Home & Away: Interior Ideas from Morocco
The current lack of hot weather along with the fact I am not going abroad this year has made me reminisce about some of the amazing places I have visited over the years. I don’t know about you but I am so fussy when it comes to choosing somewhere to stay. I want to be WOW-ed by the decor and relax in luxurious settings but our budget doesn’t always allow us to stretch to rooms with such high price tags. So I am always on the lookout for interesting boutique hotels or something that’s a bit quirky that doesn't cost the earth and luckily depending on where you are in the world, hotels abroad can be a lot more affordable than in the UK. When I have had the chance to stay somewhere special I've realised that these locations are always amazing inspiration for my own interiors. How many times have you been in a swanky hotel bathroom and admired the wallpaper or taps? (My recent London bathroom discoveries are Claridges, Brumus and The Mondrian Hotel!) Our upstairs bathroom was actually inspired by the many hotels my travelling husband has been to and he wanted to replicate a 'man-cave' version of hotel bathrooms with hidden strip lighting and walls covered in slate tiles to give a sleek look.
Just this week, I was reflecting on how I can’t wait to go away to Wales soon for a few days with friends and I actually used the words “I can’t wait to get away from home.” Then I realised what I was actually saying - my home is meant to be a place for rest, solace and joy but I was dying to get away from it! I think with the impending building work and the stress of the past week influenced my response but it made me feel sad that home was somewhere I wanted to escape from. But maybe I am actually craving to get out of the city, breathe some fresh oxygen into my lungs and spend time with my boys and my friends without feeling the pressures of everyday life. We all need a break from our physical everyday locations but also a mental break from our usual routines and patterns of thinking. So instead of travelling across the globe to experience the culture of another country this summer, I'm bringing you my favourite hotels with some thoughts on how we can emulate a little hotel styling into our homes. I’m starting this Home and Away series with one of my favourite hotels in a truly beautiful and exotic part of the world.
Les Deux Tours
Exactly five years ago before we heard even the smallest scamper of tiny feet (we had no idea this would be our last child-free holiday) we planned a trip to Morocco to celebrate my 30th birthday. Ever since reading the Alchemist by Paolo Coelho in my early twenties and being evermore inspired by the young Andalusian shepherd protagonist who goes to search for his treasure by traveling through the southern desert of Spain into North Africa, I had always dreamt of travelling to Morocco. So in September 2012 (which is the cheap, low season due to the high temperatures) we booked a trip to Marrakesh with a few days by the coast in Essaouira. We stayed in a couple of different Riads and hotels but the highlight was a luxury two-night stay in Les Deux Tours in Marrakesh. It’s situated in the lush Palmarie just north of the city which is a palm grove consisting of several hundred thousand palm trees. It’s basically a huge oasis of calm outside the bustling and the craziness that can be found in the Medina in the city centre. Marrakech has to been seen to be believed!
I found Les Deux Tours on Mr and Mrs Smith and specifically choose this hotel for a bit of rest and respite from the excitement and frenetic atmosphere of central Marrakesh. It brands itself as an hotel “impervious to fashion and the passage of time” so it's intentional that the interior and exterior design weaves between styles. The aim of going here is to escape and that’s certainly what we did. Les Deux Tours is not so oldy-worldy as central Marrakesh (where I was convinced I'd bump into Aladdin any minute!) but is more modern luxe with a little bit of minimalism in the rooms and gardens. However one of the charms is that each room has original and unique features and there is plenty of space and room to breathe under the hot North African skies. We were upgraded to a junior suite and I loved the space and airiness of the rooms. I also adored the vaulted ceilings and hidden alcoves and of course the zeliges so synonymous with Morocco and Islamic art (mosaic coloured tiles). The hotel creates an atmosphere imbued with Orientalism to remember the 'best of times' in Marrakech and I can't help but feel there is a hint of colonial style too with the oversized plants everywhere. It has a sophisticated maturity in comparison to the childlike playfulness of the souks in town. My experience here was one of complete luxury and relaxation - from the special birthday meal that I remember eating by candlelight outside in the warm desert breeze with champagne in my hand and eating the most incredible Moroccan tagine (apparently traditionally was only eaten by men!) to the beautiful hamman and spa. However my most lasting memory was actually the decor. I remember feeling incredibly sad sitting in the luxuriously cosy bar choosing my last cocktail and letting the rich colours of the space just soak over me. It broke my heart to leave this moment behind.
