Tangerine dream

21 April 2014
Ben Pentreath

It’s Monday, I’m back in London, and I’m in a bit of a daze.  Not just the effects of a weekend of expatriat-scale-cocktail-drinking after six weeks of Lenten abstinence. There’s something extraordinary about Tangier that gets under your skin. This evening I feel a bit like I’m waking from a dream. It’s grubby, it’s dusty, it’s down at heel, and in parts, as close to heaven as I’ve been in a very long time. The specific part we will get to later, and it will come as no surprise.

World of Interiors have placed an embargo on me. “You can’t take a photo of the house” said Gavin, the minute I put my foot through the door. “Jessica wrote specifically to say so”.  I was tempted… but fair play got the better of me and I promised I wouldn’t show a single shot of Gavin’s beautiful, beautiful house. (Well, there might be one or two).  For lunch on Easter Saturday, we went to Jonathan Dawson’s equally beautiful house in the country. Interiors are publishing that too. Hmm. Guess who got here first? So although it is ravishing place, which you can rent for next to nothing this summer, that too must remain almost behind wraps… I respect an exclusive after all. That evening, Veere & David (whose perfect Temple, in Suffolk, we read about a few weeks ago) showed us their extraordinary house-building project on the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it. But I am afraid that again my camera was asked to stay in my pocket.

But thankfully in Tangier there is a lot to look it which we can share. From time to time it’s hard to know where to start.


The dusty treasure shop opposite the fading hotel El Minzah; the tiles in the hallway of the Hotel Gilbraltar next door.

P1010959 P1010961 P1010967I love the faded 50s air of Tangier almost more than the traditional Moroccan. Here’s Cafe Colon, down the road from Gavin’s, where we started many mornings.P1030106

It’s all about colour juxtaposition, really, wherever you look.

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We explored the tight, narrow alleyways of the Medina; the broader squares of the Kasbah. P1010992 P1010986 P1030013

The Continental, straight out of the Grand Budapest Hotel. I am sure Wes Anderson must stay here when in Tangier.P1030011 P1030026

The legendary Dar Zero, which some think is the most beautiful house in Tangier, high atop the Kasbah.

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You learn quickly to expect the unexpected.

Around the corner from Gavin’s house is this perfect ladies’ hair dressing sign.



I loved these plastic crates, almost as much as I loved the door of Villa Mabrouka, Yves Saint Laurent’s and Pierre Berge’s house which is still for sale (in case you are interested):P1030090

We turned a corner and spied this beautiful pink merc in a dusty car park. We will see more later.P1030104



I found the graves of my great-aunt and uncle in the English churchyard. They moved to Tangier in the 50s. Trishy was an artist, and she died in 1991.  I remember visiting her here when I was about 15. Adrian I don’t remember at all, as I was only 3 or 4 when he died.  I will enjoy writing a blog about Trishy one day soon.



Good to find those. We met Christopher Gibbs, undisputed king of the expats, on the way out of the Good Friday service. He remembered my great-aunt very well. We’d bumped into Christopher and the other English flowers the night before at the insane Casa d’Italia.  You can of course read about them all here thanks to the New York Times. I got sent that article rather a few times, you can imagine. It’s brilliant, and spot on the money, without perhaps mentioning quite how faded one or two of the subjects are getting. A moment is passing.

After church, lunch at the legendary Art et Gourmet, with its beautiful deco stair.

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Gavin took me to the weavers courtyard, which sadly was all but empty on Fridays for prayer, but was superb even without each blue-doored chamber rattling with the sound of machinery.

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He has had all his striped fabric specially woven here.


Then to a beautiful building where all the notaries and lawyers work. He signed the papers for his house here. I’d quite like to live there, I decided.P1030160 P1030161 P1030164 P1030165Fading Glamour, literally.

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Somehow or another on Friday afternoon we made it to the coast and to the beach and I even went for a long swim, in the Atlantic no less, which I took to be rather brave. That evening we all had drinks with Gavin’s friend Maggie at her extraordinary house deep in the Medina. She’ll fix you with everything you need in Tangier. She’s started house-hunting for me already.

