This is the iconic and utterly unique four storey riad, Dar Noujoum, which belonged to the flamboyant and pivotal designer, the late Bill Willis.
It is a home steeped in history – like no other.
The house belonged to a minor Sultan and famously once housed his family’s harem. Bill Willis gain ownership of the property back in the early seventies and transformed it (with the help of Abdellatif Lamselli, my construction partner), into a voluptous Orientalist designer home from where he held court, and entertained in the most extravagant fashion.
Bill Willis was enourmously influential. He was responsible for almost single handedly reviving and reinterpreting high end Moroccan architecture and traditional crafts such as zellij and tadelakt that were, forty years ago, on the verge of extinction.
Willis’s work has left its mark all across Marrakech, from Yves Saint Laurent’s home in the Marjorelle Gardens, Villa Maroc, to the landmark Moroccan restaurant, Dar Yacout, many of which were built with my partner Abdellatif. His work indeed prompted dozens of design books. He effectively appropriated an aesthetic language, then reinvented it, thereby coining the current design vocabulary of Marrakech.
He first arrived here when he accompanied Paul Getty Jr. on his honeymoon in 1968. He ended up finding him the now famous Palais de la Zahia to buy. Bill Willis then set up housekeeping with the Getty’s to live a kind of dolce vita hedonistic legend, while designing then working on the newly found Getty home.
Thereafter Bill Willis never left and for four decades, people queued up to commission him to create voluptuous riads.
With this five bedroom house, Willis created a masterpiece that towers over one of the most historic and fascinating spots in Marrakech.
It is a 289m2 riad on the ground floor that curiously broadens with lots of quirks to 415m2 on the first floor and above. It keeps revealing itself. It must have taken me four full visits to completely discover the house.
Every surface is beautifully crafted and the riad is thickly layered with his creative flair.
Some of the more memorable features are the wealth of marble floors, the striking tadelakt and zellij fireplaces, the intricately carved plaster work, the ubiquitous hand painted wooden ceilings (including extra-ordinary rotundas in the reception rooms), and the stained glass windows.
There are so many selling points to the riad. Here are just a few:-
There is car parking and access right outside the property; the neighbours are the Hermes family with their enormous palace; there isn’t anywhere in the Medina that can match the location for its authenticty and concentration of historic buildings; the panoramic views are breathtaking; the room configurations completely break free from the restrictive space that riads provide; the house has been ingeniously designed into a completely externalised home that offers wonderful vistas in every direction from the upper floors; and, for instance, the house provides numerous supplementary rooms, such as the traditional three chambered hammam.
The price has been slashed to 5m dhs, but the owner might close at 4.2m, or even 4m dhs.
For me, this represents an incredible deal. For the price of a mere two bedroom London flat, one could purchase a royal palace – steeped in history, boasting the best views in town, the coolest spatial configuration, and undoubtedly the most impressive architectural detailing in Marrakech.