In renovating their riad in Marrakech, two New York designers find that the vagaries of the local building traditions are nothing compared with the challenge of merging their two very distinct visions
By Gisela Williams
When Martin Raffone and William McIntosh, successful interior designers from New York, began the process of renovating a riad they had purchased in the medina of Marrakech, they did what they would normally do for any of their clients: They spent several months meticulously preparing professional construction documents. "That was a big mistake," McIntosh says with a laugh. "I doubt anyone ever looked at them once."
Five years after finally completing the house, a narrow, two-story building with a rooftop terrace, a small central courtyard, and an attached studio apartment, the couple can make fun of their learning curve. "We understood pretty quickly that it does not work in Marrakech the way it works in Manhattan," says Raffone. "It's a much more organic process. The craftsmen in Morocco interpret, misinterpret, and bring their own vision of ancient craft to every detail of the project."
"In New York, the work we do is so fussy and technical," McIntosh adds. "In Morocco, you put up a wall and then decide where to put a hole in the wall to make a window."
To their initial dismay, in several cases the end result was radically different from their original design. For a guest bath, they had wanted the ceiling lined with sticks embedded in plaster, a traditional Moroccan technique; instead, when they returned from a trip, they found a ceiling of ribbed plaster. McIntosh was somewhat upset that instructions hadn't been followed, but Raffone loved it. "What an incredible misinterpretation," he says. "Their version was way better."
McIntosh eventually warmed to the unpredictability of working with Moroccan artisans. "Chance and circumstance can be great design partners," he says. He lists other happy surprises: "The bookshelves in the living room became floating slabs of concrete, and the rear stairwell became a wonderful modernist composition of interlocking forms."
On occasion it was actually trickier for the two professional designers to work together. They had never collaborated before and had different ideas for the house. "I was interested in the quality of the light and the experience of outdoor living," says Raffone, "and Bill had a vision of drinking a cocktail and reading by the fire." While both are rooted in modern design, Raffone says he leans toward "the rustic, warm camp" while McIntosh prefers "the refined, luxe version."
Having spent several months in the house before the renovation began, they could agree on what they wanted to preserve and what they wanted to change. It had been redone fairly recently, but "some of the doors wouldn't close, and rain would come into the bedroom," McIntosh explains. "Some rooms were uncomfortable and awkward."
In the end, they reworked almost everything. They altered the sizes of the windows and lowered the windowsills to let in more light, and they added a skylight in the attached apartment, which became two guest rooms. They installed a fireplace in the living room and completely redid the bathrooms and kitchen. It took a year of traveling back and forth between the daily reality of Manhattan and the visceral reality of the medina to finish the job. "New York will always be our home," Raffone says, "but what we miss when we are away from Marrakech is a sense of honest life. There's an energy to the streets that I don't feel any where else. People there have such strong relationships to each other. It's an authentic community."
The pair sourced artisans in the medina and beyond for the interiors. Almost all of the furniture was custom made. "The only things we actually purchased were the campaign chairs," says McIntosh. Raffone designed color-blocked poufs, some made of leather and others of awning canvas, the Z-shaped wood chairs, and the dining table. McIntosh designed the pendant lights and armoires made of wood and tadelakt, a plaster that is hand-polished with stones. And they painted much of the artwork themselves. "That's another reason why we love being in Marrakech," says McIntosh. "We find ourselves with the time and space to create. We had two or three weeks in the middle of the renovation where we set up rooms as studio spaces and made paintings and sculptures."
Raffone was so inspired by the process that, early this year, he opened a design shop in the Gueliz neighborhood that sells many of the pieces he created for their home, as well as a variety of objects sourced from their travels. "I actually prefer the design process here," concludes Raffone, who is now splitting his time equally between Marrakech and Manhattan, while McIntosh travels to Morocco every six weeks. He explains that the name of his boutique, maisonLAB, refers to the laboratory-like experience of creating things in Morocco. "You set out to solve a problem and, through trial and error and a bit of luck, you end up with a beautiful resolution."
Architecture firm BarlisWedlick and Designer Martin Raffone Add an Urban Appeal to a Rural Home
by Arlene Hirst
Some people just grow tired of Manhattan. That's what happened to a New York couple who decided to leave their spacious Chelsea loft and move upstate to the Hudson Valley.
The men, mostly retired, owned a weekend house in the area and felt that they never spent enough time there. But moving into the dwelling on a permanent basis was not an option. It was built in the 1820s and came with all the problems of old houses. So they began to hunt for a place that was both comfortable and modern. "We didn't want to give up the luxury of what we had in the city," says one of the owners.
