It is always a treat to see one’s own work in print. We were thrilled to see the latest issue of Charlotte Home Design & Decor featuring us in one of my favorite columns where they showcase a different designer each month. Read below for our favorite finds s scouted from around the world…
Villa Oasis, Home of Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé
I became enchanted with the work of interior designer Bill Willis after a magical trip to Marrakech last September. Click here to read about our amazing Moroccan adventure. I was blown away by the interiors we saw and even more shocked to discover these places halfway around the world had been designed by a fellow Southerner. Referred to as the “Magician from Memphis,” the unknown decorator was responsible for saving Moroccan craftsmanship from extinction in the 1960s. His legendary talent attracted clients that included the Gettys, Rothschilds, Agnellis, and Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé. His jet set hedonistic lifestyle was not for the faint of heart. Marian McEvoy wrote in her foreword to the book Bill Willis, “A man who liked to party until dawn, Bill was happy to settle down in a place where dinner started after nine o’clock and breakfast meetings and pre-dawn gym workouts did not exist.”
I have been saving the best chapter of our Moroccan fairy tale for last….our magnificent and magical visit to the Moroccan desert. Overwhelmed with choices on where to book our sunset dinner and camel ride, I looked to the amazing concierge at La Mamounia who provided the perfect destination…La Pause.
Located just 20 miles outside of Marrakech, in what the ancients called “Desert Marrakchi,” La Pause is set on a hill amongst a cool oasis bordered by a river with breahtaking views across the Moroccan wilderness. Designed to be a place where guests “pause” and take in the supernatural surrounding beauty, our group felt an overwhelming sense of fulfillment to be able to experience this paradise. We planned our desert excursion to take place mid week which serendipitously landed on “Hump Day.”
After five days in Morocco, all of our expectations had been exceeded and every unique experience we had seemed to be even better than the one before. Taking a “pause” in the middle of the trip to reflect on what we had seen and anticipate what lied ahead made the rest of our trip even sweeter. Tears of joy were shed riding the camels at sunset and tears of gratitude were shed as we dined by candlelight in a Berber tent with a zillion stars overhead.
Looking back on the trip, it was certainly a “pause” for all of us from our everyday lives. Taking a break from our routine allowed us to fully soak in the Moroccan inspiration, stimulate our creative juices, and in the future apply what we learned to our respective design practices. Even more so, the magic and graciousness of the Moroccan people affected us in a deeply spiritual way. The call to prayer five times a day and ending almost every sentence in “Ench Allah” or “God Willing” was a constant reminder to give ourselves up to a higher being. I think this will be the most poignant lesson from our pilgrimage….to pause and allow time in each day express gratitude, give thanks, and approach every thought and action with “God Willing.”
More about La Pause below…
Located on an oasis amid the reddish Agafay Desert, La Pause was born when eccentric French fortysomething Frédéric Alaime came horse-riding by over a decade ago. Alaime liked the spot so much that he immediately leased it from the resident Berber farmer; the modern-day result is a rustic eco-resort with activities aplenty and a pool, but no electricity and scarcely any mobile reception. Instead, snoozing, stargazing and staring into space are the order of the day.
Framed by olive trees and colorful hammocks, the filtered pool borders an organic garden which contributes rocket, alfalfa, grapes and olive oil to the resort’s delicious Berber cuisine.
Meals can be taken alfresco on terraces, or cross-legged on cushions inside tents where Gnaoua musicians play. A small massage-offering hammam and quirky boutique provide additional distraction.
Built using beautiful thick pisé (traditional mud-and-straw), La Pause’s stark, stylish lodges are atmospherically illuminated by candles and oil lamps. Each has a huge bed, a strong shower, low sofas, rugs and cushions, plus fireplaces and a patio sun-lounger for morning mint teas. Alternatively, ‘glamp’ in a spacious Bedouin tent with foam mattresses and open-air showers.
The list of available activities includes quad-bike rides, horse treks, mountain-biking, guided camel rides, cooking classes and calligraphy lessons. There’s also a short ‘cross-country’ golf course, designed into the desert and more akin to crazy golf.
