Many of our visitors are curious about riad Mayfez’ restoration.
To restore a riad like Mayfez is more than a story. It is a life experience in itself, to which, in all honesty, we were not prepared.
For more than 6 years, full time, and up to now, each summer, without exception, we take care of our palace.
After we found it on the brink of ruin, we propped it up, restored it, and designed it, in order to restore it to its former grandeur and beauty.
Since then, we are keeping it healthy, with shock treatments and recurrent cures. I must confess… The old lady is very demanding.

First encounter with Mayfez

The truth is that we were charmed the first time we entered the riad door.
“You see, where we’re sitting, this is the place for the pool. I’ll see it black, that would be very trendy.” I told my husband.
This is how coming to Fez for tourism, we left with a real estate project and not the least !
This crazy project was born in the middle of a garden with dry fountains, invaded by weeds and surrounded by abandoned and decrepit buildings.

Yet, given the poor condition of the estate, we should have realized, that we were about to engage in a whole range of unforeseen experiences…

Façade décrépie de Riad Mayfez avant restauration
Façade décrépie de Riad Mayfez avant restauration

Buying an estate in the medina in Morocco

On the one hand, buying in the medina is experiencing the Moroccan administrative burden.
On the other hand, it is discovering the complexity of real estate law.
Indeed, the medina is still governed by customary medieval law and the houses do not have property titles.
Discussing the thirty neighborhood complaints and various bribery attempts would be far too long. Yet, after eight years of intimidations and lawsuit proceedings, we finally managed to get Mayfez’s property title.

Designing a project in order to restore a riad

The plans of the first architect were our very first disappointment.
With a patio covered with lawn and terraces equipped to hang the laundry, we were far away from the glamour we had imagined! Not knowing anyone in Fez, we had pushed the door of the first architect and it is clear that creative talent is not offered with the diploma…
This how the first plans ended-up in bins.
After finding a proper architect and designer team in Rabat and Marrakech, we were finally awarded the plans that you can see today. In total, a structural architect, an interior designer and a landscape architect worked on the restoration project at Mayfez. An all female team.
But as our all female team managed to achieve a perfect paper, on other hand, the building structure assesment was bringing bad news.

Building work at Mayfez

A building structure on the brink of collapsing

While the 1910 Art Deco Villa did not present any special issue, the traditional wings were clearly unstable.
The unhealthy structure of the wing, which now houses the Palmyra suite threatened to collapse. Two IPN beams had to be installed to maintain the facade.

Authentic ancient style materials to restore a riad

Although IPN beams have prooved essential to ensure the safety of part of the structure, most of the restoration work was carried out in accordance with the technologies of the past.
The high temperature variations in Fez impact the materials in a very different ways. In fact, natural ancient materials such as lime and adobe react and move differently than modern materials when heated. It was therefore essential not to mix technologies.
Consequently, the terrace roofs have all been restored to the old style, with cedar beams. The space between the beams is filled with hundreds of thin cedar boards, before being covered with a mixture of cement and lime.

Plancher traditionnel
Plancher traditionnel

Worksite without car access

To restore a riad in the medina there is a good chance that you will not have access for motor powered vehicles, and so is Mayfez.

Consequently, all refurbishment has been men and donkey powered.

Excavation des caves et de la piscine
Excavation des caves et de la piscine

Cellars and swimming pools have been excavated with the sole use of shovels. No less than 1200 fifty liters sacks of rubble and ground were excavated for the swimming pool alone, not to mention the cellar, corridors and building foundations.
Thus, every night for approximately two years, half a dozen donkeys carried out of the riad, approximately 200 sacks of rubble.

Livraison des plantes du jardin
Livraison des plantes du jardin

More than a construction site, a giant hive

No less than fifty workers worked at the same time.

"Zleiji", artisan qui découpe et pose les mosaïques
“Zleiji”, artisan qui découpe et pose les mosaïques
"Gebbas": Artisan sculpteur de plâtre
“Gebbas”: Artisan sculpteur de plâtre

The room that is now the bar was the workshop of the carpenter. The place had a wonder full scent of cedar.
In the current mirrors room, the zlejji (artisan of the mosaic) had stored his tiles. He spent part of the day there cutting the tiles at the proper dimension before assembling them into colourful mosaïcs..
Plaster sculptors were the most numerous. They had stored their material in the present red room. The arcades along the basin required no less than 6 months of work for three people.
The dining room was the storage place of the marble workers. They layed no less than 1000 m2 of marble, stone and granito.

For more images about the refurbishment of Mayfez, watch our video on facebook.

Living on a construction site

While we finally moved to the construction site to be as close as possible to the finish line, we were at the heart of the activity.
Since electricity in the garden had not been installed, we had to use a flashlight to guide us after dark.
In the morning, from the balcony of the present Lalla Tam suite, we watched the workers come and go. After almost five years of restoration, the work seemed like never ending. The patio was a sight of desolation and the pool was still, nothing more than a huge hole in the ground.
Sacks of rubble continued to pile up and the noise of the grinders and polishers had become unbearable.

Then came the first tests…

The opening of the water valves and… the first defects. The water leaks in some walls. Breaking the walls, repairing the pipes that had not been sealed properly the first time. Starting again and again.
Then the marble worker was in a hurry to finish. We watched at him as he was laying the baseboards : a three-foot plate, a four-inch plate, a fifteen-inch plate… To our surprise, he explained : “that’s what I have. It doesn’t matter, it won’t show”. We were speachless. I grabed a hammer and started hitting the marble boards one by one. « Now they are broken and need changed. Plates of the same size, please… » and I turned my back and left.
Meanwhile the zleiji were completing the assembly the mosaics, directly on the freshly polished marble floorings, without any protection. “It’s okay we’ll wash after”… But no one cleaned and the cement hardened… This is how we had to polish the marble florings for a second time.

And moving in…

Getting the furniture and trees inside the riad required an expertise in managing the constraints of small spaces and use of angles. Thus, no tree of more than 3.5 meters included roots, could enter the narrowness of the outside street. Everything that was longer had to be towed from the street onto the roof terrace before it was eventually taken down from the roof top into the garden. This is how the round loungers and 7 meters long pool security curtain were delivered.
The construction finally ended during winter 2011, but another three months of kneeling-down for cleaning were needed.
No craftman respected the work of the others. There were cement and glue all over the place. We had to use small metal brushes and hydrochloric acid to remove all the stains.

Escape … and return

In summer 2012, we had an overdose of buildong, medina and everything related to it… We moved to Zurich. The calm and serenity of Switzerland was much need to heal our hard-hit mind.
In autumn 2016 that I finally came back to Fez deciding to open the riad and welcome guests.
All finishes, details and other improvements such as double glazing, pool heating, hammam and roof top decoration were done after 2016.
There is still one small riad, that needs refurbishing before becoming out eighth and last suite. One day, may be…

Ultimately, Mayfez has occupied much of our lives and mobilized much of our energy. Today we live, finally, our riad life and are happy to share with our guests our passion and the charms of palatial living.