The search proved fruitless and they realized the need to build something themselves. They first purchased 52 acres, then 12 more and sought the services of the architectural firm of BarlisWedlick. Dennis Wedlick was an old friend and he had an office in Hudson, New York, not too far away.
The brief was clear: "They wanted an urban quality in a rural house," says Wedlick. The architects created what Alan Barlis describes as an iconic assemblage of rural structures, each with its own separate function. The living room is a classic glass-walled modern pavilion; the kitchen, with its soaring two-story pitched roof feels more like a barn; a dramatic three-story staircase—one level leads down to the basement— connects the disparate spaces. The materials are simple and classic: wood, stone, and concrete. "It's a modern version of a traditional building," says Barlis of the 4,600-square-foot dwelling.
For the interiors the owners worked with designer Martin Raffone who had previously done the couple's Manhattan loft. Raffone explains that they wanted him to bring their urban aesthetic to the house and accordingly used most of the furniture from their Chelsea apartment. The fit was not a problem since the owners had asked the architects to match the rooms to the proportionate scale of the loft. "It's very modern and minimal, but with rich textures and allusions to a barn," says Raffone. "We wanted the best of both worlds," says one of the owners. And they feel that they more than have it.
New York interior designer Martin Raffone shares his favorite finds in Morocco’s Red City
By Sara Lieberman
From the ancient, winding souks of the medina to the super-chic shops of Guéliz, Marrakech is a city of stark contrasts. Donkeys carry loads of fresh mint, while Range Rovers idle outside luxury hotels. If there’s one constant, though, it’s the city’s distinct sense of craftsmanship—courtesy of leather tanners, woodworkers, weavers, and other artisans. Such artistry is what inspired New York interior designer Martin Raffone to divide his time between the two cities eight years ago. “These artisans have been making things for a thousand years,” says Raffone. “They can make modern adaptations of things like Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s famous Zig Zag chair with Moroccan walnut.” Raffone, whose previous work includes SoHo lofts and Hamptons summer residences, sells such items at Maison LAB, his recently opened home store in Marrakech’s emerging New Town neighborhood. He also offers walnut carving boards, blankets “in crazy-fabulous fluorescent colors,” soaps from France that are “exquisitely packaged,” and easy-to-stack bowls. Here, the design consultant and decorator tells Architectural Digest where he finds beauty and peace in his adopted home.
La Mamounia “This legendary hotel is certainly something to experience, but my favorite hidden part is the beautiful, classically Moroccan pavilion in the center of the hotel’s extraordinary gardens. You can sit quietly and enjoy it with an ice cream from their great little shop or a cocktail from the bar.” From $476/night; mamounia.com
Popham Design “My good friends Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes are American expats with amazing style. They offer contemporary takes on traditional Moroccan cement tile and sell them here by appointment only. The designs are really modern and chic but still seem to suit the environment.” 7 km Route d’Ourika; pophamdesign.com
Fennwerk “This is Moroccan carpet shopping taken to another level! Nicolas Carré and his partner have designed a gorgeous white showroom where they sell amazing vintage and contemporary carpets that are like works of art. They’re unlike anything you’ll find in the medina.” 148 Boulevard Abdelkrim al Khattabi #B4, Gueliz; fennwerk.com
Radisson Blu “This brand-new hotel in the center of Guéliz is directly across from my shop. They’ve got this beautiful floral store in the lobby with roses everywhere and an entrance that’s paneled in walnut. The lobby, bar, restaurant, and terrace are all on the fourth floor, high above the bustling Boulevard Mohammed V. Drinks outside on the pool terrace are amazing, and the food at the restaurant, Lila, is great. This is definitely my favorite new hangout.” From $183/night; radissonblu.com
Majorelle Garden Gift Shop “Not only is the garden itself one of the most pleasant spaces in the city, but the shop goes way over the top with amazingly beautiful home accessories like leather pillow covers. The quality of the leather—I think it comes from Fez—is extraordinary.” Rue Yves Saint Laurent; jardinmajorelle.com
La Paillote “This restaurant sits in a beautiful garden about an hour from the medina, and is designed like a huge straw-roofed African lodge. The interior has billowy white curtains and chic camplike furniture that seems as if it could all be packed up and put on a camel. It’s like a little Out of Africa design in the middle of Marrakech and a good respite from downtown. The food and service are excellent, too.” 4 km Route d’Amizmiz; lapaillote.ma
Nomad “Certainly one of the hottest, if not the hottest, place to eat in the medina. Great food, modern design, but my favorite part is the upper terrace at sunset. Sitting this high above the craziness of the medina is sublime. It makes it all seem so calm . . . and far away! They have a fabulous lamb burger and a modern lamb tagine served in a rectangular block with potatoes stacked into a log cabin–like cube. They also make a really good mojito since there’s such great mint here.” 1 Derb Aarjan, Rahba Lakdima (Place des Epices); nomadmarrakech.com
