By Lucy Schnell – Landscape Designer, Contours Design Studio

You would never have guessed it, but tucked behind a high wall in the City of Cape Town suburb of Gardens, just below the flank of Table Mountain there is a gem of a Moroccan ‘riad’.

No, that’s not an exotic middle eastern warrior dressed in flowing robes wielding a moon-shaped scimitar charging at you, but a Moroccan word for a house with an interior garden or courtyard.

In fact, the riad in Gardens is the antithesis of a warlike raid. Instead of sound and fury, you step from the busy suburban street into a tranquil garden paradise meticulously crafted by the CDS team.

Tiny gardens are generally undervalued in the portfolio of professionals, but the challenges presented by such spaces are often in direct proportion to size. 

Having to pocket a long wish list into a limited space is a design challenge in itself, but with the added element of bringing the flavour of exotic Morocco to bear in the centre of Cape Town, the challenge was, shall we say “spiced up.”

When Contours Design Studio was called in to view the site at the request of the architect, we were challenged with transforming the outdoor space into a retreat reminiscent of a Marrakesh home, while the architect, Marie Middleton, undertook the interior transformation.

Our partnership, backed by an enthusiastic client, who was Kenyan born but had spent many years living in Morocco, turned out to be an immensely successful collaboration of skills and expertise, delivering a well-crafted product on time despite serious time constraints and uncooperative weather.

The duo set about discovering what constituted a Moroccan home and garden, incorporating much of the client’s personal collection of artefacts, such as hand-carved wooden bowls, urns and amphoras, filigreed lamps, and jewel-toned fabrics.

Morocco is a country of rich colour, drawn from the red earth of the Atlas Mountains, the spices of ancient trade routes, oases of green and the blue of the two seas that flank it, the North Atlantic Ocean and the Alboran Sea of the Mediterranean. 

The climate in summer is hot and dry. So gardens seem to be less about botanical splendour, and more about visually cooling down outdoor spaces, as well as serving a more pragmatic “salad garden” purpose.

Water plays an important central role in the Moroccan courtyard garden, as it has spiritual connotations in Persian gardens, as well as the more practical aspects of watering the gardens around them. The result is a cool and calm retreat from the bustle of dusty city streets.

In analysing picture references to find the common visual ‘threads’, it became evident that the vernacular design style might be interpreted as a fusion of traditional African and Persian design

As the confluence between African and Arabian influence, this makes perfect sense. It was only a few hundred years previously that this portion of Africa and their northern European neighbours were conquered by the Moors whose design footprint is firmly imprinted everywhere.

Morocco has an ancient decorative tile tradition known as Zellige. These beautifully complex hand-crafted and glazed clay tiles adorn all of their old buildings. The Zellige tiles were made with a series of intricate patterns as complex as Persian carpet designs, but more geometric in nature. This tradition has found modern expression in cement tiles with Zellige-inspired designs drawn from this ancient craft.

Both the notion of carpets and the use of decorative tiles are featured in this small garden and used as linking elements. Carefully arranged Majorelle blue tiles, the very colour trademarked by the famous painter, Jacques Majorelle, when he instructed his now famous garden in Marrakesh to be liberally adorned with this intense shade, are carefully inlaid with handmade clay tiles. The effect is reminiscent of a series of rolled out carpets, bringing coherence to the oddly shaped erf, whilst the client’s cement tiles are used as decorative elements on the roof garden.


With a shortened time frame in which to design and execute, supplier selection was critical. Tiling design, for example, could only be done once the tiles were sourced and lead times addressed. Handmade tiling suppliers were selected more on the basis of their willingness to provide necessary information quickly and move mountains to make the delivery schedule, than on their price per item. They needed to see themselves as partners in achieving success, and not simply as suppliers. Likewise with the building contractor. Service matters and this project proved the point.

The niches against the pool wall are also decorated with Moroccan-inspired tiles, and further dressed with the client’s lovingly sought filigreed lamps bringing a magical element to the area at night.  

Strategically placed hand-glazed pots and two large amphoras cleverly dress the pool-dominated entrance area where there is no opportunity for landscaping in the ground.

When the homeowner greets visitors with a grin and a cheery “Welcome to my paradise”, one can safely assume that the challenge has been met; bringing shade, tranquillity, and pleasure to the homecoming experience.


Erf Size:  382 sqm with a total outdoor area of 189m² including the roof garden

Garden Design and Installation: Contours Design Studio  in collaboration with Marie Middleton architect

Suppliers:  Blue tiles by Akashic Tiles (Knysna); Hand made terracotta tiles by Leo Tiles (Cape Town); Pots by Liebermann Pottery (Kommetjie)

“The deep satisfaction that is invested in a well-designed landscape goes beyond colour alone and comes from a multi-dimensional sensory experience that shifts and changes with the seasons and over time, but is nonetheless deeply rooted in its specific location.”



N.D. Landscape Technology SACLAP registered Pr LM

082 422 2466  | 021 300 3398 |

Show Buttons
Share On Facebook
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Contact us
Hide Buttons

Join our Community

Subscribe to receive news, tips and other great, useful content from us.

Enter your email address in the box below and hit 'SUBSCRIBE!'

You have Successfully Subscribed!