Morocco as Seen Through Design

The cover of Morocco: Destination of Style, Elegance and Design recently published by Prestel.
The cover of Morocco: Destination of Style, Elegance and Design recently published by Prestel.

Today on Design Diary, we’re taking a trip to Morocco by way of a lush book titled Morocco: Destination of Style, Elegance and Design, recently published by Prestel. The author, Catherine Scotto notes in her introduction, “My unexpected encounter with Morocco began during the first strict Covid-19 lockdown in Paris in 2020. For a long time I had stayed away from the Mediterranean shores, but this book turned everything upside down and I finally let myself be carried away by the current, just as my Spanish and Italian seafaring ancestors did in the 19th century when they landed in North Africa.” 

A Design Journey Through Morocco

This map of Morocco illustrates how strongly the long-thin country relates to the ocean.
This map of Morocco illustrates how strongly the long-thin country relates to the ocean.

By putting her adventure between the covers of a book, Scotto also carried us away with the visual stimulation that unfolded as an array of blue hues soothed the senses. “It took me two months of imaginary travel around the country to fill my ‘travel diary,’” she adds, “initially following all the well-trodden tracks. It was by taking some lesser-known ‘back routes’ in my library during quarantine, to which I had resigned myself, that I made my first major discoveries before eventually embarking on this journey with photographer Nicolas Mathéus.” 

Once there, the pair discovered that other reckless adventurers had preceded them—avid gardeners who dared plant where no others had, young architects who built dwellings rivaling palaces out of mud and bricks, and a daredevil of creativity who was determined to revive traditional artisanal techniques long buried in the dust. “‘Here, we eat with our eyes,’ says a Moroccan proverb,” she notes. “I invite you to follow in our footsteps to taste this new Morocco that I have been delighted to discover after such a long exile.” 

Farida Kanario standing at the doorway of La Tangerina. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
Farida Kanario standing at the doorway of La Tangerina. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

First, they traveled to the north, stopping in Tangier, about which she explains, “Tangier and the Spanish coast may be separated by the narrowest point of the Strait of Gibraltar, but culturally they are worlds apart.” Several properties are presented, radiating the graceful indoor/outdoor style for which the region is known. Dar Zero, located in Tangier, is the former residence of the British governor of the city during the 17th-century. It blazes white against the infamous blue sky that drenches the country. La Tangerina, shown above, is also in Tangier. The ten-room guest house was renovated by Farida Kanario and her husband Jürgen Leinen. The views of the sea from the loggias are as breathtaking as the interiors are soulful. 

One of the huts along the seashore at Chez Mounir. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
One of the huts along the seashore at Chez Mounir. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

Chez Mounir, in the photograph above, is only a few kilometers from Tangier but it is, quite literally, worlds away. The collection of gazebos and straw huts dotting the seashore offers the rare intimate experience with uncrowded beaches. She says of the visionary behind the resort, Mounir El Majdoubi, who was born in Asilah down the coast from Tangier, that he began channeling his Robinson Crusoe fantasy when he found the isolated spot in 2008 and started to build. “When Mounir decided to buy this stretch of wild seashore in the middle of nowhere, everyone called him crazy,” Scotto writes. “Mounir, aided by his Fez-born wife Rabab, recently built two small tourist cabins to cater to visitors looking for a life in the wild far from the trappings of the modern world.” Whomever ends up in one of these will definitely be sampling paradise at its most natural.  

The Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech. Image by Studio KO.
The Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech. Image by Studio KO.

Moving into the center of the country, Scotto takes readers to Marrakech, which she calls the eternally enchanting red city that is in a constant metamorphosis, transporting visitors into a whirlwind of discovery. “New cultural venues and young talent emerge as modernity flourishes in the shadow of centuries-old palaces,” she explains, making her first stop The Majorelle Garden. She quotes Yves Saint Laurent, who, with his partner Pierre Bergé, meticulously restored it, as saying, “For many years, I have found in the Majorelle Garden an inexhaustible source of inspiration and I have often dreamed of its unique colors.”

