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A Marrakech Riad is Transformed into a Family Retreat

A Marrakech Riad is Transformed into a Family Retreat

One of Chilean artist Claudio Bravo’s closest pals now vacations in an 18th-century Marrakech riad that was once his home.

The Chilean artist Claudio Bravo, who is well-known for his hyperrealistic depictions of rumpled paper bags and boxes tied with twine, made the decision to commission a mausoleum a number of years ago. At the age of 72, he was thinking of a fitting monument. Claudio could be a little bit of a pharaoh, says Ahmad Sardar-Afkhami, the artist’s friend and the leader of the Manhattan architectural, interior design, and landscaping business Sardar Design Studio. Having building projects was another thing he enjoyed. When the guys were looking for ideas for a final resting location, they decided to take a road trip across Morocco since Bravo had lived there since the 1970s and alternated between homes in Marrakech, Taroudant, and Tangier.

Ahmad Sardar Afkhami Designed-Marrakech Riad

Sardar-Afkhami remembers, “For a long time we went to marketplaces and visited the tombs of marabouts, Muslim saints. Claudio, maybe you should simply get buried in a giant tagine, I joked as we sat in the shadow of a massive tagine lid, the conical top of a typical Moroccan cooking pot. Bravo was ultimately buried in a pavilion filled with his priceless North African pottery in the gardens of his property in Taroudant because no mausoleum design had been realized before his death in 2011 due to lack of funding. That monument looked appropriate as any. The artist’s Marrakech riad, or courtyard home, was renovated as part of a commission from Sardar-Afkhami to design a tribute to Bravo that was quite different from the first.

Marrakech Riad

Sardar-Afkhami was set the task of renovating the four-bedroom house as a holiday for her family while keeping it as an homage to their beloved Bravo by a mutual friend in Paris who had inherited the home and many of its items. The designer immediately recalled Suzhou, China, “where the classical gardens and precious contents of a home often were passed from one refined owner to another of the next generation,” when he first heard the request. Each individual would apply a thin layer without interfering with the previous ones.

Marrakecch Riad -  The front door opens to the entrance hall

The medina of Marrakech’s 18th-century riad is accessible via negotiating its winding streets. The robust front door, painted in the palest green and adorned with beautiful nailheads, is suddenly visible amid the booths where butchers cut and artists chisel as one turns into an alley. A Syrian bridal box glistens in sunshine from a neighboring courtyard, which is home to gnarled mandarin-orange trees underplanted with white roses and an enormous cypress that spears the endless blue sky. Hinges creak open to reveal the entry hall. Street noises and the five-times-per-day Islamic call to prayer may be heard through the courtyard’s walls.

Marrakech Riad - Table draped with a Kurdish kilim from Iran faces a Syrian daybed and star-shaped side table

A large portion of the house’s charm, according to Sardar-Afkhami, “lies in that courtyard,” noting that because the structure has just one level, it receives unusually abundant sunlight, enabling a more opulent garden and brighter interior spaces. The interiors of typical riads can be shaded for much of the day because they often have two or three levels and courtyards surrounded by galleries. He continues, “Classic Moroccan homes can feel confining.”

Marrakech Riad - Berber blankets hang over the sofas in the living room

The tranquility of the riad conceals the major improvements that were necessary. Due to water damage, exquisite wood ceilings had to be taken down, refurbished, and then put back in place. Parts of the roof also needed to be replaced. The brick walls were scrubbed of worn stucco and given a fresh troweling. Tadelakt, a lime plaster that has been waxed to a water-resistant brilliance, was used to refurbish baths. The blue-green tiled pool in the middle of the courtyard, which looks like a huge aquamarine, was deepened for swimming by Sardar-Afkhami—it was his sole substantial renovation, and the owner’s grandkids love it.

Marrakech Riad - An Uzbek suzani covers the dining room tabl

Antique Syrian, Indian, and Moroccan furnishings are included into the carefully preserved design, although they are used sparingly in a style that may be described as purified Orientalism. “Most pieces are original to the house,” claims the designer, who completed the settings with purchases from Mustapha Blaoui’s crowded Marrakech store, Trésor des Nomades. The riad’s floors are covered with carpets in shades of cherry red and pale turquoise, while the living room table is covered in an Iranian kilim. In the study, gilded and enameled glass Mamluk mosque lights from the 16th century sit beside 19th-century Émile Gallé vases that are influenced by the design. The African chaffinches that chirp in the orange trees add to the idea that the old lanterns hang from the high ceilings like birds in cages. It appears as though the magnificent garden has crawled inside thanks to the green paints that have been painted on the door and window frames.

Marrakech Riad - Andalusian-style plaster frieze and richly inlaid Syrian furniture

Bravo’s chairs and tables were a godsend, but putting together the right art was difficult because most of the artist’s paintings ended up in the possession of family members. Sardar-Afkhami considered using photographic copies to replace the missing pieces, but “I decided that was too cheesy.” In the end, he decided to fill the empty spaces with treasures from the Moroccan textile collection of the artist, including the old Middle Atlas blankets in the living room, whose sandy tones complemented a Malian carpet made of braided leather and palm leaves.

Marrakech Riad - The hammam’s wainscot and floor are Valencian marble

Visitors get the impression that the artist has just briefly left the room to go to his studio because there are so many of his personal items present. There, an easel stands to one side, achingly empty, with brushes and tubes of Rembrandt oil paints crammed into a basket on a table. A little hippopotamus sculpture is also covered in a Bedouin coral necklace in the room’s sitting area, just as the artist had intended. Two Bravo lithographs that were found in a storage area give the mostly white room some blue pops.

Marrakech Riad - An Artemide lamp tops one of the Syrian side tables in Bravo’s former bedroom

“Restoring the riad was an amazing antidote to the pain of Claudio’s death,” says Sardar-Afkhami. His friends have gradually come to terms with the fact that he is no longer among them, but because of this house, he is still very much with us.

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