A monkey in a dress.
A cobra slinking openly in the street.
A dwarf hawking cookies from a silver tray.
A severed camel head.
No these aren’t scenes from HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones”. These are scenes I witnessed within the first thirty minutes of entering the souk (market) in the medina (city) in Marrakech last week. This ancient Moroccan city is claustrophobically
compressed with indescribable textures, colors, odors and exoticisms. Being lost in its disorienting labrynths is truly an experience. Marrakech is not a sterile “less is more” city. It’s a complex quilt work of colorful, kaleidoscopic tile mosaics and lacey plasterwork.
McAlpine Booth & Ferrier’s Susan Ferrier and I were honored to attend the invitation-only 2012 Design Leadership Summit. The event is the annual meeting of the Design Leadership Network, an organization of renowned architects, interior designers, landscape architects and media editors. The group gathers to openly discuss our professions, share experiences and try our best to predict the future of the industry (with a stylish collection of crystal balls).
The topics at this year’s Summit ranged from the impact of social media in our businesses to Harvard reports on the current housing market to fashion designer Ralph Rucci and his divine inspirations.
The event culminated with a seated dinner for 200 under the desert sky, lit only by torches and firelight. Moroccan carpets underfoot, expertly prepared indigenous fare, and a herd of camel completed the scene. Memorable does not begin to describe this trip. All that aside, it was an amazing symposium: exotic locale, yes, but also a concentrated time where egos and competitive natures (our professions are rife with such) are shed and we were able to openly discuss how to serve our clients better.
Only in the magical city of Marrakech could one see over two hundred of the world’s top designers AND a monkey in a dress.
What inspires you?
As a designer, that’s a question you get asked a lot. Truthfully, inspiration can be found everywhere: travel, poetry, songs, films… you name it. We tend to collect bits of life like magpies and store them away until the right recipient is sitting in front of us. The thing that never fails to provide our hearts and minds with artistic fuel are the clients who find their way into our lives. They are the wonderful patrons who are trusting enough to hand us their profound dreams and ask for them to be made real. Bobby always says if we do our job, the resultant house should look like the person for whom it was designed. We are to be our clients’ hands; to draw what they would draw if they could draw. That’s why we strive to observe and listen well; not just to what is said but what is unsaid.
A few years ago we had a client who picked Bobby up at the airport and proceeded to drive him out to her site. In the short trip, he learned that her children were both adopted and they even stopped to pick up a stray neighbor’s dog so he could be returned home. Bobby then recognized, in a short amount of time, that she was a born nurturer. As a result of this observation, the design of her new house became a series of buildings embracing courtyards and gardens. In other words, what was being held was more important than the holder.
Often our inspiration is found in travel. The spark that began this house was based on a day of romantic courtship for our clients (a newly engaged couple). They told us about the time they first realized they were in love. It was after spending a lazy afternoon dining in an Italian monastery-turned-hotel. In discussing a look for their new home, they reminisced about that date and showed us a postcard of the hotel, saying they liked the style of the architecture. We jumped on this lovely tidbit of memory and made the entrance to their house a loggia reminiscent of that hotel’s dining area. Therefore, every time they enter their home, they get to relive that etherial moment in the past. An important and dear memory from their life together has been now actualized in stone and mortar.
One of the most inspired inspirations I remember was a client who loved the film “Howard’s End”. She requested that we watch the movie and use the house as an inspiration for her new home. No other directions were given. No more were really needed.
As these few examples illustrate, there myriad sparks that ignite the creative imagination. We love those clients that bring a fiery passion to the first meeting. We’ll provide the kindling and fan accordingly.
What is it about a stone house that warms and engages the soul? Does it stir something in our collective unconscious? Maybe it recalls a time when a hole carved in the living rock was our ancestor’s first shelter. Whatever the call, being blanketed in the permanence of stone is like being embraced by the earth itself.
Creating the look of an aged stone house in modern-day construction is always a challenge. The fact of the matter is, contemporary masons are precise and too well trained. Generally, they work in the modularity of brick and are accustomed to the building block regularity of that material.
To start with, we inevitably have to retrain the mindset of our mason in order to effect something that looks like it was crafted hundreds of years ago. Back then, stone was not a veneer (as it is today); it was the structure itself. Therefore, it should be laid flat, not face out. Also, stone was utilized because it was lying about the site and was never desired as the finish material. After the rock was laid, it was heavily parged or plastered to cover the common field-harvested structure. The finish of old stone buildings as we romance them today is a result of years of weather, thus removing most of the plaster. To duplicate this patina in new construction, a good deal of mortar must be used while laying the rock. And the walls should never be cleaned; artstic “sloppiness” is desired.
Sample upon sample is usually required before we can get just the right recipe of humility, load bearing appearance and time ravage. What used to be a result of almost untrained labor, apologetically employed, is now a high-end construction finish. How times have changed.
It seems humble is now expensive.