WORDS AND PRODUCTION Laurence Dougier PHOTOS Nicholas Matheus
A few kilometres from Marrakech, this countryside house offers a unique take on the traditional Moroccan riad.
Hidden from view behind high-rammed earth walls, this two-hectare estate offers a welcome respite from the tumult of the “Red City” – a nickname Marrakech has earned thanks to its red sandstone buildings and city walls. Villa Ouidane is a short drive east from Morocco’s fourth-largest city, and offers views of the Atlas Mountains in the distance.
Through a field of olive trees, you get the first view of this rather unique interpretation of a riad – a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard – and a glimpse of its distinctive design. Rather than the colourful, geometrically patterned tiles, ornate metalwork and arches that are the usual hallmarks of a riad, this four-bedroom home mixes in more Modernist inspiration in both architecture and decor. Designed by Belgian architect Quentin Wilbaux, the building’s geometry is based on a division into four symmetrical parts, clustered around a large central courtyard that’s pleasantly shaded by pepper trees.
“I have stayed in many riads in the Marrakech medina (historical district),” says Gabriel, the owner of this haven. “For mine, I wanted a home that’s open and spacious, with an easy flow through to the outdoors, far from noise and crowds.” The result is an entirely dual-aspect house, with the large lounge-dining room and the bedrooms on the ground floor all having direct access to the courtyard and the garden.
Approaching past a slender swimming pool, you encounter an outdoor lounge that has been kitted out with benches and coffee tables found at Bab El Khemis, a flea market in Marrakech.
Step inside through the large bespoke French window designed by the architect, and you’ll find yourself in a colour-blocked interior lounge that combines both local and French furniture and fabrics. Bathed in light thanks to another huge window, the more muted dining area features a custom steel-clad fireplace for colder winter evenings. In summer, though, a geometrically tiled patio topped by a wood-beam ceiling made by local craftsmen is another outdoor space to enjoy an evening meal.
With the guest bedrooms all on the ground floor, the master is on the level above, and features an en-suite bathroom that pays homage to the great Dutch painter and theoretician Piet Mondrian. A great lover of his work, Gabriel commissioned ceramist Charlotte Barkowski to design a bathroom directly inspired by the artist’s iconic “Compositions” series. Also upstairs is a reading lounge; both it and the master bedroom connect to a huge terrace that overlooks an olive grove and the swimming pool lined with palm trees, pepper trees and cacti.
By calling on local master masons who still use time-honoured construction methods, Quentin has created a wonderful holiday getaway that combines traditional aspects of Moroccan design with a multi-hued Modernist aesthetic. “With my friend, decorator Corinne Bensimon, we chose several bright colours that tint the walls of each room, and mingle with the furniture and the light fixtures from the 1950s and ’60s to create a singular soul,” says the architect. “For me, it is like no other riad.”
Villa Ouidane can be rented at villanovo.fr.