Known as the jewel of Morocco, Marrakech has been the epicenter of culture and trade for over one thousand years. The pink walls, meandering alleys, and doors leading to palaces, courtyards and magnificent riads, are a feast for the eyes. The convergence of the most exotic cultures in the world, European, Arabian and African, is revealed in everything from the art and architecture to the cuisine and culture. The entire city shifts in color from pale pink in the morning light to a deep rose in the late afternoon sun. We could not have picked a more ideal destination to leave behind the hustle of everyday life and escape into this bohemian fantasy world.
To seek out the best interiors and design elements, we made sure to see every iconic hotel, restaurant, and rooftop that Marrakech had to offer. We planned our itinerary to have days of intense sightseeing and shopping offset with days with a (very slightly) more relaxed pace. Our grand finale took us to La Mamounia where we only left the grounds once to see the famed Jemma El Fna on our last night.
EL FENN is the perfect retreat from which to enjoy Africa’s most exotic city. Combining grandeur and historic architecture with hideaway nooks, terraces and gardens, the hotel is just five minutes from the world-famous Jemaa El Fna square and bustling maze of streets that make up the souk.In 2002 Vanessa Branson and Howell James were looking for a holiday home and walked into the almost ruined courtyard of one of Marrakech’s formerly great private homes. Nearing dusk and with the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing in the air, they instantly fell in love with the atmospheric house. They soon realized that their holiday home was going to become so much more. On the rooftop, you can enjoy a breakfast of breads, pastries, fruit and eggs complete with sunshine and a view of the Atlas Mountains. By noon, the day’s set Moroccan lunch menu changes according to what’s in season or you can pick a dish from our light menu that runs until 6pm. On warmer evenings, dinner is served under the stars.
LE JARDIN is located through a small door opening to a large courtyard enclosed in a 17th-century mansion. Interior designer Anne Favier reinvented this very beautiful house in the Sidi Abdelaziz quarter. They found it in ruin, and renovated it in tones of green, adding lots of plants, trees and water features, into a small oasis…A cool 1960s décor imagined in harmony with all the Moroccan crafts, creates a very contemporary feel.
MAISON MK is a foodie focused spa hotel…and full of personality. A retired fashion photographer transformed a 600-year-old riad in the Marrakech medina into Maison mk hotel, a design den that blends traditional Moroccan motifs with modern minimalist touches. The teardrop-shaped plunge pool, vibrantly coloured fabrics and silk artwork all showcase an eye for detail at this comfortable contemporary retreat.
DAR YACOUT Every visitor to Marrakech has to try Dar Yacout, a medina institution. Follow winding alleyways to the restaurants courtyard, strewn with petals. Designed in the early 1990’s by American expat architect Bill Willis, this fantasy palace—shiny tadelakt (polished plaster) walls, scalloped columns, and striped turrets—has influenced Moroccan interiors ever since. A landmark of Marrakech, it was amongst the first created twenty years ago in the medina by Mohamed Zkhiri, who presides over the destiny of this sumptuous venue. The decor is enchanting with its private rooms and breath-taking panoramic view from the terrace overlooking the medina and the Koutoubia mosque of Marrakesh. Highly traditional Moroccan gastronomic cuisine with a menu incorporating an amazing succession of flavours, and service that lives up to anyone’s standards.
BELDI COUNTRY CLUB Like many Marrakech residents, Jean Dominique Leymarie makes his home in the medina. But he was intrigued by the idea of creating a retreat from the dust and noise, so he bought some land just outside town, planted 15,000 rosebushes, put in a pool and a spa, and invited the public to spend a day in the country. It proved a hit, and in 2009 he added a luxury boutique hotel to the mix. Designed in the traditional – or beldi – style that is the heart and soul of Morocco, the 28 rooms were built of earth, plaster, wood and iron, and furnished entirely from local markets. They form part of a living, breathing Moroccan village with craft workshops, a bakery and souks selling Safi pottery, hand-embroidered linens and Berber carpets. All around are 15 hectares of magnificent grounds, filled with palms, olive and fruit trees, tall grasses, herbs and a sea of roses. It’s a 10-minute hop by taxi to the medina, and staff can arrange lakeside picnics at their kasbah in the Atlas Mountains, whose snow-capped peaks shimmer in the distance. Return each evening to find dozens of lanterns glowing along serpentine paths to the 3 restaurants, bar and cosy salons, creating a sublimely magical and private setting.
