The traditional North African style of design and architecture has always been characterised by intricate motifs, bright colours, hand-painted styles and ornate carvings. The beauty of Moroccan towns and cities, such as Marrakech, is created by the overwhelming detail ‒ the visual equivalent of the senses-scrambling sounds and scents present in the typical Moroccan marketplace. It is not a country that has ever been associated with the airy, minimalist style of contemporary modernist architecture and interior design ‒ until now that is.
Over the past decade Western property developers have been buying up cheap riads in Morocco to convert into luxury holiday homes. Initially they sought to recreate traditional Moroccan styles as closely as possible, albeit with all mod cons included.
Recently, however, wealthy buyers have been opting to refurbish their Moroccan villas in a fashionably minimalist style that is international in flavour ‒ a combination of Mediterranean and Scandinavian influences with something of mid-20th century California – that has its roots nowhere but in the globally scattered estates of the jet-setting elite.
Dar Bianca is a striking villa close to the American School in Marrakech. Built in 2006, it was a collaboration between its French owners and architect Imad Rhamouni, an Algerian protégé of Phillipe Starck. Created from concrete, metal and glass, the villa makes great use of clean white space and is featured in the new James Bond film Spectre. It was recently on the market for £3.2m. A similar villa, combining Berber tradition with cubist modernism was featured in the film Mission Impossible 5 and is on sale for £2.58m.
Morocco and Marrakech in particular remain a popular choice for overseas buyers. Many wealthy Middle Easterners choose to invest their money in Moroccan property, seeing it as a safe haven. Last year the Emir of Qatar was reported to have paid around £73.75m for a Moroccan palace, while another private palace, Dar Olfa, is currently on the market for £47.93m.
In Marrakech’s Ourika Valley, £14.75m could get you Ibraaze, a 10-bedroom house built along European minimalist lines and hidden in a private enclave in the valley bottom. A natural dip combines with the house’s low, flat design to almost completely conceal it from view, as well as its 50-metre swimming pool, wild meadow garden and artificial lake.
In the Atlas Mountains, an hour’s drive from Marrakech, boutique hotels nestle next to luxurious villas on sale from £329,000; described as offering ‘a cool design aesthetic in a warm climate’.
‘This is a Zen-like interpretation of Moroccan architecture,’ says Anwar Harland-Khan, managing director of L’Amandier, which developed the resort. ‘The buildings are rendered in the same colours as the earth so there’s a real feeling of being part of the landscape, but without the overdone intricacies you usually associate with Morocco. That’s appealing to European buyers. They want a retreat where they can sit back, look at the mountains and soak up the sense of time and space.’