a stone sealer regularly,’ advises Sachs. While they may not be the optimal solution for pets, it’s safe to assume that, over time, marble floors will develop a unique patina. As a hardy alternative, marble-look porcelain tiles and slabs are stain-resistant and can be used indoors and out. ‘Our porcelain products are available in polished, matt and non-slip finishes,’ says Sachs, ‘and, with the latest ink-jet technology, you’ll barely notice the difference.’

The wonderful thing about marble – be it natural or engineered – is that is needs so little embellishment. Whether you are after a pared-down boutique-hotel-style bathroom or a modern-country kitchen where butler sink meets honed grey, marble is an enduring, elegant choice.

While colour and veining are a matter of personal preference, paler tones can open up a space and are easy on the eye. ‘The demand for white marble and softer shades
is definitely growing,’ explains Sachs, ‘though darker choices do work beautifully as a statement piece.’

The quartz option

‘While marble is undeniably beautiful, it’s understood that it generally needs a greater level of care,’ says Caesarstone MD Trevor King. ‘As the marble look is so sought after, we’ve created ranges inspired by it, with exquisite organic veining.’

Durable and non-porous, engineered quartz surfaces such as Caesarstone will not stain, and they are definitely built to last. ‘Quartz is the strongest material in the world after diamond, sapphire and topaz,’ adds King. ‘We have a 13 mm option that can be used on interior areas, from wall cladding and fireplaces to splashbacks and furniture.’

Back to the future

Not only is marble a superb cladding, it has become a beautiful adjunct to modern furnishings. British designer Benjamin Hubert’s hand-turned Quarry pendant lights – a little slice of design heaven that I have coveted for years – use LEDs to optimise the translucence of marble.

Keeping the look contemporary and sleek, marble-topped tables are being combined with steel, copper and brass. In a wonderful play on texture, designers from Marcel Wanders to our own Robin Sprong are creating stunning marble-look wallpapers. No matter how you look at it, this enduring stone is here to stay.

Styling: Francoise Jeanne de Villiers; Styling Assistants: Kelly Kaimowitz, Robyn Lane & Jani Oosthuizen; Photography: andreas eiselen/HMimages.co.za

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