LE COMPTOIR is a legend in Marrakech, but not necessarily for the food. The Franco-Moroccan dishes are served with some panache and rarely fail, but the atmosphere and the spectacle are much more memorable. It’s a mix of restaurant, lounge and boutique, in a large Art Deco villa. Head straight to the upstairs bar for a pre-dinner drink and you’ll understand what the fuss is about and why this place has a reputation. Downstairs, the large, plush-red dining room is more stageset than restaurant. The menu is a mix of French, Moroccan and Asian influences. Minds tend to wander from the food to the floor around 9.30pm, when lithe belly dancers descend the big staircase to cavort around – and, if you are lucky, on – the tables. The place carries on buzzing, upstairs and down, till late in the night.
BO ZIN This hip restaurant and lounge is set in an exotic garden where luxurious fountains and summer lounges were designed for your well-being, an invitation to dream, a mixture of Zen spirit and elegance. Live music and performances add to the unique experience.
LING LING /MANDARIN ORIENTAL Ling Ling draws inspiration from the izakaya concept made popular in the East, where food accompanies the drinks and not the other way around. With drinking, dining and dancing at the forefront, Ling Ling bends the Hakkasan DNA to create a restaurant and bar experience that reflects and complements the environment. Created by Executive Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee, the menu features reinvented presentations of the Cantonese cuisine synonymous with Hakkasan, perfect for sharing between friends. The cocktails are at the heart of the experience, with an intriguing drinks and wine list curated by the award-winning team in London. Designed by Parisian duo Gilles & Bossier and located in the West wing of the lobby, Ling Ling has a spacious outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens, lounge and bar.
KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE Five times a day, the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from atop the Koutoubia Mosque minaret. Excavations confirm a longstanding Marrakshi legend: the original mosque built by Almoravid architects wasn’t properly aligned with Mecca, so the pious Almohads levelled it to build a realigned one. When the present mosque was finished in the 12th century, 100 booksellers were clustered around its base – hence the name, from kutubiyyin, or booksellers.
MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded” reads the inscription over the entryway to the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, and after almost six centuries, the blessing still works its charms on visitors. Founded in the 14th century under the Merenids, this Quranic learning centre was once the largest in North Africa, and remains among the most splendid. Sight lines are lifted in the entry with carved Atlas cedar cupolas and wooden-lattice screen balconies. The medersa’s courtyard is a mind-boggling profusion of Hispano-Moresque ornament: five-colour zellij (mosaic) walls; stucco archways; cedar windows with weather-worn carved vines; and a curved mihrab (eastern-facing niche) of prized, milky-white Italian Carrara marble.
LE JARDIN MARJORELLE These famous gardens were started by the painter Jacques Marjorelle in 1937, opened to the public in 1947, and eventually purchased by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980. Click here to read about these legendary gardens.
JEMAA EL FNA The medina’s central square means “Assembly of the Dead” since the plaza was the site of public executions around AD 1050. The daily performances include snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, acrobats, musicians, tooth pullers, herbalists and fortune tellers. At dusk, it becomes the country’s largest street fair with over 100 chefs arrive with grills in tow to set up their food stalls. UNESCO declared the square a ‘Masterpiece of World Heritage’ in 2001.
Stay tuned for PART 2 featuring where to SHOP, STAY and SPA in Marrakech coming soon!
I am channeling my inner Talitha Getty this weekend packing and preparing for our Marrakech adventure. I have always been enchanted with the patterns and colors of Morocco, but this is the first trip where I knew so little about the customs and culture of a destination. Every place I have traveled before I had studied in various classes from high school to design school learning everything from the history and religion to the art of architecture of the region. I have tried to do a self taught crash course in all things Moroccan and I am beyond fascinated by this part of the world the more that I learn.
The varied culture, customs and design influences can be attributed to the number of groups that have conquered Morocco…Arabs, Berbers, Africans, Turks, Romans, Byzantines, and French. Around 1000BC, the area around Marrakech served as a temporary campsite to nomads who made their living crossing the Sahara and trading with African tribes to the south. A permanent city was not founded until 1062, when Ben Youssef of the Almoravid dynasty claimed the site for his soldiers and erected the Koutobia mosque. Marrakech became an important cultural, economic and military base.
