Moroccan Revival: Visit the home of Jaws in Marrakech

From her very first glimpse of the Atlas Mountains through an airplane window, Philomena Merckoll knew she was going to fall in love with Morocco. She and her mother discovered the country together in 2005 and were instantly seduced by the energy and atmosphere of Marrakech. Soon afterward, she decided to look for a home there. Riad Mena, on the outskirts of the medina, is the result. Today, after several years of restoration work and a good deal of imagination, the place blends traditional elements and modern touches into one cohesive and elegant whole.

The inner courtyard of Philomena Merckoll’s house in Marrakech; the doors and windows are painted in a custom green-gray.

“I loved Morocco right away,” says Merckoll, who grew up in London before studying in Dublin, Berlin, Paris, and New York, and now works in the field of contemporary art. “It all clicked very naturally, and this was actually one of the first houses that we saw. What I love about the riad is that it has this amazing harmony to it. It’s very peaceful and very relaxed.”

The upstairs balcony, the Mies van der Rohe chair was found at a local flea market and re-covered in leather by a local artisan, the pendants are from Mustapha Blaoui in the souks, and the flooring is traditional mosaic tile.

The location of the house—arranged around a central courtyard garden with mature palm and orange trees—was also a big attraction. The riad sits on the edge of the old town but is easily accessible by car or motorbike, unlike so many other traditional houses in the heart of Marrakech that can only be reached on foot through the narrow, winding streets of the medina. The setting also means that the house is quiet and calm, with little of the noise or dust in the air penetrating from the world beyond the walls.

In a sitting room, the chairs were made by local artisan Omizan, the tables are African, the painting on the bookshelf is by Anton Zolotov, and the rug is Mauritanian; the throw is a kilim from the souks.

Updating and modernizing the house, however, was a slow process. Merckoll and her mother, Barbara, worked with local architects for a few years. Then they had the good fortune to meet French designer Romain Michel-Ménière, who lives and works in Marrakech.

Romain Michel-Ménière designed the balcony’s cedar railing, which was made by Omizan, and the curtains are of cotton from Essaouira.

“With Romain, we were on the same page from the start,” Merckoll recalls. “We all got along, and that’s why we worked together so well on the riad. Sometimes we screamed and cried at one another,” she acknowledges, “but only the way you would with someone in your family. Then you make up and move on.”

The cushions, poufs, and cocktail table in an outdoor seating area all came from the souks.

In the courtyard, Michel-Ménière rearranged the layout of the paths, replacing an awkward series of octagonal planting beds with a more linear pattern. He added a modest fountain at the center, plus smaller palms and greenery alongside the mature trees, making the garden more verdant and lush. The woodwork and shutters leading into the various spaces off the courtyard were painted a soothing green-gray to stand out against the creamy white exterior walls.

The kitchen counter is black granite, the cabinetry is custom, the pottery includes traditional Moroccan tagines, and the floor tiles were inspired by a pattern in an adjacent building.

On the ground floor, a number of small rooms were opened up to create larger spaces, including the kitchen/dining area, with its custom cabinetry and shelving, and floor tiles that were inspired by a design found in an adjoining annex to the main house.

The window seat in Merckoll’s mother’s bedroom has pillows made from vintage kilims, and the curtains are linen; the flooring is tadelakt, a traditional lime plaster.

The two bedrooms on the ground floor were given en suite bathrooms. The crisp white of the bathtubs and sinks stands out against the rugged patina of the gray bathroom walls. “Originally, the bathrooms were going to be more traditional, but a friend suggested we use fittings designed by Philippe Starck, and that does give the rooms a real twist and makes them more unusual in this traditional house,” Merckoll says. “It’s a great contrast, although installing everything was quite difficult.”

A window in the sitting room overlooks the garden.

The main living room is another serene space, with a fireplace at one end and a banquette at the other. Merckoll and Michel-Ménière sourced the furniture together, trawling the souks and flea markets of Marrakech for suitable treasures. “We would zoom around the souks on Romain’s motorbike with everyone shouting after him, because they all know him so well,” Merckoll says. “We found everything for the house in the streets.”

In a guest room, the lamp is from the 1950s, the lantern is Moroccan, and the throw was found in a local shop; the molding is original to the house.

Upstairs, the changes were more dramatic. Michel-Ménière designed a suite for Merckoll’s mother along a former terrace to one side of the house. That space is crowned by a window seat—or menzeh—protected by an elegant wood screen and overlooking the courtyard. Across the courtyard, in front of Merckoll’s own bedroom, they added a sheltered space for shaded relaxation on hot days, looking out onto the branches of the trees in the garden below.

A Venetian mirror hangs above a Philippe Starck sink by Duravit.

“The menzeh is the only idea that isn’t really Moroccan,” Michel-Ménière explains. “It’s something you see more in other Arabic countries, but has really become the signature of this house, along with the colors we used.”

The Venetian glass mirror in a guest bath was found in the souks. The doors to a bedroom are painted in the traditional Zouak style.

Now Merckoll and Michel-Ménière are working on the annex, which will include a swimming pool, a dining room, and more bedrooms. “The house has its own language and energy, and it pleases me to see the riad feeling as though it has always looked like this,” the designer says. “It’s close to my own taste but also reflects Philomena. It is young, fresh, and joyful.” ORIGINAL TEXT BY DOMINIC BRADBURY. Originally published in ELLE DECORATION U.K.

The lounge chair in the courtyard was made locally, based on a midcentury Danish design; the plantings include orange and mandarin trees, a palm, and bamboo.

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