Never believe that because things are expensive, they are nice or worth it. Alos, never think that everything has to match.
As part of my series on the “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meryanne Loum-Martin.
Meryanne Loum-Martin is the owner of Jnane Tamsna, an elegant, award-winning boutique hotel on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, international tastemaker, interior designer, and author of “Inside Marrakesh: Enchanting Homes and Gardens.” The book is an exquisite must-have for lovers of art, architecture, design, and culture. It is penned by Loum-Martin, a former Parisian corporate lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and Morocco’s only Black female hotelier. Loum-Martin, who is Senegalese and West Indian, studied Marrakesh and its rich architecture and design for 25 years and is touted as Morocco’s most sophisticated name in travel. Loum-Martin is also an IBU Movement Ambassador, a global movement putting money into the hands of female Artisans.
Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I was a child, I knew that my professional life would be based on creativity and that I wanted to build and design houses. I am French and the French educational system is brilliant but rigid. I was admitted to college at 16 and went straight to Architecture School. I had good grades in all areas creative or artistic, but to get into the third year, you had to pass minor credits in chemistry and physics. This prevented me from continuing my architecture studies. So I went to law school, became a lawyer and a member of the Paris Bar. All was going well, but I was aching to design and build. With a Senegalese father and a West Indian mother, the whole family living in Paris, there was always an idea floating during Sunday lunches: where should we have a family holiday house one day? That is when the idea of Marrakech came to mind, it was only a three-hour flight away and had attracted people of great taste, such as Yves Saint Laurent (YSL). I offered to my parents that I could go there and look for land, but that I wanted to be in charge of the project if it were to happen. In December of 1985, I went to Marrakech on holiday and stayed at my very good friend’s house. I found land and I built and designed a house for my parents. One week out of the month I was a builder, designer and interior architect in Marrakech, and three weeks out of the month, I was a lawyer in Paris. During that time, I identified a niche market: a very high-end rental concept with five-star service and the connection to local cultural heritage and exquisite experiences that big hotels cannot provide. This was also decades before social media. Only written press existed and word of mouth. I launched the property for New Years Eve 1989–1990 with an extraordinary costume ball themed “Oriental Splendor” and the guests who had come from Europe and the U.S. all started talking about this extraordinary experience back home. After that, the telephone and fax (do you remember faxes?) never stopped ringing for bookings. Because the property was so stylish and had put together an exquisite art-de-vivre, I started being defined as a designer who was commissioned to do furniture, lighting, outdoor furniture, etc… So it all happened in an accidental way really. For several years, I continued mainly being a lawyer and a “designer-hospitality entrepreneur” and manager of this boutique hospitality concept, on the side. As my business grew, I left the Bar and dedicated my time to Marrakech. I moved here permanently in 1996, with my kids and husband. Since then, I have created other projects leading up to my present hotel, Jnane Tamsna. I am a self-taught interior architect and for my hotel, Jnane Tamsna, I was my own architect.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
There are numerous and joyful anecdotes, with extremely famous people, but since my business is about protecting privacy, I will neither give names nor stories. However, what I can say is that I enjoy seeing stars, royals or billionaires be very human and down to earth when not in the places where they are known for their titles. The same person who would have security around their trailer, or bodyguards on their private jets, would be the coolest person to have a drink with in the garden, when in another context.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if it is funny, but the previous property, the one belonging to my parents, was packed all year long, about eighteen to twenty months ahead. Regular guests asked me twenty months in advance to book for NYE 2001. When I informed them the property for NYE was booked two years in advance, they said “we heard you bought some land, you have the time to build the place, we will be your first clients.” As I had bought the land where my hotel is now, and considered the time I had to build the place, I thought “why not?,” so I accepted. However, planning consent took longer than expected to get. The day I was to give the first check to the contractor, I got a call stating “Beware, this company is filing for bankruptcy.” By the time I found a solid and reliable contractor, there were twelve months and three weeks left until NYE. But Ramadan, the religious fasting month, was starting and I honestly knew that I could not impose on hundreds of fasting workers my stress on the construction site. So, I decided to wait until the end of Ramadan. On January 6, 2001, we broke ground. There were palm trees, land and a hundred workers. On December 27, 2001, exactly eleven months and three weeks later, the guests arrived, they had taken over the hotel for their family reunion and we were ready. My son who was eleven at the time told me: “Mama, I need to speak to you. You have to promise the family that never again will you accept clients before having built the hotel.” I realised that I could not impose on my family such mad stress.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Sustainable land development for eco-lodges and real estate.
