A beautifully restored 18th century home in the heart of Essaouira's ancient Medina, owned by an interior designer and her family. Magical, light filled and airy.
How would you describe Dar 91 in a nutshell?
Dar 91 is a collection of three cool and quirky apartments, filled with art and junkyard finds, in the historic Medina of Essaouira on Morocco‘s Atlantic Coast. This charming house is one of the tallest in our part of the city, which makes absolute sense if you consider its history as an 18th century police watchtower. Now it hosts three individual apartments, ranging from a small loft (this one has no outside space) for solo travellers or a couple, to a three-storey apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two terraces. They offer a private refuge, with the bustling souks and the beautiful sands of Essaouira beach close by.
The house used to be a police watchtower. Please tell us a bit about the history of Dar 91.
It was built by the Gendarmerie Forestiere, the police, to keep an eye on tribal raids from the forest — the forest used to come up to the wall of the house — and to monitor houses within the Medina. This explains why the house is so tall. We have fantastic views across the rooftops to the sea.
The architecture of Dar 91 is actually more French than Moroccan. It has a big French window looking out onto the street, the opposite of Islamic architecture. It gives you the opportunity to observe day-to-day life unfolding. You’re part of the Moroccan culture. You can see kids playing on the street or women carrying water from the fountain.
One thing that was pretty amazing during the renovations was that we ended up finding a couple of cannon balls in the wall, hailing back to when the house was used as a watchtower.
What was your inspiration to buy Dar 91 and rent it out to vacation guests?
To tell you the truth, we wanted a place to escape the rainy English weather. We’d been looking around for ages in different countries. Then we went for a really short break in Morocco. We spent two days in Marrakech where it rained all the time and two days in Essaouira, and when we got there we actually fell in love with the place and bought the house.
When we started doing the renovations, a friend commented on what a nice space we had created and told us that we should start renting it out. We thought, why not, so we started renting it out.
I love the interior. How would you describe the style of Dar 91?
I’ve always been into design. Creating Dar 91 has especially been an enriching experience. It is an eclectic mix of old and new. The house is a handcrafted house, and when it’s built in that way, you can be more creative.
Most of our furniture is designed by us or has been reclaimed from the junk markets of Essaouira and Marrakech, so you'll find 1960s plastic patio furniture next to Moroccan banquette-style sofas, 1970s light fittings and modern, handwoven blankets made by our artisan neighbours.
When we renovated the house, we tried to keep it simple. The result has really been a house that’s very comfortable yet at the same time very quirky. There are plenty of objects to capture your attention or make you smile. When people come, they get kind of bombarded by various objects that are around.
How would you like your guests to remember their vacation at Dar 91?
I want my guests to come back loving the house and loving Essaouira. Essaouira is a very tolerant and friendly place. People are welcomed with open arms. The vast majority of our vacation guests really get the cultural differences of Morocco. They fall in love with the place.
People can come here to recharge their batteries so for example we don’t have television in the house. Essaouira is a city where the pace of life is still slow compared to the mad life in Europe, and that’s what we want our guests to experience when they come here.
To you personally, what has been most rewarding about running Dar 91?
It’s rewarding when people come back and tell us they love the house, and give us really good feedback, but they also enjoy the Moroccan culture and people. The best gift is for people to have a fantastic time and relax completely.
Our part of town is mainly residential, so you live surrounded by Moroccan families. We get a lot of families and I want people to come back telling me stories about their kids playing football on the street with the Moroccan kids.
Is there anything else that you think I missed?
A lot of people when they travel the streets of Morocco complain of street vendors, but one great thing about Essaouira is how much quieter it is. You don’t get much of the street vendor hassles. People are very relaxed, welcoming and tolerant.