We'd actually misplaced these pictures on an old broken hard drive so I've only seen them for the first time this week and its strange how years later I could recall the colours and design of this room from memory. The play of the reddish pink against the emerald green is actually a look that is bang on trend at the minute. I'm not normally one to follow current trends but this is one that I've liked for a while. It's an surprisingly great colour marriage! There's also some purple velvet thrown into the mix and patterned flooring and of course the ceiling is the same colour as the walls creating a cosy enclosed look. This maximalist and layered choice of decor has clearly influenced my decisions since returning from this trip five years ago when we had just bought our run-down house which needed a lot of love and re-design.
There is such an experimentation of colour, texture and pattern in Morocco and this is something that can impact our rooms back here in the UK. After chatting to a friend just this week I'm convinced that in order to create an interesting and relaxing space it's important to not be too matchy-matchy. Of course there needs to be a considered aesthetic and a general sense of how each element of the room compliments each other but the only way to discover this delicate balance is to experiment! Get testers of fabric and paint and create your own moodboard (basically stick everything on a piece of cardboard together) and see if you think it 'goes'. You'll be really surprised what works. And remember the real question is "Do I like it?" You're not creating a room in your house to be enjoyed by anyone other than you and your family. The Dandelyn bar in London has similar colour palette to the bar in Les Deux Tours although it has a very different feel with marble and gold accents and more of a baby pink hue for the leather seating. It has also just this week been reported to be the best cocktail bar in the world by Timeout. I can testify that the cocktails are out of this world with some very unique flavours and ingredients all with a botanical theme. I think John had tree sap in one of his! Go check it out - it's a short walk from Waterloo station. I've chosen this example as although the style and period differs very much from the bar in Les Deux Tours, the colour combination and luxe feel is very similar and is probably why I loved being in both of these incredible spaces so much (sipping cocktails coincidentally).
This luxe look below is a different variation on the Moroccan theme but the layered look of different colours and texture is the heart of the dramatic and chic Moroccan look.
One of the design qualities I adored everywhere we went in Morocco was the tadelekt walls. It is a waterproof plaster surface which looks similar to polished concrete but the beauty is that it can be created with different coloured pigments. I think in a modern scheme it can give a bit of an industrial look. It can form seamless curves and its undulating character makes if perfect for baths and sinks as well as walls and ceilings. Tadelkt was traditionally used in Moroccan palaces, hammans and bathrooms and the recent restoration of Riads in Morocco have led to a resurgence in its use. And if you’re a fan you’ll be glad to know that you can achieve this look in the UK with local tradespeople such as Tadelekt London. You can get a real sense of how the plaster is moulded in the hamman below where I spent the day of my 30th birthday at Les Deux Tours (a little piece of heaven in my opinion) and you can see how this wall covering gives that iconic Moroccan look.
In the city we stayed down a little red-walled street in a beautiful and extremely affordable place called Riad ILayka where it was relatively quiet in comparison to the main square (Jemaa el-Fnaa) which was only a few minutes away and is constantly buzzing with life. Mosaic walls and dark interiors were mostly the theme here.
Here are some more scenes of the Medina but trust me, there are many more hidden gems to explore and locals to meet. From the tanners, to the street merchants to solace in the old madrasas, there really was so much to discover around every corner.
Any mention of Morocco instantly conjures up images of bright colours and for a truly colourful experience you must visit Le Jardin Majorelle. At one point owned by Yves Saint Laurent and surprisingly cubist for North Africa, this is apparantly one of the most visited location of Marrakesh. The vibrant hues and exotic plants make it an unforgettable experience long after you return home. Just north of the Medina, this part of the city is more modern and refreshingly artistic and we kept stumbling across inspiring photography exhibitions and restaurants with a twist on traditional Moroccan cuisine.
I've really only given a small flavour of an intriguing country which oozes style and sensuality. There are varied textures and patterns to touch, an array of colours so vibrant in the desert sun, the smell of tagine, the spices which will make your tastebuds explode and the intriguing music that you cannot stop yourself moving to. It is a truly exceptional place to visit and although you think you know what you are going to get from Moroccan culture, there are plenty of surprises with every turn.
DISCLAIMER: All photography by John Ford (my trusty travel companion and husband) unless otherwise stated.