The Secret Garden “This garden was recently restored from an ancient merchant’s home, and it’s so perfectly done—both in terms of detail and execution. Even the benches are unique, and small fountains and canals run everywhere! The first section is the exotic part, with gorgeous imported plants. The second section is a traditional Islamic garden, and it is beyond elegant. What gets me the most, though, is that it’s this enormous, open, tranquil space in the middle of the crowded medina.” Rue Mouassine 121; lejardinsecretmarrakech.com
Musée d’Art et de Culture de Marrakech (MACMA) “The gallery spaces at this brand-new contemporary art museum in Guéliz are so elegant. They’re all white with marble floors and have a very Chelsea, New York vibe. Tall doorways frame rooms that are two stories high, all filled with modern art—a rarity in Marrakech.” 61 Rue Yougoslavie/Passage Ghandouri; +212-5244-48326
When first moving into a new apartment, there are so many directions you can go. Each room presents a new design opportunity to play with your creativity and transform the space into a home.
To showcase this variety of possibilities, online interior design company Decorist teamed up with LUMINA, a luxury apartment building in San Francisco, to have four of their celebrity designers put their own personal touch on a three-bedroom apartment. Using 3D renderings, each designer created a truly unique and stylish space we would kill to live in.
Splitting time between the cities of New York and Marrakech, interior designer Martin Raffone, has spent years honing his sharply defined style which is exemplified by a smart mix of warm and comfortable modernism, sophisticated simplicity and a richly defined materials palette. Currently commissions in the works include a beach house in Morocco, apartments in Paris and New York, and an expansion of his signature shop in Marrakech, maisonLAB.
maisonLAB, Popham Design, Holly Hunt
Where To Go in Marrakech
Guéliz, or the “New Town,” is living up to its moniker as the neighborhood known for meshing the ancient with the new.
By Sara Lieberman
While most visitors to Marrakesh head straight for the medina and its souks, Guéliz, or the “New Town,” is living up to its moniker as the neighborhood known for meshing the ancient with the new. “It’s really a crossroads of modern and traditional Morocco,” said Arnaud Foltran, an owner of Kechmara restaurant. The fall 2017 opening of an Yves Saint Laurent museum — designed by the Paris-based architecture firm Studio KO — will further cement the district’s reputation for desert wares gone chic and couscous gone artisanal
Lalla: At this trendy store that opened last spring, accessory lovers will find well-made beaded key chains, leather bucket bags in bright colors and pouches with tassels designed by Laetitia Trouillet, who, though born in Bordeaux, has made Marrakesh her home for over a decade. 35, boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi; 212-5-24-44-72-33;
Kechmara: The rooftop restaurant and bar feature an ever-changing display of art like 3-D decorative signs from the likes of the Saatchi sculptor and photographer Simon Saliot that encourage one to “Enjoy the Sun.” Dishes such as locally made burrata and octopus salad appear on the seasonal menu. 3, rue de la Liberté; 212-5-24-42-25-32; kechmara.com
Maison LAB: With a wall featuring a geometric mural of the Berber alphabet, the new furniture and décor store of the New York interior designer Martin Raffone is the epitome of Moroccan modernism. Most of the boutique, which opened in February, offers his own brand of contemporary adaptations of items made in Morocco, such as a raw walnut version of Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s famous zig zag chair. 44, rue Tarik Bnou Ziad No.1; 212-5-24-43-39-36; maisonlab.com
David Bloch Gallery: After working in fashion for several years, Parisian-born David Bloch opened this contemporary exhibition space in 2010 to display collections from 20 international artists, such as the street muralist SupaKitch and the geometric futurist Augustine Kofie. “Most of the art is abstract, optical and graphic,” Mr. Bloch said. “It bridges the gap between street and modern art.” 8 bis, rue des Vieux Marrakchis; 212-5-24-45-75-95; davidblochgallery.com
Marrakshi LIFE Atelier: This atelier and shop sells the fashion photographer Randall Bachner’s men’s wear line, Marrakshi LIFE, featuring handwoven textiles with a Venice Beach hipster vibe. “Here you can see the artisans work the hand looms, the tailors crafting the final pieces and then have something to buy,” Mr. Bachner said of the space, which opened in January. 111, rue Yougoslavie, ground floor; 212-5-24-38-98-76; facebook.com/MarrakshiLIFEfacebook.com/MarrakshiLIFE
Vertigini a New York
Dining By Design
Marrakech Modern: A Remodeled Riad for Rent
By Heather Smith MacIsaac
Designers Martin Raffone and Bill McIntosh’s house, Dar Mahjouba, is like hundreds of other riads jammed cheek by jowl in the dense quarters of Marrakech’s medina: a traditional Moroccan house with rooms ringing a central courtyard, and a roof terrace that provides the only view of an outside world. And yet the resemblance ends there. Amid the cacophony of the medina, the tranquil house is an elixir, a cool glass of milk surrounded by mounds of spice.