The Majorelle Garden in Marrakech looking toward Jacques Majorelle’s former studio, which is painted in the famous Majorelle blue. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
The Majorelle Garden in Marrakech looking toward Jacques Majorelle’s former studio, which is painted in the famous Majorelle blue. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

Scotto adds, “This 9,000-square-metre property planted in 1922 is much more than a garden. Created by the painter Jacques Majorelle, it is rich from a botanical perspective and honors proud Moorish planting traditions.” The landscape holds agaves, palm trees, and cacti, which organically frame the resolute lines of the architecture. It takes a tremendous level of care to maintain and is diligently nurtured by a number of different organizations, including the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, throught its president Madison Cox, and the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. A pesticide-free garden nursery is being created and a farmers’ market takes place every Saturday morning. We can imagine that this would not be a prêt-à-porter experience!

The Dar el Bacha Palace in Marrakech, Morocco. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
The Dar el Bacha Palace in Marrakech, Morocco. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

The Dar el Bacha Palace in Marrakech has a storied past. In the heart of the Medina, it was built in 1910 and was the residence of Thami el-Glaoui, the ruler of Marrakech until 1956. The list of celebrities who visited him there includes Colette, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill. The National Museum Foundation transformed it into the Musée des Confluences. “Restored over many months,” Scotto writes, “the palace offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the enchanting setting of a luxurious riad, laid out to radiate from a central garden. It features a precious ornamentation that reveals all the subtleties of the traditional decorative arts.” The museum, which opened in 2020, has a coffee bar in one wing that serves around 200 different arabica blends. Take that, Starbucks!

Lovely blue baskets decorate the outdoor rooms designed by Stella Cadente. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
Lovely blue baskets decorate the outdoor rooms designed by Stella Cadente. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

About the discerning doyenne who has brought such panache to a hacienda-style manor on the outskirts of Marrakech, Scotto writes, “Stylist Stella Cadente is enjoying life in the countryside for the very first time in her life.” Cadente explains the move, “I’ve realized all my dreams of living in the great outdoors, with dogs, an orchard, a vegetable garden, and room to accommodate my four children who live in Paris.” Scotto describes Cadente as a woman who wears many hats—from fashion stylist and jewelry designer to art director, adding, “but it is in the world of interior design that she had made her name in recent years.” This is clear from the images of the home she’s lovingly decorated featured in the book. You can almost feel the warm air wafting into the rooms. 

Beldi Casbah nestles into its desert setting in Morocco. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
Beldi Casbah nestles into its desert setting in Morocco. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

Next, Scotto takes readers to the Atlas Mountains as the tour of the country continues. “It’s time to leave the towns behind for a short trip to the desert,” she writes. “Fortified kasbahs, mud villas, and rammed-earth farms nestle in the shelter of the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains and invite us to appreciate Berber simplicity.” The image of the Beldi Casbah above illustrates the breathless quality to the landscape in this part of Morocco. Swaths of stucco, sun-warmed bricks glowing deep red, and straightforward rooms with deep windows and exposed beams abound in the pages that represent this region of the country. 

The sun-baked walls of La Berbererie are exemplars of quintessential Moroccan style. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.
The sun-baked walls of La Berbererie are exemplars of quintessential Moroccan style. Image by Nicolas Mathéus.

The last stop on the journey is the South where La Berberie, shown above, sprawls like a chameleon in its setting. Also featured in this chapter is the La Petit Palais in Taroudant, a bisque-colored wonder of organic architecture; and Riad Tleta, also in Taroudant, that has Moorish arches and colorful totemic emblems painted on its stucco features. Scotto visits Jardins Secs where artful glazed clay tiles are cut and laid out on beds of sand, the moist surfaces brought elemental texture when local vegetation is pressed into them. A commanding villa tucked into the olive groves in Taroudant, and a palace-cum-hotel that towers over a secluded palm grove of Skoura ends the adventure. The trip, as you can see from the few images we were able to publish, was a heady one; and one that we highly recommend. 

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