“I’m a cubicle escapee,” quips Amber El-Amin. “I ran from an administrative job in a law office with all my savings from the previous two years, then risked it all on 12 vintage rugs within the first month in Morocco.” That was the genesis of her custom carpets firm, then known as Pink Rug Co., on the outskirts of Marrakech. Today, it’s called The Gardener’s House and includes under its entrepreneurial umbrella an enchanting bed and breakfast set alongside a classical Moorish garden.
El-Amin is part Moroccan and part German, “the outcome of the true roving, adventurous spirit of the 1960s and ’70s,” she says, something that evidently influenced her. “In my adult years, I set out to live for extended periods in London, Italy, India and Morocco, and have spent weeks and months traveling through Europe. I’ve backpacked through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There have also been cross-country U.S. trips. I’ve explored a lot of the West Coast, from the very top into Canada to the very bottom into Mexico.”
Today, El-Amin, her husband and their five-year-old boy toggle between Morocco and the suburbs of Virginia. The building housing the bed and breakfast was originally built as a warehouse for the company’s rugs. But the couple renovated a few years ago, isolating the storage area in one part of the property and converting the rest into the six-bedroom B&B operation, which opened in 2018. (It is open to those who have been vaccinated – a travel requirement decreed by the King of Morocco.)
If El-Amin had her druthers, she says, “The Gardener’s House would have been a large palatial villa and the guest cottages would all be separate and set along a winding pathway at the outer edges of the property. There would have been a beach-entry-style swimming pool crisscrossing the front yard, where guests could swim under bridges while other guests walked overhead. As you can see, I have an active imagination.”
Given the existing architecture, however, everything but the kitchen is housed in one cement building swathed in traditional Moroccan tadelakt plasterwork. The couple put up walls, including a lattice room divider punctuated by three arches. They also created a covered colonnade along the front façade, “which lends more of a villa feeling to the exterior,” believes El-Amin. There is now also an arbor “hallway” that meanders through the front lawn around a three-tiered fountain.
“I actually designed the architecture of the kitchen and guest bathrooms,” notes El-Amin. “As you can see, I have a great love of wall niches, which comes from lots of time spent in Pushkar, India and extensive travel in Italy.”
Then El-Amin channeled her “active imagination” to furnish interiors in a bohemian sort of hippie chic. “Nearly everything in the spaces is vintage, sourced online and then shipped by container to Morocco,” she explains. “There are a few Edward Wormley sofas, Marco Zanuso armchairs and an authentic Saarinen conference-size dining table.” Other pieces, adds El-Amin, “were made in Marrakech, which has a very rich culture of artisan work. You can find skilled craftsmen in really any age-old tradition, including metalwork, carpentry, marble cutters and textile weaving.” However, regionally common handcrafted touches – ornately carved wood doors, colorful tilework (arabic zellij) and intricately painted ceilings (Zouac) – do not overwhelm the restrained, minimal design.
The interior palette, a highly textured array of soothing neutrals, imparts warmth to the modernity. Throughout there are pops of gold and dusty pink. Considering the former name of El-Amin’s rug company, the latter is an apparently favored hue. But it also relates to the Moroccan sunsets of the locale, which, she declares, “looks very biblical – shepherds and their flocks are a common sighting. The roads are dirt, and the houses are mostly mud brick. It is agricultural land surrounded by olive groves.”
Given the origins of the B&B and the raison d’être from which it sprang, the whole property “doubles as a rug showroom,” shares El-Amin, noting that “any rug on the property can be purchased.” They are displayed overlapping or side-by-side indoors, under the covered colonnade along the front of the house, even laid on the grass for an impromptu picnic.
It may not be what El-Amin imagined. But, she says, “What we have now is also very beautiful.”
Photography by Cécile Perrinet-Lhermitte.
For more like this Moroccan Bed and Breakfast, be sure to check out the home of rug designer Erik Lindström here.
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