Having rented a riad myself only a few alleyways over at the northern edge of the souks, I know the relief of ducking through a low doorway to step from a world of overstimulation into a center of calm. Of late, Marrakech’s popularity as a destination has soared, as has design interest in all things Moroccan. Now there are dozens of riads to rent, most of them packed to the roofs with design clichés. Not so the riad reimagined by Raffone and McIntosh, each of whom has his own interior design firm in New York City (see Martin Raffone and William McIntosh Design.) The good news: They rent out their house when they’re not there (for information, scroll to the end).
“We simplified and modernized,” Raffone says, “and grayed everything down.” He and McIntosh also turned to the best local resources, the artisans themselves, and had almost all the interior furnishings made to their own design. Here and there, traditional pieces such as tea tables and wooden stools make an appearance, but rather than swallowing whole the busy array of native Moroccan craft, as so many other transplanted homeowners do, they’ve opted for only a soupcon. All of which makes their riad more than just palatable. It’s the ideal home away from home in Marrakech.
The house isn’t so much whitewashed as dipped in cream. Nearly every surface is tadelakt, a traditional plaster treatment involving integral color and buffing that produces a soft sheen. Window frames, doors, and shutters are all painted a complementary warm, soft gray. The courtyard is shown here. Candle lanterns are ubiquitous in Marrakech; for ease of use, Raffone and McIntosh electrified theirs and wired them to wall switches. The curlicue motif of the wrought-iron rail inserts and window guards is a common pattern in Marrakech.
Off the courtyard a lounge area, commonly referred to as the bhou, is the most traditional room, and Raffone’s favorite spot. Lined with a banquette in a slate gray cotton and furnished with shutters as well as curtains from West Elm, it’s a cool place to retreat from the heat and intensity of the sun. Raffone and McIntosh designed the iron lights, which were made locally; the black paper lampshades came from BHV, in Paris.
A fig tree dominates the courtyard, providing the relief of shade plus greenery. In a corner a wall fountain replaces what was once a well.
Wood and rush stools from the souk neatly tuck under a stone-topped iron table designed by Raffone and McIntosh. To open up the living room to the courtyard, they enlarged a pair of windows flanking a shuttered doorway. Leaning in the corner is a baker’s bread peel, a sculptural reference to the riad’s address, Derb el Ferrane (Street of the Oven).
Raffone designed a collection of linens, including this table runner, for Alnour, a local co-op that enlists the embroidery skills of women with disabilities. The name of the house, Dar Mahjouba, is monogrammed on Linen Napkins, thanks to stateside Etsy seller BetsyGrace. The ceramics and glassware were sourced locally, the flatware is Dine Noir from CB2, and the hand-shaped platter is the Como Aluminum Tray by Paola Navone from Crate & Barrel.
As is traditional in riads, the rooms are long and narrow–a mere seven feet wide. That constriction meant dispensing with typical furniture arrangements and instead introducing a uniform of sorts: Mattress-topped wooden banquettes of varying heights and sizes appear in each space. “We used systemization to make the house feel quieter and more modern,” Raffone says. Fireplaces are uncommon in Marrakech, but the designers wanted one for visual and physical warmth. In the living room, shown here, ribbed plaster tops a hearth with a wall-to-wall ledge of firebrick. A painting by Raffone hangs over the banquette. The leather-studded side chair, campaign chair, and Beni Ouarain rug are from Mustapha Blaoui, a favorite local source. (See High/Low: Beni Ourain Moroccan Rugs for sourcing ideas.)
