Architectural Digest (UAE) - - Contents - WORDS AMY BRAD­FORD PHO­TO­GRAPHS GER­MAN SAIZ

The Bul­gari fam­ily’s hol­i­day re­treat in Mar­rakech fuses Is­lamic and Span­ish style

Although it gives the im­pres­sion of be­ing ages old, 10 years ago, the Mar­rakech riad you see on th­ese pages was lit­tle more than a va­cant plot of land.

That is, un­til the plot was bought by Paolo Bul­gari, chair­man of Ital­ian lux­ury brand Bvl­gari, and his Madrid-born wife Maite, a screen­writer and TV pro­ducer. The cou­ple used to come to the city for hol­i­days with their daugh­ters Car­lotta and Ma­rina, es­cap­ing their busy jobs in Rome by ex­plor­ing the de­sign work­shops in the me­d­ina. Their vis­its in­spired them to cre­ate a re­mark­able fam­ily re­treat on their rocky piece of land: one that would com­bine the best of Mo­rocco’s craft tra­di­tions with mod­ern Eu­ro­pean style.

Once the lengthy process of build­ing the riad was com­plete, the Bul­garis faced the chal­lenge of dec­o­rat­ing the in­te­rior. A trip to Seville, with its wealth of Moor­ish ar­chi­tec­ture, con­vinced Maite that a de­signer from her home­land would be able to cap­ture the unique mix of styles she wanted for the house. She dis­cov­ered the work of Madrid-based dec­o­ra­tor Pablo Pa­ni­agua on­line.

“I was look­ing for some­one young and open minded who could learn about this dif­fer­ent cul­ture with me,” she re­mem­bers. “We wanted the house to be ‘made from Mo­rocco’. Af­ter 20 min­utes chat­ting on Skype, I re­alised Pablo was ex­actly who I wanted.” Pa­ni­agua was born in Malaga, An­dalu­sia, a re­gion that’s at the heart of Spain’s Is­lamic tra­di­tion. He quickly un­der­stood what the Bul­garis were try­ing to achieve. “It was vi­tal to the fam­ily that the house had real Moroc­can soul, not a fake at­mos­phere,” he says.

Al­most ev­ery­thing at Riad Habiba – which sits within the his­toric me­d­ina, sur­rounded by craft ate­liers – is ei­ther an­tique or made be­spoke by Moroc­can and Span­ish ar­ti­sans. Pa­ni­agua’s choices were shaped not only by lo­cal skills in tex­tiles, rugs and met­al­work, but by Spain’s most im­por­tant Is­lamic build­ings, which date back to the 15th cen­tury. With his ar­chi­tect brother Gus­tavo (a spe­cial­ist in restora­tion, who worked on the house’s or­nate wall fin­ishes and ceil­ings), he vis­ited the Al­ham­bra in Granada and the royal city of Me­d­ina Aza­hara in Cor­doba. “Our job was not to copy spa­ces from the past, but to un­der­stand how they were made, so that we could rein­ter­pret them in a con­tem­po­rary way,” he says.

The broth­ers also stud­ied French Ori­en­tal­ist art­works, min­ing them for ideas on how to ar­range rooms and fur­ni­ture. “They were an in­spi­ra­tion in terms of show­ing how rugs were used, the dif­fer­ent ways of hang­ing lamps, and peo­ple’s un­der­stand­ing of light and pri­vacy,” says Pa­ni­agua. This ac­counts not only for the house’s painterly qual­ity, but also its jux­ta­po­si­tion of open and in­ti­mate spa­ces. There are sev­eral liv­ing ar­eas, three sep­a­rate din­ing rooms for break­fast, lunch and din­ner, and a se­ries of oc­ca­sional cham­bers, all con­nect­ing with out­door ter­races. “We wanted to cre­ate a sense of mys­tery,” Pa­ni­agua ex­plains. “Ev­ery­thing feels as if it has been here since long ago.”

To com­ple­ment the be­spoke and an­tique fur­ni­ture, pre­cious fin­ishes play a cru­cial role. On the walls, this means pol­ished tade­lakt plas­ter, tiles and vel­vet pan­elling, while the ex­tra­or­di­nary cof­fered ceil­ings re­flect Mo­rocco’s rich tra­di­tion of such de­signs. Out of re­spect for Is­lamic cul­ture, there are no fig­u­ra­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tions; only Ber­ber-in­spired pat­terns were used for em­bel­lish­ment. “To th­ese, we added ar­eas of solid colour to im­part a sense of mo­tion and rhythm,” says Pa­ni­agua. “The in­spi­ra­tion for the pal­ette was the me­d­ina, with its work­shops and car­pet ware­houses full of olive greens, saf­fron yel­lows, sil­vers and aubergines. Bvl­gari’s jew­ellery de­signs also in­flu­enced us, but we tried not to use non-tra­di­tional colours.”

What can’t be con­veyed by th­ese im­ages is the riad’s strik­ing ap­peal to the senses. “The rooms are sur­rounded by court­yards, and ev­ery­where there is the sound of bird­song, wa­ter trick­ling in the foun­tains and the call to prayer com­ing from the mosques,” Pa­ni­agua en­thuses. The gar­dens are planted with tra­di­tional Moroc­can plants, such as or­ange and al­mond trees, and flow­ers are cut daily to per­fume the in­te­rior. Even the house it­self ex­udes a scent, from the Span­ish cedar­wood used to clad the ceil­ings.

In many ways, be­ing here still feels like trav­el­ling back in time. The elec­tric light­ing is hardly ever used, and in­stead, rooms are il­lu­mi­nated by can­dle­light. It seems ap­pro­pri­ate for such a ro­man­tic place. “This is where we come to re­lax,” says Maite. “When­ever I’m not here, I’m al­ways think­ing about the next chance to come back.” Pablopa­ni­

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