P1030194 P1030195 P1030193Maggie chatting with one of Gavin’s other guests, Christopher Leach. Christopher is a brilliant decorator and an even more brilliant story-teller. I haven’t laughed so much in years. Off camera is James McDonald, who completed this terrible trio of old friends. James is a very fine interiors photographer. In a nice venn diagram, you can see his photograph of Christopher’s old apartment here. Lush.

Back to Maggie’s party. Everyone in Tangier has lovely local made rip-offs of the Bertoia Diamond chair. Here are Maggie’s blue ones.

P1030202 P1030197I adored the tiled staircase to Maggie’s beautiful roof terrace. If you’re looking for a crazy place to stay, look no further. Get in touch with me for details. Good luck finding it, that’s all.

P1030211Breakfasts at Villa Houghton, prepared by faithful Aziz, were perfect. And extremely welcome after the ravages of crazy Tanger nights. There, I said I was going to put in a photo of Gavin’s flat. Here’s another, which frankly should be the cover of World of Interiors as far as I can make out. One of his beautiful Josephine Chairs, which he sells. You can get in touch with Gavin through his website here.


You see what I mean? And as for the inky-blue paint. Well… too much.

P1030213Saturday morning got off to a bright start when we spotted the Pink Merc going for a run.  But the real treat of the day was lunch with Jonathan Dawson. Sharp readers will have already spotted Jonathan and his cockerel, Gregory Peck, in the New York Times article. It was his annual Easter Saturday lunch at his hilltop place a short and mad drive out of Tangier.


Lunch on the terrace. I had a great chat with my neighbour Anna McKew, on the right, who knew Trishy well. Anna arrived in Tangier in 1957. David Oliver flanks other grand tangerine ladies who lunch.P1030231Jonathan chatting to Francisco de Corcuera Gandarillas on the terrace. Don’t you want your staff in white coats, blue shirts and a fez?  Jonathan has built the entire house from scratch. Nothing was here. It’s perfect. And this is the place, by the way, that you can rent for a song this summer.

P1030056From Gavin’s terrace we look across to Francisco’s house, which I think is meant to be one of the most beautiful in Tangier.

We wound our way home from Jonathan’s lunch via gin-and-tonics (okay, James and I had a cup of tea) at the Villa Josephine, an altogether different kind of vibe but definitely the Grand Hotel Budapest alive and kicking all over again.

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We descended the mountain back to Chez Houghton for a half an hour nap. No sooner than I had put head to pillow, it was time to get up again. Tangier has a hectic social life. We were off for dinner with David and Veere.

Man. oh. man. When I wrote a few months ago of the Fishing Temple that it was close to heaven, I didn’t realise heaven itself was in Tangier. Veere and David are building the most beautiful house on the most beautiful site you have ever seen in the world, and in the meantime they are renting Thomas Cook’s old house just down the road. It is perfection. I cannot tell you. David Oliver’s sublime paint colours, Veere’s furnishings, and a happy sprinkling of Christopher Gibbs magic dust: I am not sure I have been anywhere so beautiful in years. Do you agree?

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We toured the building site next door, awestruck, and returned to find the table laid, for a perfect last evening of conversation and the most delicious dinner you have eaten. P1030292

The following day was Easter day. I woke early. It was time to come back to London. One last trip to the Cafe Colon with Christopher. Homeward flights, and back to London through massive rainstorm clearing to sunshine, full of tales of Arabian nights and days. I’m sitting here now in Queen Square, and I can hardly believe it wasn’t a dream.  Can you tell I’m in a strange mood? In due course, perhaps I can explain what’s up.

In the meantime, little apartment with the ancient metal balcony and for sale sign, that I spied within a minute… are you calling?  I’m not sure. But you might be. P1010950

16 comments on this post

Franco Petrisays:

Wonderful , excellent awsome Thank you all

Pat Grahamsays:

Just spent two days with Maggie Dean and met Johnathan … It was 38 years since Maggie and I lived in HK and looks like I could be in Tangeirs as well before too long. Love your photos and you have captured the spirit…. Can’t wait to return and start house hunting

Claire howardsays:

Hi Ben,
Thoroughly enjoyed this blog, from my own experience ex apts seem to become even more english,tea at four,g and t at six and dress for dinner etc.seeing your photo of Johnathon sitting on his terrace brings back fond memories of life abroad as a child.

