Morroccan magic

Celebrate summer with an exotic fete in a garden oasis
Sharon Cohoon

A Moroccan garden party is a feast for the senses, especially at Greg Bartlow and Jericho Poppler Bartlow's 1920s-era Hispano-Moorish house in Long Beach, California. Splashes of luscious color, including brick red, saffron yellow, salmon orange, turquoise blue, and jade green, are everywhere ― dishes, tableware, and flowers. On a palm-fringed lawn, a raj tent spreads its cooling canopy over layers of kilim rugs and embroidered cushions. Sweet and spicy flavors, including date, pomegranate, coriander, and cumin, suffuse the foods spread out on a nearby buffet. And a carved wooden table adds a delirium of patterns to the scene.

You don't have to fly to Tangier (or re-create the Bartlows' house) to experience such an event; you can stage a party in your own garden instead. Just add a few rugs, lanterns, and pillows to set the mood, then serve our simple Moroccan menu.

Family oasis

Jericho, the visionary behind the home's exotic decor, is a woman used to riding a wave, or a notion, as far as it will take her. One of the first women to surf professionally, she won both U.S. and world championships under her maiden name, Poppler. It was her idea to enhance the house with furnishings and a garden that feel like a Rudolph Valentino movie set. With the help of Los Angeles landscape designer Gordon Kurtis, she transformed the mostly grass front yard into a lush, palm-laden oasis. When the Bartlows feel like watching boat traffic coming and going along the Naples Canal, they dine and recline in the front yard.

The side yard is the family's private space. As in an authentic Moroccan riad, the home encompasses an enclosed courtyard with a shaded arcade for lounging. Los Angeles interior designer Corey Mundwiler converted part of the courtyard into a floating second story above the arcade. The wall facings, which recall moucharaby harem screens, are made from old Indian grain chests. The room behind them is Greg's library.

Though the house and garden inspire imaginative parties, incorporating guitar players, belly dancers, and snake charmers, Jericho likes it even more for family activities. She and Greg and the couple's five athletic children ― Rolf, 20; Raquel, 16; Sophia, 14; Bridget, 12; and Ava Marie, 5 ― use the garden nearly every day.

"I love the way indoors and outdoors blur at our Dar Moroc [House of Morocco]," says Jericho. "That's the way we live." Moroccan style suits her personality too. "There's no point in being timid," she adds. "You can just go for it." Spoken like a true surf champ.

DESIGN: CMDesign, Los Angeles (323/937-6142)

LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Gordon Kurtis and Associates, Los Angeles (310/710-2777)


 

 

Moroccan style is …

Shade. Desert dwellers understand that the best place to enjoy the sun is from the comfort of shade. So their riads provide it generously in the form of deep arcades, vine-covered arbors, and tree or tent canopies.

Shadows. The patterns created by sunlight filtered through leaves are repeated in filigree window screens, gates, and open masonry.

Water. This, the core feature of the Moroccan riad, often occurs as a central fountain. The precious commodity always flows gently.

Palms. The tree is the very symbol of a real oasis. Westerners intuitively understand the connection too. In the Bartlows' front garden, queen palms rise above giant birds of paradise and tree ferns. Fishtail palms grow in the side yard.

Scent. Since a riad is meant to be an earthly paradise, fragrance is essential. Jasmine, roses, citrus, and datura provide it.

Color. Though Moroccan gardens are primarily in variations of green, vivid color can come from plants ― an explosion of magenta bougainvillea or yellow kangaroo paws against a wall, for instance. Or it can come from paint, especially cobalt blue, ocher, and deep rusty red shades. The characteristic Majorelle blue has a practical side too; it reduces the sun's glare.

 

 

Mock the casbah

Reclining on the lawn while you're enjoying a meal is novel enough to immediately put you in an oasis mood. But adding a few props takes the party to another level. Design elements in the Bartlow home are from world travels and Middle Eastern importers; similar decorating ideas and sources are listed.

Accessories. For pillows, rugs, lanterns, screens, and more, try import stores such as Pier 1 (800/245-4595) or Cost Plus World Market (or 800/267-8758). Mosaik (323/525-0337) sells Moroccan fabrics, tents, poufs (floor pillows), lanterns, mosaic fountains, iron filigree screens, painted tables, rugs, tiles, vases, and more. Other sources include Ameerah Imports (or 800/860-7341) and Berber Trading Company (or 877/277-7227).

Tableware. Set out Moroccan tea glasses ― which also make pretty votive candle holders ― with tagines and decorative tableware. Try Sur La Table (800/243-0852), Ameerah Imports, or Berber Trading Company.

Mood music. Look through the world music section of a large record store for belly dancing, Berber folk music, Moroccan rai, and other appropriate music. Or try a Middle Eastern music specialist like Maqam (773/857-1300).

Tents. A voile-draped pergola, like the one used at the Bartlows' party, is the ultimate mood setter. It's from Raj Tents in Oakland, California (510/654-4404); handmade in India, the tent measures 9 feet square and costs $2,450 to buy or $950 to rent for three days (setup and takedown included; other styles, sizes, and colors available). A less expensive option: Decorate market umbrellas with tassels or panels of Moroccan fabric.