The land development concept is all about empowering unprivileged communities which have immense traditional knowledge in agriculture and crafts. They just happen not to have gone to school, but in their fields they have a B.A! If not a B.A., then a Doctorate.
Cultural events celebrating the creativity and the impact of diasporas.
The cultural events are very innovative in desegregating socialization around celebrating the creativity of diasporas. It brings a lot of knowledge, connection, and brings the corporate diversity discussion to the next level as it is about social diversity, beyond the walls of work.
Taking notes for my second book.
My book will give exposure to a lot of unsung heroes of the creative world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think this quote by Maya Angelou says it all: “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” This is valid for a lot of Black women and men. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I am amazing, but that if you set yourself the limit to be normal, you cannot develop the best of yourself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I think that the trust of my parents was key. I had just won a very prestigious lawyer’s award (I was going to represent France in international competitions) when it became clear that I would end up switching to design and not walk on the red carpet laid ahead. Even though on my mother’s side, I was a fourth generation lawyer, and a second-gen lawyer on my father’s side, they were always very supportive of me following my own path. But beyond my parents, there is one man who made it all happen for me. The person I owe so much will probably never know it. Nonetheless, the previous property, (my parents’ property that I had turned into a innovative, high-end rental concept which won the Harpers & Queens’ award of the “Best Private Villa in the World” in 2001) housed Parisian clients who had told me that during their stay they had invited a friend of theirs who had just moved to Casablanca, the business city of Morocco. I was not on-site, there was no need as everything was on automatic pilot. When I came back, the staff gave me an envelope with a message from that guest saying “What you have created is amazing. I had the most beautiful holiday. Please come to me, if you want to do a new project, as I head a bank in Casablanca.” I was happy to read how satisfied he was, but I did not pay more attention to this as my history with three banks in Marrakech was so good, I naively thought that it would be very easy to get financed for my new project. However, none of them (the banks) accepted. I have to say I was stunned as I replied “Look at the bank statements. Is there one young foreign woman having such flow in a business she runs alone and created from scratch other than myself?” The answer I got was “You might have created something very successful in that field, but how do we know you understand hotel business?” I was fuming! Between 1990 and 2000, no hospitality business had more press than I had. From the Wall Street Journal writing “Mrs. Loum-Martin was the first one to create a new type of tourism that appeals to affluent Western society. She has contributed enormously to the style of Marrakesh — not only through her sense of design…” to absolutely all titles of the international press, different titles in Vogue, Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveler, Harper’s, Departures, etc. A few of my friends who traveled a lot for their company were telling me that there was not a place they would go to without bumping into a story on my business in Marrakech. Beyond Europe and the U.S., my business was mentioned in publications in Australia, Hong-Kong, Japan and Singapore, because it was the place where all of the most famous Hollywood stars would stay when in Marrakech. Sometimes, waiting in the garden while others were leaving was a brutal awakening to how finance can be the worst hurdle when you know that your vision is right, but you are dealing with people who do not even think in a box, but in a sardine can…Then two miracles happened: First, that I thought about the letter and second, that I found it! I called the headquarters of the bank and asked if I could have the private fax line of the head office (this was during the time when faxing was really popular.) I sent a short note stating who I was and that I was taking him up on his now two year old offer. Exactly thirty minutes later, this very important French executive called me back and said, “I never forgot the stay at your place, and since I am coming with my directors to Marrakech next week, we will meet you.” I had by then restored an old grand house of the old town and turned it into a very elegant and unique concept store that looks like a residence where you could be served exquisite food while shopping. We met there and I explained my concept for a new kind of boutique hotel where the landscape would be as important as the architecture. I showed them blueprints that I had created myself, talked about the clientele that I already had, etc. Then he looked at his colleagues and just said “We are going to look at the figures, and if they make the sense I believe they will, we are financing her project. If there is one person who knows what she is talking about, it is her.” Without this man, I don’t know what I would have done. He must have retired years ago and we did not stay in touch after the launch of the hotel, but he is at the direct origin of everything that I did in the last twenty years.
