Meet Zohra Boukhari, the renaissance woman behind many of Bali’s most dramatic and alluring interiors. She talks to Asia Dreams about passion, inspiration and what it really means to be a world traveller.
ASIA DREAMS: As an award-winning designer, interior decorator, event planner and project coordinator amongst many other creative hats, you are the epitome of a successful multi-tasker. What’s your secret to fitting ten lifetimes into one?
Zohra: Passion, passion, passion. I just love what I do. This is not a daily-chore kind of work. I never get tired of it. I have a recognisable style but I don’t want to repeat myself. I love surprising my clients, going beyond their expectations. Once you have built a reputation, the hardest is to still be able to surprise your guests, your clients and visitors.
ASIA DREAMS: You first arrived in Bali twenty years ago. What kind of projects were you working on back then?
Zohra: My first project was to renovate an old abandoned villa complex we took over in Jimbaran. We turned it into a boutique hotel and named it after our daughter, Balquisse.
Villa Balquisse has always been my playground. In 18 years, I have made at least 5 renovations and a few major ones. Every room is different. I could never imagine making standardised rooms like in some hotels. This is too boring, for me and for the guests. We have guests who stay for six nights but want to change their room every two days, creating a true journey within a journey. Travellers are curious and I want to excite their curiosity; I do not want people to be able to see Villa Balquisse in just one night.
ASIA DREAMS: Your creative designs grace furnishings, clothing, textiles, architectural exteriors, villa interiors, restaurants and even spas. From where do you draw your inspiration?
Zohra: I don’t look, I watch. I enter a place, stop and my eyes travel; then stop on each detail. This is also what I want people to do when they come to a place I designed. My inspiration comes from my travels. We never go to the beach and get sun tanned. With my family, we travel and move all the time. This summer, we visited 10 countries in Europe. We visited the old towns of Amsterdam, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Graz, Florence, Portofino, Marseille, Barcelona and of course Paris. Last year I visited New York, London, Montreal and Marrakesh. These places are an endless source of inspiration. The old towns of these great cities are open-air museums. They were built at a time where attention to detail was enormous; it is just so impressive and inspiring.
ASIA DREAMS: With so many private villas and luxury hotel projects in the works and under your belt, how do you keep your designs fresh?
Zohra: This is the hard bit. First of all, as I said, I have a recognisable style but force myself to refuse “copy and paste.” It is very important to refuse to use the easy path when you want to create. Creativity only comes from a wandering mind and the best way I have found to let my mind wander is to travel. Your imagination will never create anything while you are working on an accounting spreadsheet. You are too absorbed and concentrated to be creative.
ASIA DREAMS: How do you successfully blend your native Moroccan roots with Bali’s unique island influences? What other places inspire you?
Zohra: My Moroccan culture means a lot to me. The traveller, the guest is the most important person in a house. If you only have food for one person, you will give it to the traveller. But don’t worry; there is always too much food in Morocco! This level of generosity is also found in the decor. Everything is about profusion. People are generous but a place can be generous too. Actually, a place almost always reflects the owner’s personality. Some places have so much to give, so many details. Baroque style and Orientalism are about profusion. The rugs tell you “just sit on the floor”, eat with your hands, let the kids run around, eat more than you should and raise your eyes after a good meal to admire the “lace” ceiling. From that, you don’t get just a style but a way of life and I put this into each and every one of my projects. Then, I can get the inspiration from any style or culture, but I keep in mind that I want a place to reflect those values I got from my culture.
ASIA DREAMS: You have designed award-winning spas throughout Asia. What are the little touches that help to create an irresistible and unique spa ambience?
Zohra: A spa is about relaxation, warmth: warm scented oil, warm hands on your body relieving the tension of your muscles. As soon as it is too cold, the hands of the therapist are cold, your body will shut itself down, and the muscles will contract. A minimalist, cold looking spa is a contradiction to the goal of making you relax. We say that you eat first with your eyes. This is also true for a spa. If the decor is warm, you will already be more relaxed, then comes the stirring scented warm oil, the long stroke of the warm hands of the masseuse, the relaxing music that all plunge you into deep relaxation.
ASIA DREAMS: What projects are you currently working on and is there one in particular that is sparking your passion or taking you to a new place in design?
Zohra: I only do what I love and therefore do it with passion. We have just completed Bistronomy, a restaurant in Jakarta, which I wanted to be sophisticated and feminine. I wanted a place that would reflect the personality of the owner, Ibu Yoko. In Ubud, we have just completed Petani and a spa, Dala Spa Ubud. Petani means Farmer. It pays respect to the Balinese farmers who have tailored the paddy fields over centuries. Dala Spa, on the other hand, is about opulence and warmth. Also in Ubud, we just finished Jendela House, a French restaurant. Jendela House is the fusion of a French bistro and Ubud. At least that is the way I see it. I always say “we” as I work with my husband for the furniture and I make the patinas and upholstery. Patinas are a way to give texture to elements. As I hate plain colours, I have a different patina for almost everything: walls, doors, furniture, floor, etc. And I almost forgot; I just renovated our own house!
I am taking on new projects after Idul Fitri and have very interesting things coming up.
ASIA DREAMS: Do you have a different approach to design when embracing a restaurant versus a spa versus a villa or hotel?
Zohra: Not really. All these places are about hospitality. I am not talking about the hospitality industry but “hospitality” which means the cordial and generous reception of a guest.
ASIA DREAMS: Describe your style in 12 words:
Zohra: Heritage, culture, creativity, opulence, travel in time, travel, love, passion, textures, timeless.