The Loft Benches

My DREAM Indo-Moroccan-themed room inspiration.  This is a room in fashion designer Sue Wong’s 1920s L.A. home (from In Style Home, Spring 2006).

We knew from day one of moving into our house…probably even before that (while we were looking at the models, when we paid our deposit, before we closed escrow)….that we wanted a Moroccan-themed sitting room somewhere. You know, a place where we could lounge around, drink tea (or coffee, wine, whatever), chat with friends, read a book. We’re not traditional, “formal” living room people…so we didn’t really see the need for a sitting room to receive guests. We found that most of the time, when we had or attended parties, everyone seemed to gather in the kitchen or family room. It seemed a formal living room and dining room ended up just being places where the fancy furniture was kept and no one really used on a daily basis. But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a room somewhere, that still looked really “fancy” and could be used for a sitting room, if needed.  So what room in the house could we transform into our Moroccan-themed room?

My inspiration pages from the “Look Book” I started before we moved into our home in 2001.  The paint chip is Ralph Lauren Venetian Red, which is the paint color of the loft.
Another page from the “Look Book”…love all the pillows and red walls.

While looking through the models (this was in 2000, we moved into the house in March 2001), I remember my husband, Aaron, and I both remarking that the loft in our favorite model would be a perfect place for an exotic Indo-Moroccan sitting room filled with comfy cushions, colorful walls, a variety of patterned pillows, a gorgeous hand-painted ceiling and fabulous lighting.   The photos below were all taken from a lovely coffee table book I’ve had for well over eight years, for inspiration:  “Moroccan Interiors” by Lisa Lovatt-Smith.

Terrific lamp…
A little too geometric for my taste, but I love the bombardment of color and pattern.
A popular trend in decorating: having a bold, patterned wall covering where all the upholstery fabrics and pillows use the exact same pattern in the same scale.  It’s rich and dramatic, and yet a somewhat timeless approach that can also feel quite contemporary.  I’m seeing it a lot in very retro-modern decor using bold combinations of brocade and damask patterns.
Fabulous mirror, gorgeous mirrored table and ornately tiled walls.  The white cushions and pillows provide a nice contrast.
I love arched doorways…

A year or so after we moved in, Aaron planned out and built the benches in the loft. Besides being a U-shaped sitting area to provide plenty of seating, he designed the benches with top-opening, hinged doors so that they could be used for storage. He also made them wide enough that a few guests could sleep there comfortably (if we ever needed to accommodate more guests than our guest room, Aero beds and sleeping bags would allow). This was done before we had our children, so we each had one of the spare bedrooms as our offices, which only left one room for a guest room.  The benches are not as wide as a twin bed, but they are just a tad wider than a sleeping berth in a sailboat (Aaron grew up living aboard a sailboat, so he knows a little something about that). He did a great job designing, building and installing these very functional loft benches. He even painted the brown primer coat in preparation for the distressed/antiqued crackle finish I had planned….

Of course, I was too busy to paint the benches right away…and then I was pregnant with our first son, Mason.  Finishing the benches and creating our “Moroccan” themed room ended up being pushed way far to the back-burner of our project list, as we scrambled to move our offices around and make room for the nursery.  

Aaron had to take the benches out in order to install the hardwood floors (we wanted to replace as much of the carpet as possible before the baby was born), and as soon as he had put the benches back in, I filled them with all the papers, supplies, materials and equipment I had originally stored in the closet of my office…now Mason’s room.

Then, in what seems like a blink of an eye, we were first-time parents, and you know how that goes…basically all home projects were put on hold, including the grandiose plans we had for the loft.  A couple of years passed, and then we were expecting our second son, Isaac. So once again, there was the scramble to prepare the nursery.  Aaron’s office downstairs became the guest room, the guest room upstairs became Isaac’s room, and the loft became the “office” and basic “catch-all” for anything we couldn’t store in the garage or closets.  So much for that exotic lounge-room for sipping tea! 

The loft now houses most of my papers, supplies, books and equipment for EITAK Design. Yep, this is where the “magic” happens….if you can believe it. Right before Isaac was born, we purchased an antique reproduction of a distressed “apothecary” cabinet.  It’s just a really cool bookshelf, storage cabinet that works well in the space with the U-shaped benches.

