Creating Golf Homes in Morocco Both Traditional and Modern

Golf has grown in popularity in the Middle East and North Africa from Algeria to Qatar. But one country in the region has a considerable head start: Morocco.

The sport has been here since the British exported it in the early years of the 20th century. But it gained momentum in the middle of the century thanks to King Hassan II – ruler from 1961 to 1999 – who was golf crazy and viewed the sport as a tool to help his country enter a market-driven economy.

The king built several golf courses designed by some of the world’s best designers and founded a golf tournament called Trophée Hassan II in 1971, which is an integral part of the European Tour.

The country now has more than 40 highly regarded courses, and both their number and popularity are growing rapidly. It doesn’t hurt that golf is at the heart of Morocco’s recent tourism surge and that Prince Moulay Rachid, Hassan II’s son and younger brother of King Mohammed VI, is an avid golfer. Or that the weather is sunny for more than 300 days a year.

Along or near the country’s golf courses that are close to the coast, mountains or popular towns are some of the most beautiful homes in the region. In contrast to many newer residences in places like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt, which often have Western styles and aspirations, these houses, whether traditional or modern, take up classic Moroccan motifs and approaches.

Often taking on rugged, earth-toned walls and subtle abstract shapes, inspired by their older downtown counterparts, they are filled with vibrant colors, detailed ornaments, and handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, metal, and textiles. They are often softened with lush planting, fountains, screens, shaded patios, and speckled courtyards. And their designs are often a mix of Islamic, Berber, Moorish and French styles.

“When people come to Morocco, they want to feel like they are in Morocco,” said Maud Fajas, director of the Marrakech office of international real estate company Emile Garcin, which has around 200 residential properties for sale or rent in the country most of them close to Marrakech and its more than 20 golf courses. (Properties near courses typically cost between $ 1.2 and $ 3.6 million to sell and $ 950 to $ 1,400 a night to rent.) Ms. Fajas is originally from France and was in February 2000 Expats traveled to Morocco on vacation in the country.

The secret for this fusion of modern and classic is the country’s extraordinary craft tradition. Almost anything you could possibly want can be handcrafted by a virtually limitless cadre of skilled local artisans, from bricklayers to woodworkers to weavers.

“It’s just the way they work here,” said Ms. Fajas. “This is the only way to know how to do it.” Craftsmen often learned from their parents, who learned from theirs, had special skills and a willingness to build something.

During a (virtual) tour of one of the houses of her company, which was designed by the famous Moroccan architect Eli Moyal next to the PalmGolf Marrakech Palmeraie golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, she pointed to hand-cast barrel-vaulted ceilings, handset brick walls, hand-made floor tiles, hand-made chandeliers made of glass and metal as well as a hand-assembled bamboo ceiling by the pool.

Ms. Fajas also noticed some contemporary style homes next to Al Maaden Golf Resort, which opened in 2008, a few minutes south of the winding streets of Marrakech. (Many of the city’s newer golf courses are located south of the center in a less traditional area.)

These types of houses, which have become more common in recent years, are more square, reduced, with large windows and free-flowing. But outside, they often emulate the burnt orange, clay-like surfaces of traditional Moroccan houses – usually a mix of putty concrete, lime, and earth – and their fluid connections between inside and outside. And inside there are handcrafted crafts and abstract details such as filigree screens, bright fabrics and geometric ceramic tiles, whose abstract patterns are well suited for both traditional and modern environments.

“The craftsmanship you get is very specific,” said David Schneuwly, another French transplant. Mr. Schneuwly founded Villanovo, a company that rents villas across the country and elsewhere in the world. (About 20 percent of his Moroccan offerings go to golf vacationers, he said.) “It shows in the details of the mashrabiya [projecting wood latticework windows] and the subtle variations in color and line. “

According to Vincent and Sophie Rambaud, owners of a property listed in Villanovo, about 10 minutes from the PalmGolf Marrakech Palmeraie, they were able to build the desired type of house on this artisanal level.

The house, built 15 years ago, contained a mixture of traditional and modern shapes and surfaces. It wasn’t easy – they went through multiple architects and builders – but the only constant was the incredible craftsmen, each one focused on something specific.

A specialist only worked on tadelakt (subtly structured waterproof surfaces made of plaster of paris, lime, water and pigment). “You have to apply it in a certain way and it has to be made from a special lime from a certain area of ​​Marrakech,” said Rambaud. “You can’t see the colors before it’s done, and you have to wait three weeks before it’s dry.”

This kind of skill and attention to detail continued in every corner of the house: plasterers created intricate custom moldings and complex ceilings; An old woodworker created scalloped doors (the shapes of which were first designed by Mrs. Rambaud) for each room. A metal worker in Marrakech’s medina made bronze door handles (also designed by Mrs. Rambaud) for each room. Wooden furniture was designed by both Ms. Rambaud and local artisans and made by a variety of local talent. colorful geometric textiles come from Morocco and other parts of Africa.

Unsurprisingly, these ultra-custom creations – which are still affordable due to the vast majority of arts and crafts in the country – can be unpredictable at times.

“You just have to be patient and calm,” said Mr Rambaud. “In the end you get more or less what you want and sometimes you get something better.”

As evidenced by the mix of French and Moroccan design visions, artisans are often open to combining aesthetics and even time periods.

A good example of this diverse approach is Popham Design, a Marrakech-based concrete tile company founded by an American couple, Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes. The couple employs 65 people in their atelier, most of whom are local artisans, who create the couple’s reefs on old cellular mosaics by making brass molds, filling them with colored concrete, pressing them by hand and curing them for about two weeks to let.

Mr. Dowe-Sandes explained how the diffusion of handicrafts permeates every aspect of life. “If you want a wicker basket for your home, go to the man who makes it, measure it, and get it four days later,” he said. “We renovated a house and not a single power tool was used. There is still a lot of that. They realize that there are still many things you can accomplish without Home Depot. “

Outside of traditional handicrafts and secular eclecticism, another important influence on these homes is what makes golf courses thrive: the sun-kissed North African climate, which designs the homes to include outdoor meeting spaces, strategic shading, and shelter from cold nights .

The Rambauds worked with a team of gardeners to create Mediterranean gardens with palm, olive and orange trees of various sizes and groupings. They created terraces and semi-enclosed outdoor spaces for a lot of time outdoors (“We live between inside and outside,” said Mr Rambaud) and installed a fireplace in almost every room

Audrey Lebondidier, a French-born landscape architect from Casablanca, still wonders about a forgiving ecosystem in which almost anything will grow with little water. She works with homeowners who want Mediterranean landscapes like the Rambauds, but also create residential landscapes in tropical, Asian, European and other styles.

Golf course homes in Marrakech have the added benefit of not only looking out over golf courses but also the region’s lakes and mountains, said Mehdi Amar, deputy director of Barnes International Realty’s Marrakech office. He said golf-adjoining properties had been one of the biggest growth areas for his office before the pandemic put international travel on hold. But business, he said, is slowly climbing back.

While houses are almost always open to the elements, there are often still some surprises inside. The Rambaud’s house, like many in Morocco, contains its own hammam (ceremonial bath and steam room), in this case a vaulted room with natural light coming in from above.

As you move through the house, you meander from open, light-flooded rooms to darker ones with unpredictable openings and different perspectives. It’s almost like walking through the medina, the walled, old part of the city that isn’t far away. Like Morocco itself, it sometimes feels familiar and sometimes completely foreign.

“We love Morocco and Marrakech. The people, the life, the weather, the view, ”said Rambaud. “We feel at home and at the same time absolutely different.”

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