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May 14, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2013 issue
Designs on Marrakesh
Words: Jim Dunn
It was Robert Carrier, that doyen of the kitchen, who created recipes of an exotic nature. If, at times, a little heavy on the garlic he was nonetheless the writer, restaurateur and hotelier who introduced me properly to Morocco.
For his ‘Moroccan Period’ as he called it he had settled himself into a beautiful old home in the centre of the medina in Marrakesh. He had tired of ‘running things’ as he said ‘and just wanted to relax, read, paint and cook and what better place to do that than in Morocco away from the public eye.
A delightful young couple looked after his every need, cooking when he didn’t feel like a visit to the kitchen, and cleaning the place till it shone.
Robert was gradually withdrawing from his celebrity life when I first met him. He had run and sold the highly successful Carriers restaurant in London, bought and sold his stately home, Hintlesham Hall in Suffolk but was still writing and appearing on TV whenever asked. But new kids were on the block and the whole TV chef scene was changing. It was time for him to move on, he said.
He met me at the airport that first time in his bashed up old car and we skidded our way into the city. His house was down a myriad of alleyways only wide enough for two people to pass so the car had to be parked and we walked the rest.
A huge old Palm tree straddled the shady central courtyard of the house. A courtyard littered with sofas and chairs with impossibly stuffed cushions. Reception rooms, the small and certainly not designer kitchen and the long elegant dining room, were off the courtyard. The guest rooms with lots of terraces and more cushions overlooking the rooftops of the city were on the first floor.
He was, as you can imagine, a superb host. We shopped in the local market every day for the freshest of produce, ate locally, where he was welcomed as a member of the family, or he cooked and we took tours by car out to the countryside and the beaches and into the Atlas Mountains visiting the Berber villages to buy jewellery and handicrafts like ceramic bowls and carpets. Morocco as you all know is a shopper’s paradise.
Robert died some years later among friends during his ‘French Period’ in the small Provencal town of Isle’sur la Sorgue but I will always remember him showing me ‘his’ Morocco.
Future journeys to the country took me to Rabat, the leafy capital, the imperial city of Fez, the exotic Casablanca and to Essoeirra the home of the woodworkers. I also discovered two of my most favourite hotels in the world. The gorgeous La Mamounia, just outside the main gates of Marrakesh. The hotel has just had a multi-million refurbishment and I believe, is even more beautiful in its art deco splendour. It was here on a Sunday evening when he was alive I would see French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre and their little Pekinese having a cocktail before dinner.
A journey through the Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh took me to Taraudant and another art deco gem of a hotel Le Gazelle D’Or set in acres of scented orange groves with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop amidst a very English rose garden and lawn. This is a real must if you want a truly away from it all escape for a few days.
In the shoulder months when the evenings become cooler in Morocco the boys at Le Gazelle d’Or will arrive and light the fire in your cottage and let you settle down with your book and roaring warmth. Bliss!
All these memories came flooding back to me when I received a copy of a new book ‘Marrakesh by Design’ by Maryam Montague who has lived in the country for over 10 years.
Born in Egypt to an American father and an Iranian mother Maryam’s thirst for adventure has sent her all over the world settling in Morocco with her architect husband who has designed, built and decorated Peacock Pavilions – www.peacockpavilions.com, a boutique hotel set in an olive grove on the outskirts of Marrakesh. Have a look at her blog My Marrakesh www.mymarrakesh.com. This chronicles her daily life.
The book takes us on a gorgeous tour of all the colours, patterns and striking architecture of Morocco, particularly Marrakesh. There are 300 photographs and tips on how to get that Moroccan look to your home. Most importantly there’s her personal shopping guide to sourcing the best Moroccan products and artisans who make everything from lighting, door knockers, furniture, ceramics, cushions, fabrics, glass, rugs, mirrors, basket and metal ware.
‘After many years spent exploring Morocco’ says Maryam, ‘it was Marrakesh which finally captured us and we found ourselves returning to the city more and more. It just appears to spring like a mirage from a sea of Palm trees.’
‘Marrakesh,’ she says, ‘is populated with a large number of artists, designers, writers, photographers and film makers. The old city or Medina is bursting with beautiful things to look at and buy. There are pretty places to stay and lots of chic restaurants to eat in.’
And all this experience, knowledge and contacts is contained in this excellent book for those interested in the country or want to get that exotic Moroccan look into your home.
Morocco’s history and design influences have led to an architectural style that can be mysterious and exciting. To live in Moroccan style means to live in a world that is not easily apparent to the outside eye. If you are, like me, lucky to have penetrated beyond the heavy doors of a Moroccan home, you will know that they are private sanctuaries of beauty filled with courtyards, domes, arches and fountains. Surfaces are richly decorated, patterns abound and colour is everywhere.
Marrakesh by Design, www.artisanbooks.com