Home Tour: A World Away In Marrakech
The bond between an interior designer and a client is a special one. For her firm's latest masterpiece, Linda Pinto creates the home only a true friend could accomplish.
When new clients come to her, Linda Pinto often grills them on the tiniest details of their lives—a kind of decorator’s third degree. On which side of the night table do they place their eyeglasses when they go to bed? Where do they like to sit when they have their morning coffee? Do they sleep in the nude? (I made that last one up, but I wouldn’t be surprised either.)
Pinto, 68, took over her brother Alberto Pinto’s celebrated design firm when he died in 2012, and it has continued to cater to clients for whom no detail is too trivial to worry about. The firm just finished the five-story penthouse in Monaco’s Tour Odéon, which went on the market last year for $335 million, and it’s now in the process of redoing the magnificent Hôtel Lambert on the Île St.-Louis in Paris.
“It’s very important to understand what people want and, more important, what they don’t want. It gets very subtle,” Pinto says.
None of that extreme due diligence was needed for the villa she recently finished in the Palmeraie neighborhood of Marrakech, however. The villa’s owners are old friends—and seasoned clients. The couple, who have three young children, are often there during the big vacations of the French school year: Christmas, Easter, and Toussaint in the fall. Not that they have nowhere else to go. Pinto has already decorated five other houses for them, from London and Paris to Ibiza, Spain. When in Marrakech, Pinto crashes at their villa.
“This house was so easy,” says Pinto, who is tall with piercing eyes, silver hair, and a bearing that is both relaxed and regal. “We know their taste so well. We know what art they have. So it’s like you’re doing the house for yourself.”
That spirit gives the vast, 25,000-square-foot home a loose, lived-in quality without a hint of fussiness. The rooms are airy, and sunlight floods in through tall windows. “Marrakech has fantastic light, and the sky in winter is a strong blue with no clouds,” she says. You can appreciate that blue sky from the house’s 71⁄2 acres of gardens, landscaped by Madison Cox (dubbed by the French “the billionaire’s gardener,” not to mention the husband of Pierre Bergé). There is an outdoor pool (plus an indoor one) and even a kid-friendly mini-farm with donkeys and chickens. There are nine bedrooms. (The owners love to entertain.) If you don’t feel like talking to anyone, you can no doubt find an empty living room among the handful on offer. Much of the furniture is streamlined midcentury modern. The rugs were all designed by Pinto’s artisans, and fabric embroidery was done by storied Paris workshop Linge au Coeur. The feeling is the opposite of overbearing, even in the grand salon, with its deep crimson fabrics.
Alberto Pinto could go in-your-face Baroque when he felt like it, and he felt like it frequently. Last year, French publisher Flammarion came out with a coffee-table book devoted to a dozen of his homes, Alberto Pinto: Signature Interiors. One of those is a Moroccan riad in the same neighborhood. It’s Alberto at his over-the-toppiest. Heavy Moroccan tables, cabinets, and consoles crawl with elaborate curlicues of inlaid ivory and mother-of-pearl. The effect is jaw-dropping, but airy it isn’t—and it isn’t meant to be. Since taking over the firm, his sister has gravitated toward what she calls “classic contemporary,” mixing older and newer pieces into a nonstyle style that stays fresh longer.
“It’s what I have at my home, and I find more people coming toward that,” Pinto says. “It’s easier to live with, even if you can’t really recognize a particular identity in that kind of decor. That makes it timeless.”
As a result, the Arabian Nights touches of Pinto’s Marrakech villa won’t clobber you the way they do in Alberto’s riad. Sure, you get a few of those Moorish tin-and-bronze hanging lamps, some arabesque arches in layered brick, and the occasional moucharabieh wooden latticework. But you also get a delightful Mexican chandelier in the dining room made of straw and festooned with rattan birds and monkeys.
Morocco is Pinto’s corner of the world. She and Alberto grew up not too far from Marrakech, in Casablanca. (Their brother, Charlie, now lives in Venezuela—“poor thing,” she says.) Their father was from Argentina, their mother from Morocco. She credits the country’s culture of abundance—of food, of smells, of life—for her open-mindedness and generosity.
Linda and Alberto were joined at the hip from childhood. Alberto made his way to Paris, where he started off as a design photographer. “He had a suitcase full of photographs of houses, which he carted around to magazines like Vogue and House & Garden to pitch story ideas,” Pinto says. “It’s a powerful childhood memory, that brown suitcase—I loved looking at it.”
At 17, Pinto joined her brother in Paris. He had started decorating homes by that point, first in New York, then in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, and Rio. She makes no bones about it: He was the creative guru and she the organizer as the business grew to employ 85 people. Just before he died, Alberto, gravely ill with a lung disease, asked his sister to move out of her apartment next door and into his quarters overlooking the Seine on the Quai d’Orsay. “I had the good luck—bad luck for him, but perhaps a bit of luck for us—to be obliged to continue alone while he was still living at home. So on the day he died, I didn’t panic. I didn’t tell myself, ‘I can’t do it.’ It’s not like it came out of nowhere.”
Pinto still lives in the apartment once filled with the treasures her brother couldn’t stop accumulating: silver hippos, rhinos, and giraffes; Qing dynasty porcelain dinnerware; Claude Lalanne bronzes. She packed it all away as she stripped the apartment down—not to what most people would call bare essentials, but to what Alberto would no doubt consider monastic. “Alberto rarely sold anything,” Pinto says. Five years later, in September 2017, it went under the hammer at Christie’s in Paris. “It would have taken six houses to use it all,” she says.
The owners of the Marrakech house didn’t need any mementos from the sale. High up on the wall of the main salon hangs a large portrait of a lightly smiling man resting his chin on his hands. It is, of course, Alberto himself, and a copy of the work hangs in Pinto’s office on the Rue d’Aboukir. The portrait was executed by the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who first creates a kind of pixelated mosaic of his subject out of chocolates or flowers or children’s toys, and then photographs the resulting likeness. For his portrait of Alberto, he used diamonds.