Pilar VIGARAYsays:

Tres,tres beau,merci Ben,a bientot,Pilar


Lovely to see Tangiers during the day! I have only seen it at night via the movie Only Lovers Left Alive. It must be a sign that I must visit myself. The music on the movie soundtrack it great to listen to, to get in the mood.

Ben, I felt like I’d taken a vacation after reading/viewing this post. I don’t suppose life is necessarily easy in Tangiers, but there’s something about the pastel buildings, sun glistening on whitewashed walls, dappled shade of the terraces, colorful tiles rampant everywhere, etc that makes one feel it must be paradise!

The Thomas Cooke house is truly elegant, but some of the rooms seem like they could be anywhere on the globe. My favorite interior is Maggie’s less-is-not-more home that is definitely not in a European city. Would that I could rent it!!

Please do take a home there! In 30 years the NYT will run an exotic expats article featuring that well-known fixture of Tangiers’ salons, Sir Ben P, architect, decorator, raconteur and bon vivant nonpareil!

After reading this, I now have a desire to travel to Tangier. I love the honesty of the images – such as the central stair way with the electrical boxes attached to the walls. It is inspiring to know and be proud of such destinations to explore and to observe the contrasts. This is what makes one realise they are alive – or maybe in a dream. Thank you for sharing.

Ben, a delightful and exquisite post. As always.


Bucket list, def.


yes, what is the name of the pink in Veere’s home? Wonderful.. or yours?

insanely gorgeous thank you. so glad i renewed my WOI subscription for this year. can’t wait!

Robert Rowandsays:

Truly wonderful post, thank you. The expats remind me of the bunch of eccentrics I met who lived on Capri when I first went there in the 70’s, I mean, weird, but hilarious: “Hedonism amongst the ruins” I used to describe it! Loved the rooms in the last pics, really great style. Now that you have fallen under the spell of Africa, you should one day venture south to Cape Town, where you will enjoy the Dutch Colonial architecture.

Welcome back and thank you for a most enchanting post. I was captivated by the elegant faded beauty of all the buildings you photographed, the colors and patterns. The interiors of the homes have so much charm and character that truly must reflect their owner’s personalities (those are the best houses, don’t you agree?). Those postcards looked ancient and I would have loved to have snapped a few up for myself.

Thank you again for this whirlwind tour.

Nicola Barriesays:

I forgot to write – please do write a blog about your aunt Trishy…. And please do publish another book with all of these pictures….. I wonder if there is a way to catalogue all of your pics online? What a wonderful and colourful life you lead and share with us!

Nicola Barriesays:

Heavenly…… it’s almost too much to take in…… Is the little apartment with ancient metal balcony and for sale sign deciding your fate? – and only ten years earlier than ‘planned’!

Lawdy, I’m still trying to process that post! It is a whirl – of people with houses and houses with people, and tiles and colour. And gin. Glorious gin. But even more than all that, of tantalising scents which disappear out the door as you enter through another one. It seems to be a ‘watch this space’ type of post. Cats and curiosity, we shall have to hope not to die before whatever it is becomes revealed.

And ohmygordbro, the photo of Christopher Leach’s old apartment. Lush indeed. Forsooth, I am slain utterly.

But oh, not fair, that pink in the Veere and David house. Just when I thought I’d found the ultimate pink (by a company you can’t buy here anyway, but logistics? a mere bagatelle), I see that one. Which reveals the (ex) ultimate pink to be rather limp and introverted. Why do I always see the most perfect, unattainable pinks on your blog? Do you realise the pink anguish you strew in your wake?

I think the pic which screams WoI cover is the aquamarine kitchen.

And I think I can see that flat with the ancient metal balcony straining its lovely throat to get your attention. Either for itself or for one of its friends.

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