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Romain Michel-Ménière

Designer & Owner

Romain Michel-Ménière

,

Berber Lodge

Location
Oumnass, Morocco
Contact
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How did a Swiss end up in Morocco?

At the time, I was dealing with a personal crisis. Things were collapsing around me, and I wanted to escape the reality of my life. Fortunately, I was able to do so, and while Morocco is close to Europe, it encompasses a different way of living, which attracted me. I adore this country. I feel very much at home and my days are easy.

In the 20 years I've been here, I've cultivated beautiful relationships, especially with those who identify as Berber. Many speak English fluently and uphold traditional, time-honored values regarding the home and family. I view them as gentle individuals with pure hearts. I'm in love with my life here.

What was it in particular about the Berber culture that drew you in?

It comes down to a feeling. Oumnass, where Berber Lodge is situated, is a charming village in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. We're in an old valley that's very hilly, and most inhabitants are farmers. There's no pretense here—it's not manufactured, which, for some reason, is something many people desire in Morocco. But you can't buy the historicity that Berbers pride themselves on.

What was your entry into the world of architecture and design?

I've worked in many fields, including public relations and architectural renovation. But I studied interior design back in Switzerland. After developing a furniture line in New York and Mexico, I came to Morocco, where I restored an old riad in the medina.

A friend, who came to stay at my place, was inspired by my work and asked me to help him as he'd just bought a house here. This would be a straightforward task since I planned to take existing elements in his home and update them. I reworked all the old carpentry and tiles to create a new synergy. Some gum tree was hidden behind the plaster, so I chose to show it off to give a more rural feel. The walls were natural Tadelakt, not shiny, so I let them be.

I continued working for my friend as he went on to open Riad de Tarabel. Then, I was approached by Kasbah Bab Ourika to help with interior design. Many other private clients have come to me. I worked with Philomena Schurer Merckoll for many years on her riad, Riad Mena & Beyond. And I also collaborated with the restaurant, Nomad, a 'carte blanche'—I designed it entirely from scratch.

How did you end up ideating Berber Lodge?

It was a mix of things. After helping others, I dreamed of my own place that would remind me of my grandmother and the countryside. Since moving to Morocco, I was always looking for this, but I could never find such a spot. And if I was building a hotel, I wanted to show foreigners the part of Morocco that I love, which pays homage to Berber traditions. I guess it's the Swiss in me—I like things to be comfortable, clean, and unfussy.

I started looking for land, but it was hard since it involved lengthy negotiations with farmers and families. When I did buy the plot, it took a long time to get building authorization, as the property would be on an old olive grove—200 hectares of olive trees! It was perfect for the Berber style I desired.

I know Berber architecture well, and I already had ideas of what I wanted for the design details. It's more about staying logical, if anything. It's not just about constructing something beautiful; it's about how materials combine practically. Everything is done for a reason. Luckily, I am good friends with the talented Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio Ko, and they were able to join me on my journey. We knew we didn't want to disrupt the trees, so I developed a sketch of what I envisioned for the place, which Olivier helped polish up after he saw the land.

How long did construction end up taking, and when did you open doors?

It was speedy. As mentioned, it took a while to get the authorization—about a year, perhaps. But to build it was very fast. We opened in March 2017. In the beginning, I worked there quite a bit. It was quiet for the first few months, but we started seeing an influx of people towards the summer.

Our peak months tend to be April, May, and June, and then October. We have ten rooms in total, and the maximum number of guests we can accommodate is 20. It's minimal, very intimate.

How did you go about curating the interior pieces for the lodge?

I prefer being limited to what I might already have. I began to collect 20th-century items, such as pottery and an old Berber chest, which I had kept in storage. When we finished the lodge, I knew I had to feature them all inside. I found an old marble sink from the hammam of a palace in the north of Morocco.

I also knew an Austrian princess selling her house, and all her sofas were made in Austria. I bought them from her and reupholstered them. We also have a leather Jacques Adnet made for Hermès in the '60s. The price was steep, so I paid monthly—I can't resist when I find such exclusive items! But my favorite pieces are all the Berber pottery. To me, they're extraordinary.


In general, I like to contrast luxe pieces with more natural, earthy backdrops. For example, I might position an illustrious black lamp on a simple wooden chest, or a gold chandelier against a scrappy wall. You can create magic like this.

Similarly, what are your favorite design elements at the lodge?

I like that each room is full of surprises; there's plenty to feast your eyes on. But it's simple—discreet luxury, if you will. Maybe the most impressive design element is the large window that opens up to the olive groves and Atlas Mountains.

How did you come up with the names for each of the rooms?

Initially, I wanted traditional Berber names, but they didn’t quite fit. The words I have now translate to different colors and spices. However, I’ll leave it up to your interpretation.

What are some of your favorite things to do in and around the lodge?

You can take walks or visit the old kasbah. A young lady comes to the property to teach horse riding, which is popular among our guests. But I think the best thing to do is nothing. You should relax! Swim in the pool all day, read, eat, and nap.

We maintain a super good vibe at Berber Lodge. It's joyful and warm. No sadness. I consider myself a very casual person, and I don't like too many rules, so I hope my guests can feel free to do as they wish. They can go to the kitchen, talk to the cook, drink their beer. It's homey.

Some people choose to stay at Berber Lodge though they visit Marrakech for more activities in the day. We have a taxi here, and it's about a 40-minute drive. I find it's nice to come back to the quiet countryside after spending time in a busy city.

We have been asked to hold events here, like weddings and yoga classes, and it's hard to say no, but I take pride in Berber Lodge being a small hotel. It's a private space, and I like keeping it that way. It allows guests to get to know and respect each other more.


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Designer & Owner

Romain Michel-Ménière

,

Berber Lodge

Location
Oumnass, Morocco
Contact
No items found.

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