Modern Moroccan Riad
When Patrick and Pam Cohan decided they were ready to make a change in their living environment, they were motivated by a few factors. “We are now empty nesters and we wanted to create our forever home,” said Pam, “and we desired a different aesthetic altogether.”
The couple had lived in their 1950s ranch-style home for 11 years and preferred a more contemporary style that offered more light, higher ceilings and more open spaces. They began looking around in the area, but were continually struck by what was lacking in each of the properties they toured.
“We kept returning to the fact that although these properties were spacious and luxurious, none of them was in ‘our’ neighborhood near our close friends, favorite restaurants, our history,” said Pam. So after searching for six months, realizing what they would have to sacrifice by moving, and determining that they had been looking at other people’s ideas of what they wanted, the couple decided to stay put, demolish their old construction and start from scratch on their current piece of property.
The first person they called with the news was Suzanne Duin, their friend and trusted interior designer. They met with her and the architect in what was formerly the sunroom of the ranch-style home.
Patrick said, “I sketched a rough design of our dream home on graph paper. In the middle of the property was a swimming pool and every room of the house opened into that central space.”
Suzanne had just returned from a trip to Morocco, so when she saw Patrick’s sketch, she was immediately struck by how much it resembled the Moroccan Riads she had toured on her trip. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.
Just like Patrick’s concept of his and Pam’s future home, Riads are inward focused, which traditionally allows for family privacy from the outside world. As such, rooms typically have windows and balconies looking back inward to the courtyard rather than outward facing. This keeps the focus on the courtyard as the center of all house activities. The courtyard is invariably square or rectangular in shape, set around the sahrîdj, a fountain, or in the case of the Cohan home, a zero-edge pool.
The importance of the sahrîdj in the Riad cannot be understated. Water is a potent symbol of life in desert lands and as such is valued as sacred. It represents the vital life force of the house. Thus, the courtyard is the focus of the house and the water element is the focus of the courtyard. Entrance to these houses is a major transitional experience and encourages reflection because all of the rooms open into the central atrium space. The Cohan home is no exception. As soon as guests step into the foyer of their home, the stunning view into their inner sanctum is breathtaking.
Patrick explains his fascination with the courtyard. “Our outdoor space is literally like the other works of art in our home. As clouds pass over during the day and as the gaslights flicker during the evening, an aesthetic is created that evokes a response. The space is as visual as it is functional,” he said.
A huge theme of much of the couple’s art and collectibles is water-related. In fact, Patrick grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, on Lake St. Clair. His library showcases 42 reproductions of Unlimited Hydroplanes and other nautical memorabilia. The Cohans also boast almost as many nautically themed original works of art throughout their home.
Moroccan Riad ceilings are painted with natural pigments such as saffron (yellow), poppy (red), and mint (green). Intricate trim, called gebs, join walls and ceilings. In the Cohan home, this is evident most dramatically in the dining room. Because the ceilings are so high (14 feet), the architecture presented a design challenge, so Suzanne, the designer, came up with a solution from her travels in Morocco where beautiful painted ceilings are bountiful. Suzanne’s design effectively dropped the ceiling and added balance and beauty to the space. Leslie Sinclair of Segreto Finishes took the technical role to bring it to life using a variety of quatrefoil stencils. The antique, jewel-toned chandelier above the dining table set the color palette for the entire house. The ceiling is finished in soft saffron, which is also reflected in the floor to ceiling drapery.
Within a Riad, the surfaces contain remarkable degrees of ornamentation and handcrafted arts. This element can be observed in several of the smaller windows of this exotic abode, where instead of etched glass or blinds, the couple opted for intricately carved wooden lattice moucharabieh screens to filter the light and create vivid shadows throughout the day. Additionally, the couple imported authentic Moroccan chandeliers and sconces, which involve complex wrought ironwork and marked Moroccan features. These items were all custom-made in Morocco specifically for this project. Complex geometric tile work, called zelige, is customary in Riads and can be seen in this home’s guest bathrooms. The colorful, patterned tile work sits in lovely contrast to the smooth, neutral walls.
A vivid use of jewel-toned color is utilized in the Cohen’s powder bath. The rich-hued walls are finished in gleaming, polished Venetian plaster and accented with bronze and gold hardware and antique cabinets and accents.
The home, too, reflects the couple’s preference for Old World European décor. For example, the use of 100-year-old French oak wide plank flooring and large chateau-aged limestone tiles on the floors throughout the home, along with the exposed wooden beams reflect this preference. Several rooms in the home are accented with century-old, reclaimed French beams overhead. The couple has collected numerous European antique furnishings, which are prominent pieces in most of the rooms All these
elements work seamlessly to provide an Old World design.
