Mar 1, 2021
For a writer such as myself, few remedies cure the incessant taunting of a blank page quite like travel. Escape to somewhere layered, intoxicating, rich with culture, and suddenly, fingertips can hardly keep up with the deluge of inspired ideas that charge forward. Of course, it’s never that easy. One can’t just travel before every deadline, amid every rut, on the inner artist’s every whim—and needless to say, it’s especially impossible right now.
Therein lies the transportive magic of a great book. Choose one set in Marrakech, such as Meryanne Loum-Martin’s Inside Marrakesh: Enchanting Homes and Gardens, with its focus on beguiling home interiors that fuse Moroccan design with motifs from around the world, and you’d better hope you have an empty suitcase lying around to fill with the outpouring of creativity.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Meryanne Loum-Martin, author, designer, founding proprietor of the Jnane Tamsna in Marrakech, about the ancient Moroccan city’s ability to intersect with its admirers’ modern lives—whether they’re visiting Marrakech, or reading about it from the couch, as I am doing.
Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech. Photo: via Jnane Tamsna
Jnane Tamsna. Photo: Courtesy of Meryanne Loum-Martin
Dining Room Detail. Photo: Courtesy of Meryanne Loum-Martin
What design elements feel inherently “Marrakech” to you?
The communal thing is a sense of layers, and a sense of perspective. It's just this sense of: you don't discover everything at the first... It's not like walking in a very modern house where you're in the massive sitting room, and you see the staircase, and you have the pool in your face, and you have an open kitchen, no. It's spaces which open onto spaces. And they often open through a statement, [like the keyhole arches]. It's a celebration of privacy, of dream, of poetry.
What I love about it here is that it is rooted in a very ancient culture. And even though we have very modern things in town, the local culture is very resilient. What I think is wonderful about Marrakech is that it can balance: [it can] be the resilience, and the restoration, and the conservation of probably one of the most—apart from Egypt—one of the most ancient civilizations in Africa, and at the same time, [speak to] modern times.
“And Marrakech is an easy, inspiring place. It's a very welcoming place. It's someplace where you can find a way to be in intersection instead of juxtaposition.”
Inside Marrakech. Photo: Jean Cazzals
Jnane Tasmna. Photo: via Jnane Tamsna
Arrival to Party. Photo: Courtesy of Meryanne Loum-Martin
If someone wanted to apply some of the elements in your book as they relate to the home, and that you apply to your hotel, and your own practice in life, what are the main things to try?
I think what could, how do you say, “heal people” these days would be hosting friends as if they were in Morocco:
First of all, they would dim the lights to the maximum, and have candles everywhere.
Have a low table covered with candles, [Place in] glass if you don't want to have the wax [spill].
Take out the pillows [from your sofa] and stack two on each other (so you don't sit too low), and then have a table covered with a very rich fabric…petals or foliage, if you have a tree not too far, you can use foliage, and do some kind of exotic dinner. So already it would be [a] Marrakech mood.
You could put incense—or the trick, when I was living in Paris, what I would do when we had bulbs, (now most people have cold bulbs because of LED, but if you have bulbs which get a little hot, electrical bulbs) you put one drop of perfume when it's cold, and then you turn the light on and then the heat spreads a beautiful smell in the room. Perfume the room and then you are transported!
You can wear something to host your friend, or have an evening with your fiancé, something which is kind of flowery or a bit looking like a kaftan, or it can even be beautiful pyjamas. But then you put jewelry around it, a big necklace, and it looks very special.
The one thing which has always struck me about Morocco is the sensuality of the experience. It's about what you see, about what you smell, about what you eat—it could even be about what you touch if the tablecloth is a bit silky. It's about creating a sensual experience.
Marrakesh Museum, Marrakech. Photo: Guy Vanderelst
Menara Gardens, Marrakech. Photo: David Santiago García
Jnane Tamsna Dinner Party. Photo: Courtesy of MeryAnne Loum-Martin
How can one channel some of the learnings from your book, of Marrakech, to help them inspire their creativity at home?
I would do things connected to smells. I would burn candles, I would burn incense, and I would dim the light, because I think that the light is something very important on your mood. And if you're in a room which is too bright, you cannot disconnect.
I think if you want to bring Marrakech, in your surroundings, it's about disconnecting.
People need not only to escape physically— it's almost like a healing quest. People, couples, or couples with children, they need to have a break from their daily lives.
And so our mission at Jnane Tamsna is to make the break as heavenly as possible. It’s not about selling rooms. I never went to hospitality school; I don't know that. Our place is about creating an experience for people to leave enriched, transformed. This is what we are about, and this is our mission: to create a soothing moment in people's lives.
[Editor’s note: Follow Jnane Tamsna on Instagram to keep an eye out for the gift box that Loum-Martin is putting together to help bring the Jnane Tamsna to you, wherever you are.]
Meryanne Loum-Martin. Photo: Elana Torgonskaia
And how do you create that “soothing moment” in your own life, especially as someone who's as busy and nonstop as you?
We built this hotel in 11 months and three weeks. It's like a world record because I had accepted clients after I had bought the land, and before building it. I thought I had enough time, and then a few things happened and I had 16 months to build it, and at the end I only had 11 months and three weeks, and we were ready—but it was intense. And when we finished, my son, who was 11 then, who has always been a very intellectual person, told me, "I need to speak to you, maman." He said, "Now you have to promise to the family that never again, you will accept clients before having built the place." And so I realized that, I'm wholly so active and it might be a bit too much for [my family] sometimes.
So I don't know how I would do it myself, except having good wine and good champagne and relaxing through good cocktails and things like that. I'm not good yet at relaxing myself.
Well, you put it towards others, and maybe being busy is the way that you relax.
Yes, because I love what I do. I used to be an attorney in France before. It was going fine, but I always felt that I was here to do something much more creative. And so I'm very happy. I love designing, I love creating, and I would like to be more and more into creativity and designing things. If I'm into designing furniture, I'm very happy.
Do you remember the feeling that you had the first time you ever came to Marrakesh?
I remember very well that it was love at first sight. I came for the first time in December ‘85. In December, the sky is dark blue, and you could see Palm trees, and you could see the snow-capped Atlas mountains…and from the moment I set foot on the tarmac at the airport, I knew the place would change my life. It was just obvious. And it was funny because six months later, I met my husband in Oaxaca, Mexico. The first day I met him, I said to myself, "If I ever get married, [it will be] to this guy." So within six months, I had two loves—at—first-sight in my life. And I'm still with both 35 years later.
"I still feel like this. It is a place—and I think that all the people in the book feel the same: It's a place where you don't get blasé. In many places you live, you love it, but after a while, it doesn't surprise you. Marrakech is like an intense passion. It never ceases to amaze and enchant me.”
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