Ugghhh….it’s so messy looking right now, but it holds all my stuff.  Don’t worry, organizing and “prettifying” this display is on my project list.
Early last year, when I was on my “One Project A Weekend” streak, I finally got around to painting the benches.  I wanted them to match the color of the cabinet, but I didn’t want to copy the finish exactly (if you know me, you know I don’t like things too matchy-matchy and the same color/finish on every piece of furniture in the house seems kinda boring…but that’s just me).  

Originally, I planned to do some really ornate decorative painting…but decided to leave that for the ceiling (check out the inspiration for the loft ceiling below). I figured that the benches will be covered with upholstered cushions and tons of colorful, patterned pillows…so I should keep the painting on the benches simple and durable.  

By Melanie Royals of Modello Designs.  Royal Design Studio is the only place I go to for my professional production stencils (otherwise, I make them myself). I can’t wait to work on the ceiling in my loft.  But first…hubby needs to do all the electrical for the lighting and make/install the beams.
I did a standard crackle finish, going right over the flat brown primer, using Behr Swiss Coffee for the topcoat, and then antiquing it with a light raw umber glaze (that I tinted and mixed myself using a glazing medium from Lowe’s and raw umber Universal colorant).  

To protect the crackle finish and the antiquing glaze, Aaron helped me burnish the benches with Minwax Paste Finishing Wax.  I’ve been using Minwax Paste and Briwax for as long as I can remember…to protect and finish many of my decorative painting projects, including Venetian Plaster.  It was a tip my friend, Lynn Carini, showed me when we crackle-finished some furniture together (wow, that must have been 15 years ago?).  What a fun time that was and I still have the small table we painted…it now lives in Isaac’s vintage circus room as an end table. I can’t believe I rescued it from an alley where we found it next to a dumpster!  I gotta give a shout out to Lynn…she is an amazing artist who taught me so much about decorative painting and essentially nudged me into this business by mentoring me, reinforcing my confidence in my abilities, and sharing many of her techniques…thanks, Lynn! I miss working on projects with you!

Sorry, I got side-tracked for a moment!  Back to this weekend project!  Well, the Indo-Moroccan loft of my dreams is still a long way from completion…but at least it’s a baby-step closer now that the benches are painted.  Here it is, over 10 years later…and we are still holding true to the decor and style we’ve always loved, rather than following fleeting trends.  This theme may be a little too eclectic or exotic and over the top for most, but we feel that it suits our style and personalities.  I can’t wait to complete it…and spend a quiet afternoon, lounging on the upholstered cushions, sipping sugary mint tea and flipping through my favorite magazines.  More likely, the kids will be jumping on the benches, having pillow fights with my gorgeously patterned cushions and bolsters, chugging juice boxes and playing video games…but hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

I still have so much to do before this room can be considered complete…so please check back often to see how this project is progressing.  The completely finished loft is sure to be spectacular!


  1. Hi Gina,

    Crackle finishes are really easy to do and the results are lovely. The thicker you apply the crackle paint, the larger the cracks will be. You can brush all in one direction or sometimes do some cross brushing for a different effect. I would suggest testing out your base coat/crackle coat combos on some sample boards to see how you like them and how you plan to approach the technique. The gold and brown sounds interesting, but you may not be able to see enough of the two tones through the cracks. Perhaps stick with one solid colored base coat (you could do brown, turquoise, antique gold). The brown base coat I used was simply a brown tinted primer with a matte finish). Apply the crackle medium and then the ivory paint (they usually recommend that the top coat be a flat/matte paint). I used Behr Swiss Coffee for the top coat and then antiqued the finish with a raw-umber aging glaze, followed by rubbing on a wax topcoat (using furniture wax/paste by Minwax). This protects the surface and seals in the crackle finish. Good luck with your project and have fun! Do send me a photo when you’ve finished. I’d love to see how it turns out! Best – Katie

  2. Gina says:

    I want to crackle paint a vanity desk I picked up on Craigslist. It’s white, but needs a new paint job. I was thinking of crudely brushing brown and gold on it in a random pattern and then putting on a crackly finish of either ivory or tuorquoise….but then I found your design…brown with white looks very pretty. I’ve never done a crackle paint so I’m not sure if I need to choose a gloss or a matte finish for the base…does it even matter? It looks like your base coat had a flat brown, or was it a brow stain?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Katie, I like the new look of the benches will make the room look larger and coming close to the bookshelf cabinet brings it together. Can't wait to see the finished product.

    Love, Mom/Nana