“Understanding Morocco’s history and culture is essential to finding the answer to Morocco’s design equation. So many foreign, indigenous and religious influences have left their mark on Moroccan decor in indeliable ways. And the end is a heady mixture of old and new that has caught the design world by storm.” -Maryam Montague, Marrakesh By Design
Maryam’s book explains how Moroccans believe in magic in both good and bad. Most design elements have great significance. Talismans, numbers, colors, symbols, and substances are thought to have magical powers. Doors are painted blue to ward off evil spirits from entering the home.
The Moroccans have the reputation of being friendly and gracious. Perhaps it is their fear of the “evil eye” that makes them so admirable. “The evil eye can be described as a glance combined with a compliment. Compliments are believed to be dangerous if they are associated with envy and coveting; a person’s good fortune, good health, or good looks may provoke envious people to cast the evil eye…Some Moroccans belive if not twarted, the evil eye can provoke sickness or misfortune, and thus every effort must be made to circumvent it through the use of symbols, substances and talismans.” -Maryam Montague Marrakesh By Design
Modesty is paramount to also discourage the “evil eye.” Morocco is a conservative nation with 99% of its population identifying as Muslims. Therefore, the first rule to dressing in Morocco is to respect Islam’s emphasis on modesty. Clothes and accessories are not meant to attract attention or excessively reveal the body. Women should ensure that their clothes do not expose the décolletage, shoulders, or thighs. Furthermore, because of Islam’s emphasis on modesty, brand names are not often seen on Moroccan streets and the display of ostentatious jewelry, luxury handbags, and high-end electronics is discouraged . Most households tend to live prudently, and value giving to the community over materialism.
Hand shaped door knockers represent the protective hand of Fatima.
Pom Poms are sequins are also thought to ward off the veil eye and mischievous genies.
Even in tile design, there is significance to the designs. Islam prohibits the depiction of human and animal figures because it is imitating God’s creation. Therefore, Tastir (geometric) and Tawriq (floral) are the predominant patterns found in the designs. The repeating patterns symbolize eternity and are said to inspire meditation on the eternal nature of God.
Fountains play a major decorative role in the culture. Water symbolizes paradise and rules mandate cleanliness before prayer.
Symbols instead of actual animal depictions are used as talismans in Moroccan rug. Click here to read a previous post dedicated to the various Moroccan rug designs.
Finally, join us on our Instagram Takeover for Traditional Home September 25-27 as we share the sights, designs, and visual experiences of Marrakech with Cloth & Kind, The English Room and Buckingham Interiors +Design!
I am battling the Monday blues by studying more Marrakech history. One of our first stops on our trip will be Le Jardin Marjorelle. These famous gardens were started by the painter Jacques Marjorelle in 1937, opened to the public in 1947, and eventually purchased by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge in 1980.
Jacques Marjorelle was a French orientalist painter and the son of the famous Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Marjorelle. He fell in love with Marrakech and purchased a palm grove in 1923 which is now Le Jardin Marjorelle.
As Marjorelle travelled the world, the artist would bring back specimens to add to his garden including hundreds of rare varieties of trees and plants that included: cacti, palm trees, bamboo, coconut palms, thujas, weeping willows, carob trees, jasmine, agaves, white water lilies, datura, cypress, bougainvilleas, and ferns. He laid out the gardens in the same way he would arrange the composition of a painting playing with light and shadow and introducing bold color through painted walls and pottery.
He began introducing color by painting the facade of his studio, and then gates, pergolas, pots and the various buildings in a scheme of bold and brilliant primary colors. His favorite shade was, an ultramarine, cobalt blue, “evoking Africa” which came to be known as “Marjorelle Blue”. This intense blue accentuated the various shades of green found throughout the garden.
In 1931, he commissioned the architect, Paul Sinoir, to design a Cubist villa for him, constructed near his first house. His workshop, where he would paint his large decorations, was located on the ground floor, and he established a studio on the first floor where he spent much of his time. Balconies and an Arab-inspired pergola were added to the construction in 1933.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discovered the Jardin Majorelle in 1966, during their first stay in Marrakech.
