Interior Design

Traditional Omani interior home decoration


Traditional Omani interior decoration, as described by Omani princess Emily Ruete in her book Memoirs of an Arabian Princess 1886. Emily Ruete in her Memoirs (ref 1 page 164) describes the interior design Of Omani houses. The texts below are from Emily's "Memoirs of an Arabian Princess" (1886) 


 Emily: "With rich and distinguished people, rooms are furnished more or less in the following style. Persian carpets or the finest soft mattings cover the floor. The whitewashed walls, which are rather thick, are always divided into partitions by matching deep recesses which reach from floor to ceiling. The recesses are again divided by shelves of wood, painted green, forming a kind of etageren. "

Oman  interrior decoration

The deep recesses described by Emily

Emily: "Upon these shelves the choicest and most expensive objects of glass and china are symmetrically ranged. To an Arab, nothing can be too costly to decorate these recesses. A handsomely cut glass, a beautifully painted plate, an elegant jug may cost any price:if it only looks pretty, it is sure to be purchased. One also endeavours to cover the bare and narrow walls between the recesses. Large mirrors are placed there, reaching from the divan, which is only slightly elevated above the floor, to the ceiling. These mirrors are all expressly ordered from Europe. As a rule, pictures, as they are imitations of divine creation, are prohibited to a Muslim; of late, however, they are tolerated now and then. On the other hand, clocks are in great favour and often the richest collection is found in one single house. They are placed partly over the mirrors, partly in pairs on each side of them"

Oman interior decoration

Ceilings in old houses sometimes have fine floral painting

Emily: "In the gentlemen's rooms the walls are decorated by trophies, consisting of all kinds of costly weapons from Arabia, Persia and Turkey, a decoration with which every Arab is accustomed to adorn his house, according to his rank and riches"

Oman home decoration

Emily: "In one corner of the room is placed the large double-bed  of so called rose-wood, very prettily carved all over; White muslin or tulle covers the whole. Arab beds have very high legs; to get into them readily, one first mounts upon a chair, or makes use of the natural step of the chambermaid's hand or that of a lady's maid. The lofty space under the bed is often used as a sleeping-place by others, for instance by small children's nurses or women attendants of sick people"

Traditional Omani decoration

Example of an Omani bed

Emily: "Wardrobes, chests of drawers and the like are not in use; instead, we had a sort of chest or trunk with usually two or three drawers, and inside a secret hiding place for money and jewellery. These trunks, of which there usually were several in each room were very large made of rosewood and beautifully adorned with thousands of small yellow studs with brass heads"

Fine Omani chest made of rosewood with the many brass studs!

Emily: "Windows and during the day, doors stand open all year long; at best the former are occasionally shut for a short time during rainy weather"

Traditional Omani decoration

Even the open windows can be finely decorated


Comment: Emily's description of specifically Mirrors and Clocks applies typically to Omani houses in Zanzibar and much less to traditional houses in Oman. In particular mirrors were not used in the houses of conservative Muslims.

Omani home decoration

The deep recesses described by Emily, the sticks between the recesses would typically be used for displaying the guns, swords and daggers.


The magnificent carved doors found in Zanzibar / East Africa are also found in houses and castles of Oman and many are much older than those in Zanzibar, so it is justified to call them Omani doors. However also many have been destroyed during Oman's Renaissance over the last 45 years.

Omani carved door

Omani (Al Hazm) carved door several centuries old (twice as old as stonetown in Zanzibar)

Antique Omani carved door

Detail of the above Omani carved door in al Hazm

  1. An Arabian Princess between two worlds by E. van Donzel published by Brill  Leiden 1993 ; Emily Ruete Memoirs of an Arabian Princess page 164
  2. The book "Doors of Zanzibar" 1998 with photos by Uwe Rau  and text by Mwalim A. Mwalim contains photos of 94 antique Arab doors in and around Zanzibar stone town. Representation of animate objects  is forbidden in Islam.The design of a couple of the carved Arab doors did contain birds (e.g. peacock) and lions similar to those found on Omani brass vessels. Even on one of the carved doors of  the Sultan's House of Wonders contained a carved bird and lions. On several other antique doors in Zanzibar Stonetown  (e.g. house Tippu Tip) the carved animals have been removed, thereby reflecting differences over time on how strict to interpret these Islamic rules. The majority of doors did not contain animal decoration. In recent years we saw quite a few Omani  girls decorating their scarf's with silver brooches, it is probably human to explore the limits of what is allowed!