For the first time in her life, not long after she had been transferred from Namibia to Rabat, Morocco, the writer and human rights specialist began to pine seriously for a home. She and her architect husband, , both Americans, had recently had their second child; Morocco was at least the tenth country in which Montague had lived. "We were at a crossroads moment," Montague recalls. "I was thinking, How much longer can we go on like this, moving from place to place?" At the same time, she and Redecke had fallen for Morocco: the culture, the food, and the weather. They began to "hatch a plan," as she puts it, to buy a home in the more international Marrakech.
At the time, expats were flocking to the city's historic medina and renovating crumbling riads, but Montague craved open skies and a blank canvas on which to exhibit the array of objects she had acquired on her travels and inherited from her equally well-traveled parents. (Her father directed development programs for relief organizations, and her mother was born in Iran.) "I had all these amazing things I had picked up over the years and needed to keep in storage," she says. "Antique doors from India and chests from Tibet. The storage allocation that my company gave me became too small."
After many scouting trips, they finally bought a working farm that offered mountain views, olive trees, and an easy commute to the American School for the children. Their dream of a single-family house evolved into one surrounded by a boutique eco-resort after the local council told them that to purchase the property they would have to invest in something that would benefit the community.
Redecke, who had built refugee clinics in Nepal and renovated several riads in Morocco, began sketching their vision. "Chris treated us as if we were a client," says Montague. "We knew that we wanted the complex to be based on old Moroccan casbah architecture. On the inside we wanted it to feel a little industrial, but very warm."
It took Redecke a few weeks to design the property: a 4,500-square-foot, two-story house with a great room filled with Moroccan arches, as well as a space that holds the couple's home furnishings shop, ; a pool; and two guest houses. But it took almost four years to get the permits, find a team of local workers to build the project almost entirely with sustainable materials, and finish construction.
Finally, in 2009, they were able to move in and start work on the interiors. Although Montague writes frequently about design on her wildly successful blog, , which she started just before they bought their property, and is writing a book about Moroccan design (, published by Artisan Books, will be out in mid-May), she'd never actually decorated a house before. In her favor, Montague has a very distinct style—both in her fashion and interiors—that is equal parts anthropologist and witch doctor. She herself calls her aesthetic "modern ethnic." But, she adds, "I don't take design too seriously. I don't worry things."
The interior spaces, with their high ceilings and polished-concrete floors, are streamlined Moroccan style and needed some defining structure. Montague broke down the central great room into a series of intimate seating areas, each anchored by vintage Berber rugs. "Each carpet creates a little room within a room," she explains. "It was a helpful way to organize such a large space." Then she began to add furniture, to "dress the pieces up with throws and belts and beads and sometimes a combination of everything," she says. "I have a very fashiony approach to design. People often say I dress like my house, because I wear gobs of vintage clothing and jewelry."
Many of the objects she has collected, from jewelry to rugs, also have a mystical quality. "Here in Morocco, belief in magic is embedded in design," she says. "Arches and big vaulted spaces are said to protect you from genies. Blankets and rugs of white wool are thought to be sacred. We used hedges of rosemary in our landscaping because it, too, is said to ward off evil."
Soon after the house was complete, Montague went so far as to consult a feng shui specialist about the interiors. "She told me to remove the star-shaped lanterns I have hanging in a hallway because apparently it's not auspicious to have something pointy over your head," Montague recounts. "But I like them, so she suggested hanging crystals from the bottom of the lanterns." Montague decided to skip the crystals. When it comes down to it, she chooses style over superstition.