Thank you for that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Coherence is the main thing for me. Make statements and be bold. If your taste is minimalist, stay minimalist but try to stick to the best quality of design you can find. The simpler the better. Stick to minimal colors also. Make a statement. If your taste is eclectic and bohemian like mine, be bold but mix things of quality. This does not mean expensive things, but things that have a story, a style, and make a statement. I worked and lived in NY for a year and a half in the early eighties. My small Chelsea apartment was incredibly stylish. My amazing chest had cost $80 at the Salvation Army, and in flea markets, I had found old prints likely from the early nineteenth century representing clothing accessories. Instead of just hanging just one, I hung six, creating a statement wall. They were hung above the chest which encompassed a candle holder with three white candles. The whole thing was so inexpensive, but looked like something out of a design magazine. My best advice here is to have some imagination! In flea markets, things can seem dusty and of no interest, but imagine what you can do with them, starting with a fresh coat of paint!
2. Never believe that because things are expensive, they are nice or worth it. Alos, never think that everything has to match.
3. Have candles lit in the evening. Like two on the coffee table and two or three on the dining table. If you have a mirror and a table underneath, candles reflecting in a mirror add to the magic.
4. Group objects: don’t spread them. Instead, group them as a sculpture of different heights and volumes. Create what some call a tablescape.
5. If you’re like me when in NY, and are too broke to buy flowers, find a spot where it is legal to cut a branch from a bush or a tree, and put it in a big glass vase or in a simple carafe. Alone, it makes a very stylish statement. If you do have flowers, and they start getting wilted, take the petals and give a second life to your flowers: have them float in a bowl of water. Floating petals and a floating candle is very stylish specifically at night or for a romantic dinner.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am blessed with the fact that people like my style. I am also very aware that because of my background, a lot of things came naturally to me as I grew up in nice houses. With this knowledge, I would love to have a show or media platform coaching young Black girls and boys on how to bring style to their environment, wherever that may be (their dorm, bedroom, etc). Having style is a mindset and it is neither about brands nor money. It is about finding who you are and connecting it to an expression of yourself and creating your style. It is always about making a statement. So what would your statement be? If there is an investor interested, I would like to develop this idea! I believe that there is the potential of a brand, and e-commerce about style doing a lot of good to creative suppliers who might be starving, to young Black designers lacking business. I am Black, French, African, Carribean, lived in NY and have traveled the world. I am based in one of the most stylish cities in the world, out of which I wrote a book on private homes and design. Rizzoli NY signed me up for my first book which went into record time to reprint. The purpose of this initiative would be to dismantle the stigma that Black people cannot have stylish interiors as they are for rich people. I’m here to prove we can! I would love to do some coaching, designing, and educating people’s eyes so they realise that while they might never be able to afford an interior designer, they can still have beautiful homes.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Desiree Rogers. I love how at the beginning of the Obama years, she had turned the White House into a cultural salon. She is also such an excellent businesswoman. I would also love to meet/chat with Ava Du Vernay, as I have a pitch for a film.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My hotel Instagram is @jnanetamsna
My personal one is @meryanneinspired
And people can of course buy my book “Inside Marrakesh: Enchanting Homes and Gardens” preferably ordered through a Black-owned bookstore.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!