Moroccan Artworks and Objects Take Center Stage in an Extraordinary Villa in Tangier

Should you have any doubts about the impossibility of curbing the instincts of an insatiable collector, they will be dispelled quickly by Italian writer and aesthete Umberto Pasti’s delightful book The House of a Lifetime: A Collector’s Journey in Tangier. With photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo, the new Rizzoli volume recounts the story of Pasti’s life in Morocco, which began more than 40 years ago, when he and his partner, French fashion designer Stephan Janson, first visited Tangier. 

Pool and walled garden at home of Umberto Pasti and Stephan Janson as featured in the Rizzoli book The House of a Lifetime: A Collector's Journey in Tangier Morocco
Italian author and arbiter of good taste Umberto Pasti invites readers inside his remarkable Moroccan property in a new book recently published by Rizzoli. The walled swimming pool on the property (above) is “painted in a very dark green,” Pasti writes. “It looks like an agricultural and slightly otherworldly basin.” As for the decor around it, he notes there are “never enough old pots and old stones in a garden.” Top: Of this sun-filled Wunderkammer of a space, he poetically writes, “members of old tile and fabric families enjoy a long, lovely picnic.”

The two men fell in love with the city and its surrounding landscape and rented a house there. Later, they bought their own villa, called Tebarek Allah — actually, two small Moorish-style pavilions set in a neglected and parched garden with a panoramic view — on a nearby hillside. They restored the property’s upper building, reimagined the lower one and subsequently built a third pavilion that serves as a guest house.

(Pasti’s earlier Rizzoli book, EDEN REVISITED, revealed a garden he made in Rohuna, just south of Tangier. There, he created breathtaking landscapes that employed his collector’s instincts to find, save and replant indigenous Moroccan plants fast disappearing in the face of increasing development and construction.)

As the book’s text make clear, Pasti delights in the thrill of the chase — the hunt for pieces that bring him joy — and he also has a scholar’s fascination with learning about the history of his acquisitions, be they 16th-century Spanish Mudejar tiles, local antique textiles, traditional pottery, Berber painted furniture, carpets, lanterns or innumerable other artifacts. 

Ngo’s superb photographs, meanwhile, prove on page after page that Pasti has an impeccable sense of design. The arrangement and exhibition of treasures recall Aladdin’s cave.

Dining room at home of Umberto Pasti and Stephan Janson as featured in the Rizzoli book The House of a Lifetime: A Collector's Journey in Tangier Morocco
In the dining room, Pasti surrounded an early Victorian table from England with lacquered American chairs. Behind sits a 19th-century Moroccan wedding trunk from Tétouan, in northern Morocco. Hope chests like these, made for brides from well-to-do families, hail from the north, Pasti writes, because that is “where the Moriscos, driven out of Spain from the sixteenth-century onward, brought with them a tradition of wood painting that had been developed in the Alhambra and the great centers of the Andalusian courts.” He adorned the walls with 16th-century Spanish tiles and 18th-century Moroccan ones.

Pasti guides readers through the house’s evolution. With the aid and friendship of local craftsmen and builders, the upper pavilion became a magical habitation and the lower pavilion a smaller living space. 

Today, the three terraced pavilions are all furnished with an eclectic mix of astonishingly diverse objects, which Pasti has assembled from countries all over the world. The finds include Moroccan textiles, Andalusian ironwork and colorful Jbala shelves, on which are displayed photographs, paintings, plates and local pottery. 

Here, Moroccan treasures happily coexist with American lacquered chairs, a Portuguese gilded chandelier and earthenware vases from Granada. What Pasti has created with such finesse, and invites us to appreciate — and, of course, envy — is nothing short of a collector’s paradise.

Cover for the Rizzoli book The House of a Lifetime: A Collector's Journey in Tangier Morocco home of Umberto Pasti and Stephan Janson

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