the i-escape blog / Designer hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Helen Howat

While holidaying in Morocco, British designer Helen Howat stumbled across a ruined building in Essaouira and immediately fell in love. Today, after years of renovation, the astonishing Salut Maroc is one of the most beautiful hotels in Morocco 

Interview: Jake Hamilton


Before I moved to Morocco…

I was living in Dubai and had a business designing Arabian heritage merchandise. I’ve been involved in Islamic design for some time and I always liked Moroccan architecture, so I came here on holiday and found Essaouira.

 

Basically, I fell in love with a building…

I found this big old building in Essaouira that was a ruin, but it had an amazing Jewish-Moroccan architectural structure. I was very much drawn to it and started inquiring how to acquire it. It changed the pathway of my life.

 

It took me years to renovate it…

You need patience to work in Morocco because it takes time getting all the paperwork sorted. The building is also on the frontline of the Medina of Essaouira, a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you have to manage the renovation process very correctly. From acquiring the building to opening for the public, it took me almost 5 years.

The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

But my creativity was unleashed…

Because I own the building I had the freedom to express myself without boundaries, which released a lot of creativity inside me that had been latent for a long time. I’m naturally an alternative type of designer. I look at a source, I grow it, then I add my own way of designing.

 

I work very strongly with colours and patterns…

If you’re throwing clashing colours and clashing patterns together then you have to find a natural balance. With me that’s instinctive. It comes from somewhere deep inside me. I automatically put colours together in a harmonic way. It’s not something I have to look for.

The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

Everything has a twist…

I wanted Salut Maroc to be a Moroccan project so I used local artisans for the bones and decorative elements. Yet I was also creating modern Moroccan art, if you like, so I had to teach them a contemporary way of working. For instance, the zellige tilework you see in the riad is learned from grandfather to father to son, but I work with different patterns and different colours so I took them back to the beginning to relearn the process.

 

There’s a huge sunburst in the Marrakech Room…

The sunlight used to come in the window when I was renovating the room. It threw its rays across the wall so I incorporated it into the design by creating a big Islamic sunburst using the warm, hot colours of Marrakech. That’s why the room is red, because Marrakech is known as Alhambra, the red city.

The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

I decided on the name Salut Maroc from the very start…

I had a clear vision for the riad, and for every room. Salut Maroc translates as ‘hello Morocco’. I’m saying hello to everything Moroccan. My design is a homage to Morocco.

 

My honeymoon suite empowers women…

In the Berber Room there’s a painting of Aisha, a famous Berber warrior whose husband was killed in battle with the French. In revenge she used her beauty to lure all the soldiers to their death. We call that room the honeymoon suite!

The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

People are looking for something different…

Since opening last year, we’ve had a really positive response from people all over the world. I find we have very interesting customers because they have a shared interest, a shared energy: they want something alternative.

 

Tourism in Morocco is booming…

You can feel it very strongly, particularly in Essaouira. It’s partly to do with the problems that happened in Tunisia and Egypt, but a lot of people found Morocco and continue to come here. It’s growing very quickly.

The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

Haggling is part of life…

To truly experience a country you need to be open to its culture and habits. If you want to go shopping in a Moroccan souk, then haggling is part of the deal. But don’t be afraid — it’s like a friendly sport!

 

We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary…

It’s been an amazing year. We opened cold in June 2017 and were hugely received. There was a social media frenzy for the first 3 months, and since then we’ve had television interviews, exposure in high-quality design magazines, and lots of interest. We also have a local following for our rooftop restaurant. I’m very happy about it, and I’m looking forward to a positive future.


Book your stay at Salut Maroc

Where: Essaouira, Morocco
Price: From £86
A little extra: Book with i-escape and receive a free 30-min hammam session


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The i-escape blog / Designer Hotels #1: Salut Maroc / Salut Maroc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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