Sometimes when I’m trying to gauge a client’s style, I’ll ask them to recall a hotel or AirBnb they loved staying at. Perhaps together we can tease apart what they adored about that cabin in the Montana mountains or that plunge pool villa in Koh Samui and use these elements to design a room that evokes similar feelings.
I recently listened to a designers webinar where one of Crate & Barrel’s celebrity designers, Jake Arnold, said he does the same thing. I’m assuming his clients are super rich and perhaps they recall a stay at the Four Seasons in Lake Como. Which I’m quite sure is divine.
The writer Anne Helen Peterson (author of Culture Study, which I highly recommend) recently wrote of a cabin she’d rented that was “that perfect sort of Airbnb that’s not too fancy, not too fussy, not too recently flipped, just *thoughtful* and really understands its own strengths (in this case, the woods, the fireplace).”
Made me think of some places I’ve stayed abroad that were not fancy but that I find myself thinking of again and again.
In Algeria, I stayed a few times at a big city Marriott that felt so obviously fancy and shiny (literally shiny – there are so many disorientating reflective surfaces in the lobby that I walked into a mirror). It felt very much like a massive hotel chain telling Algerians “This is what nice is” where nice equals expensive and generic.
I often think of the shadows of the palm fronds, the angle of the light coming through gentle arched doorways at a guesthouse in Ghardaia, Algeria. Sitting on the floor atop many rugs and how those rugs went up the walls too while we ate couscous and a domesticated desert fox named Mike skitted around the room is an image that pops into my head every so often.
That guesthouse, called Gite Tarist, felt so much like Ghardaia itself: A place that’s a little mystical and defined by the juxtaposition of small private places of refuge clustered together in a great big desert. (Simone de Beauvoir described those cell-like dwellings in Ghardaia as a “cubist painting, beautifully constructed.”)
I also think of riads in Marrakech as lodging that plays to its strengths. Marrakech can be a strong hot stew of motorbikes nearly running you down, truck exhaust, boys trying to direct you somewhere and then shaking you down for money, interesting fabrics, and jewelry and baskets beautiful things you want to buy and many people who are vying for your dollars. The riads or guesthouses in the vibrant pink-hued city are all set up the same way: Approached via a maze and suddenly the door is spotted, making one think “No, this rickety ass door couldn’t possibly be the entrance to where I’m staying as it didn’t look like this online.” But alas, one opens the door and an interior oasis is revealed, rose petals floating in the courtyard fountain, orange blossoms in the air, a silver tea pot waiting to pour hot spearmint tea into handblown glass cups. The setup of a riad is the physical manifestation of a deep sigh. Marrakech is best seen from above (which is often the case with Arab architecture where homes and buildings are deliberately obscured from street-level eyes) and every riad in the city has a lovely rooftop. Few travel experiences top sipping a golden hour sundowner atop a Marrakech riad during a call to prayer, birds fluttering through the dusky rose sky.
So, how to translate those feelings you got from staying at a perfectly evocative place into your home design?
First, identify the feeling that the place provided, or what exactly you liked so much about the place you stayed. I like Marrakech riads for their proximity to yet respite from the action. Step out the door and you’re right in the mix. Step inside and you can have a little breather. They’re a perfect melange of calming yet energizing – an illusive combo but one I’m always searching for on vacation. And one that I certainly enact in my designs. An interior can be calming when it’s visually balanced (in scale and color and pattern) and energizing when it has great color and contains things that make you happy.
If you’d like to explore how to bring a bit of that “perfect stay” energy into your home, get in touch.
What’s Making me Happy
I currently have some London-based clients who got in touch and said they’ve been reading my blog The Next Dinner Party for a while and that they enjoyed seeing Algeria, their home country through my eyes. That made me really happy! I’ve been obsessed with a beautiful and creatively inspiring British show called For the Love of Kitchens and so that I’m designing an English kitchen for Algerians feels fated, or maktub. I’m having a lot of fun thinking about how to meld the Mediterranean/North African things I love like patternful tiles and arches with a more English aesthetic, like Shaker-style cabinets and a ledge for teacups.