At the opposite end of the living room, concrete shelves finished in tadelakt echo the horizontal ribs of the hearth. A higher banquette is paired with the Raffone and McIntosh-designed dining table of oak and marble. The patterned pillow textile is mud cloth from Mali. The striped tablecloth is from Zara Home, which has a local location.
The use of only three materials–local black marble for the counter and backsplash, black floor tile, and tadelakt (creamy for the walls and ceiling, black for the counter base)–make for a streamlined and graphic kitchen. Three metal downlights, two white and one black, light the space. (Learn about the benefits of downlights in Remodeling 101: How to Install Flattering Lighting.)
A wall of steel and glass brings light to one end of a long guest room, and introduces a note of modern architecture to the house. A double set of curtains, sheer and opaque, from West Elm, modulates light and privacy. The forked branch is a ladder from sub-Saharan Africa.
A narrow slot, beveled to admit more light to the interior, captures a slice of the painted wooden screen of the mashrabiya, a traditional oriel window enclosed by latticework.
Sheer linen curtains soften the posts of the loggia. Simple iron tables topped with wooden slats flank a double banquette, all designed by Raffone and McIntosh. The carved posts elevated on wire bases are tent stakes used by the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara.
In the master bedroom, the designers introduced open shelves in place of a closet that occupied a niche. The top shelf turns a corner and widens to form a desk. The embroidered bedspread is from India; the whip-stitched linen throw came from Lilah Spiritin Marrakech. The earthy throw rug comes from the natural wool of local sheep. The linen slippers are from Muji.
A painting by Raffone stands next to a banded wooden tray used in the souks for serving tea (sometimes elevated on legs as a portable table) and at home for holding rising bread.
A built-in tadelakt ledge with a niche serves as a headboard for a banquette used as both sofa and bed in a narrow guest room. The traditional painted tea table matches the ones in the bhou.
The riad’s bathrooms are all seamless formations of gray tadelakt. The mirror was made by a man in the neighborhood who hand carves the frames and stains them with shoe polish. The taps are by Roca; the shower curtain and towel are from West Elm.
Uplit olive trees in terracotta pots set the rooftop terrace aglow. Raffone and McIntosh elevated a section of the terrace with an ipe deck, added an iron rail to the parapet, and created shade for the dining area via a triangular sail from Ikea supported by wooden poles from the souk. The black lounge chairs and white dining chairs are also from Ikea. (For more ways to keep the sun out, see Design Sleuth: Shade Sails.)
Martin Raffone Designs a Hamptons Paradise
For a busy young family of six, Martin Raffone puts together a stylish, season-ready Hamptons getaway in a New York minute
By Judith Nasatir
As New York design stories go, this one's a classic: family closes on a house in May, and wants it entertaining-ready by July Fourth. What's their designer to do? Shop for just about everything retail—and work his professional skills to the max of ingenuity to create something distinctive and unique. That's what Martin Raffone did on this project. He also upped the ante on comfort and durability—necessary in a five-bedroom house with four children under age ten—in his décor equation for Hamptons-style chic.
"The architecture was already great," Raffone said happily, which helped significantly given the time crunch. "These clients really use every part of the house. Every weekend in the summer the place is packed, with kids in the pool and backyard barbecues," adds the designer. "He's a Texan, and mans the grill." In the eat-in kitchen, the house's hub, both the wife and the husband put their culinary skills to work (he's in the restaurant business). "The kitchen connects to the porch, flows into the living room, and opens to a formal dining room that can sit ten," says Raffone. He limned the dining room in a large-scale floral wallpaper that connects it to the outdoors, lends a traditional flourish, and creates a feeling of intimacy. Upstairs, he individualized the bedrooms with wallpaper, creating one feature wall in each.
As Raffone was completing the installation—"turnkey"—the schedule shortened yet again. "The day we were finishing, she said she'd be there at 6:00 pm. She called at 2:00 to say she was on her way. We wrapped it up, lit the candles, turned on the lamps, bolted the doors, and left." As he was heading home, he got the call from the client that every designer hopes for. It's easy to see why.
Da Fabrica A Loft Di Lusso
Un architetto e l'appartemento di un giovane artista. Il resultato? Stanze con i colori naturali della sabbia. E strutture messe a nudo, resti di un passato industriale.
Mi mundo privada
Sprucing Up The Space