“We quickly became very familiar with this garden, and went there every day. It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature… And when we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the garden through the years.” – Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent, “Une passion marocaine” Éditions de la Martinière, 2010
In 1980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle, saving it from real estate developers. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”
The painter’s studio has been transformed into a museum open to the public, dedicated to Berber culture, housing the personal Berber collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
Yves Saint Laurent would say he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration in the Jardin Majorelle, and that he dreamt many times about its unique colours.
Yves St. Laurent dies in 2008 in Paris. His ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis; a memorial was built in the garden, designed around a Roman pillar which was brought from Tangier and set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name, so that visitors can remember him and his unique contribution to fashion. “It is a way for artists to live on… ” After Yves died, I donated the Jardin Majorelle and the Villa Oasis to the foundation in Paris which bears both our names.” – Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent, Une passion marocaine, Éditions de la Martinière, 2010
Each year I try to take a creative pilgrimage to keep my design juices flowing. Next month I am beyond excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with my design pals to Marrakech. The intrepid travelers include Julia Buckingham of Buckingham Interiors, Holly Phillips of the English Room, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Nicholas of Cloth and Kind. I can think of no better shoppers and bons vivants with whom I love to travel.
Marrekech has intrigued me as long as I can remember…the mystery of the riads, the labyrinth of the souks, the pattern on pattern everywhere, and the exuberant colors have always fascinated me. I have fallen down the rabbit hole trying to learn as much as I can before our trip. Indulge me as I share my research on everything from rugs to tiles to design history in my upcoming posts.
The grand finale to our trip will be a brief stay at La Mamounia. Not only has this legendary hotel hosted everyone from royalty to rock stars, it was also renovated by favorite designer Jacques Garcia in 2009. Designed in 1922 by architects Prost and Marchisio, La Mamounia combined the Moroccan architectural tradition with Art Deco design and decoration. The hotel originally had 100 rooms, but was expanded in 1946, 1950 and 1953, and now includes nearly 200 rooms. Inspired by centuries of history, Garcia created a mythical setting evocative of a Moroccan palace. In lieu of the original Art Deco style, the designer used oriental influeneces, zelliges, mosaics, woodwork, wrought iron, stained glass and marble.
La Mamounia takes its name from the surrounding gardens called the “Arset El Mamoun” which are over 200 years old. The Park once belonged to the Prince Moulay Mamoun, the fourth son of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, who reigned in the 18th century. It was customary for the Sultan to offer his sons, as a wedding gift, a house and garden located outside the Kasbah. For his marriage present, Moulay Mamoun received the park, which has since always carried his name. It is said that the prince used to hold extraordinary garden parties here amongst the palms, bougainvilleas, amaranths, agaves and ancient olive trees.
La Mamounia’s most renowned guest was Winston Churchill. He described his stay at the hotel,”This is a wonderful place, and the hotel one of the best I have ever used. I have an excellent bedroom and bathroom, with a large balcony twelve feet deep, looking out on a truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives, and the houses and ramparts of the native Marrakech, and like a great wall to the westward the snowclad range of the Atlas mountains—some of them are nearly fourteen thousand feet high. The light at dawn and sunset upon the snows, even at sixty miles distance, is as good as any snowscape I have ever seen. It is five hours to the ridge of the Atlas and they say you then look down over an immense area, first a great tropical valley, then another range of mountains, and beyond all the Sahara desert.”
Churchill was so inspired by the views that he often painted while in Marrakech. He would wander from balcony to balcony, following the sun on its route in order to render the color of his painting as real as possible. He always stayed at La Mamounia because he thoughts the views from the roof were incomparably “paintaceous.”
The plethora of gastronomic options at La Mamounia is endless…Every bar, lounge and restaurant has a different theme, yet are all cohesive due to the talented touched of Jacques Garcia. From Le Marocain tucked into a riad in the middle of the park to the elegant Bar Italien with saffron banquettes and ornate decorative surfaces, I am sure our squad will be up for the challenge to try every unique experience.
Finally, no trip to the oasis of La Mamounia would be complete without a visit to the spa. Recognized by its large red glass lanterns, the spa is comprised of a series of treatments rooms and 2 hammams that include rooms for steaming, stone massage, and showers.
Exactly one month from today, you can find me right here!
Images via La Mamounia.