Pam’s love of the fleur-de-lis pattern is evident in subtle features throughout the home. From the stencil on the dining room ceiling, to corner inlays on the massive formal dining table , to delicate intricacies in the chandeliers, sconces and tile work, the tiny stylized lilies favored by the Old World French designers are cleverly used within the décor and finishes. Her fondness of cherubs and angels can be seen in the couple’s collection of religious art, most of which is displayed in the dining room.
A large part of the couple’s art collection reflects the preference of iconic Old World religious themes, especially angels and cherubs. Pam said, “I have always been drawn to very old images and sculptures of beautiful religious pieces, so we wanted to display them in really special ways in our new space.”
So what about the home is modern, you may wonder? Well, the exposure to the exterior spaces for one thing. Whereas in an ancient Riad, there may not have been any outward facing windows at all, that is not the case in this home. “Allowing in as much light as possible was one of our inspirations,” said Pam, “so we have floor to ceiling windows in almost every room on both interior and exterior walls.” The result is a home that is flooded with natural light and draped and accented with luxurious and color-laden fabrics. The couple also utilized the outward-facing exposure to create outdoor spaces on the exterior of the home that are almost at interesting as the inner courtyard. Each outdoor area becomes a moment of expression and an opportunity to frame surrounding beauty within the scope of a window frame.
Additionally, the home’s kitchen is a testament to modern technology and design. Every drawer is well-appointed and perfectly situated for its purpose. The main kitchen, which is open to the great room and part of the larger interior entertaining space, is completely functional while remaining absolutely aesthetic. Nothing is offensive to the eye or out-of-reach to the hostess. On the other hand, the butler’s pantry, just behind the main kitchen and completely out of sight once the sliding doors are closed, is home to the more intricate details of large scale cooking and cleaning. A silver service closet stores pieces that are less used and more delicate.
On the opposite end of the great room is the bar area which conveniently has refrigerator drawers, ice machine, wet bar, full wine refrigerator and warming drawer. The custom-designed banquette is a favorite respite for guests while entertaining
Downstairs is also home to two master suites — the couple’s rooms, which fill one entire side of the courtyard and feature an expansive master bath. A deep, soaker tub, a two-sided walk-in shower and private his-and-her toilets define this modern spa-like space. The custom-designed his-and-her closets by Programme Martin are every modern woman’s dream. Within the bedroom, continuing elements of Moroccan design motif are displayed in the bedding from Longoria Collection and the drapery valances. So as not to mar the beautiful walls or obstruct the lovely views, the couple decided to hide the television inside a large, antique tooled leather trunk of Spanish origin. A remote control opens the trunk and lifts the TV to viewing level.
The second bedroom suite on the opposite end of the home, was designed to be multi-functional with first floor convenience.
Upstairs are three more bedrooms, one of which currently serves as a workout space. The other one is their grown-up son’s room. He is a musician who lives in Nashville, but visits often. Patrick, too, is a musician, so the couple also has a music room upstairs which houses Patrick’s impressive electric guitar collection, a drum set and other instruments. The upstairs rooms open to a lovely balcony that overlooks the courtyard pool area. During parties, the band plays from this upper deck to entertain the crowd below.
The couple retained a few of their former pieces which were used in their new home. In Patrick’s library is an Oriental rug that was given to the couple as a wedding present from Pam’s mother. “My grandparents lived in Courtlandt Place, and this rug was given to my mother who passed it on to us. It has a lot of sentimental value. We actually designed the library to fit this rug.” Pam also proudly displays two magnificent crystal lamps which belonged to her mother on the nightstands in the couple’s master bedroom, and the breakfast room table is a piece the couple decided to retain.
This unique, fresh modern home effectively fuses contemporary design with Moroccan influence and Old World elements, successfully retaining the charm of the neighborhood and reflecting the personality of the occupants.
Text by Cheryl Alexander | Photography by Fran Brennan | Interiors by Suzanne Duin, RID, ASID of Maison Maison | Construction by D.L. Doyle Construction, Jim Bob Taylor, Superintendent | Architecture by Kurt Aichler | Landscape by Prewett and Read | Pool by Monarch Pools | Finishes by Segreto Finishes, Leslie Sinclair
TOP IMAGE: The entry boasts a stunning view to the home’s inner courtyard.
Modern Moroccan Riad