Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


Designer Agnès Emery has created an extraordinary courtyard garden behind the thick earthern walls of her Marrakech home. Part of its delight comes from the orange and lemon trees contained within this secret hideaway, along with the water pools and birdsong. Yet Emery’s garden is also composed of verdant colours and rich patterns derived from nature itself, which introduce petals, flowers, branches and wildlife into her sanctuary, along with an array of sky blues and organic, vivid greens. It feels a world away from the relentless hustle and bustle of the medina.

‘Marrakech is known as the Red City and it can sometimes feel like a desert, because there are no plants and the walls of the buildings are closed and empty of life,’ says Emery. ‘So I wanted something fresh for the house. It is like a garden of my imagination: a garden of colour in the desert.’

Emery is a Belgian designer who bases herself in Brussels, where she founded and launched her own design and retail business, Emery & Cie, over twenty years ago [1993]. As the company has grown along with the range of her self-designed collections of paints, tiles, wallpapers, textiles and furniture, Emery found herself spending more and more time in Morocco, where much of her work – with the exception of her paints – is produced.

‘I started looking for a house here after four of five years, because Marrakech and working in Morocco is part of life for me,’ Emery says. ‘it was not so much a passion – I didn’t fall in love with Marrakech straight away, but it became a very important part of my life. I must have been shown a hundred houses by three agents. Then the fourth brought me here to see this house.’

It was, of course, a very different proposition back in those days. The house today is a self-crafted embassy for Emery & Cie, filled with her own work on the one hand but also serving as a base for her forays out into the medina and the souks, where she collaborates with local artisans and producers on her collections.

‘It is the most important part of the world for making the things that we design,’ says Emery. ‘We work with people here producing tiles, lamps, ironmongery, ceramics. So I wanted to be in the medina because here I am close to the souks and the artisans that I work with. It might be more pleasant, in a way, to live in the countryside but for my work it makes much more sense to be here.’

The original section of Emery’s home is a four storey building arranged around a courtyard planted with orange trees arranged around a central reflecting pool, which bounces light and colour through the space, as well as helping cool the building in the summer months. The floor of the courtyard is tiled along with the lower portion of the walls, while a vivid blue coats the higher expanses as they soar towards the sky itself.

As with all traditional riads, or courtyard houses, all the main living spaces open onto or look down upon the central garden. They include a long sitting room on the ground floor, Emery’s spacious and much used study on the first floor and five bedrooms.

‘I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite spot in the house but of course it is a big house so there is a lot of choice,’ Emery says. ‘It does fit in a little with the spirit of traditional Moroccan houses in that the rooms are not really used so much for one precise function but according to the season. So during the summer I will be mostly on the ground floor, where it’s cooler, and I can organize my life here. In winter, when it’s colder, then I might go upstairs onto the roof and profit from the sun.

‘But it’s true that the room that I use the most is my office and its sheltered gallery alongside, on the first floor, just above the sea of orange trees. I like to see the grand, empty wall of blue by the trees. It’s very serene and restful and helps to stimulate my imagination.’

Some years after buying and renovating the original house, Emery was able to add an apartment alongside, within a neighbouring building, as an annexe, chiefly for the use of friends and acquaintances. This, too, was designed and decorated in her inimitable style.

More recently, Emery was also able to buy another house next door and so two houses have now become one, connected by a slim, tunnel-like passageway knocked through one of the vast blue walls. By this time, Emery was more than experienced in the Moroccan way of working and had gathered a trusted team around her, allowing herself to enjoy a fresh process of restoration and construction.

The treatment of the Bear House - named after the abstract bear head light from Petit Pan, in the entrance hall – has subtle differences to the original section of Emery’s home. Again, the living spaces are arranged around a central courtyard, graced with a second water pool with a single lemon tree floating at its centre. The tilework, from Emery’s more recent collections, is a little more abstract and contemporary in feel, but also a touch more playful, with bats and fishes joining the floral motifs. The colour choices are harmonious with the rest of the house, introducing fresh waves of blue and engaging forest greens.

On the ground floor, here, Emery has added a second sitting room while a larger space holds a dining room that can also be used as a winter office, warmed by a wood burning stove. The floor tiles here are letters, picking out a beloved poem by Jacques Prevert. Two further bedrooms sit upon on the two storeys above, including a rooftop eerie in a palette of soothing greys. The choice of spaces has just become harder for Emery, although she does not rule out adding to her embassy again in the future.

‘I may do another house, why not?’ says Emery. ‘It would amuse me and I do feel a little sad now that I have finished the new part of my home. I don’t work for private interiors clients any more, as I don’t have the time, but I do like working for myself, so yes I would like to do another one.

‘It’s about the application of my own work and my designs so it’s amusing, interesting and improving. I have designed pieces for the house that then go into the Emery & Cie collections so it helps drive the work forwards as well. It’s the kind of project that I like best.’