Designer Bill Willis: Decadence in Morocco

Bill Willis in the Villa OasisIn the mid-to-late 1960′s, at a time when happy hippies had become a permanent fixture in pop culture, many of the world’s celebrities, socialites and glitterati were escaping to the East for a new perspective…and, ya know, hashish.

While the Beatles famously meditated in India, several others – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Yves Saint Laurent -  flocked to Morocco in search of a little peace and a lot of partying. Among the sparkling crowd was interior designer Bill Willis, an adventurous ex-pat from Tennessee who had a brilliant artistic eye and a nasty coke habit.

Despite his addictive personality, Bill Willis was a creative genius who found a deep sense of inspiration in ancient Moroccan craftsmanship. “My discovery of the Islamic world has been an astounding experience,” Willis told Architectural Digest in 1989. He decided to make the North African country his permanent home, working to revive the Moroccan aesthetic and creating masterpieces out of dilapidated homes.

Bill’s most notable client was iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, for whom he created two breathtaking, oasis-like homes. He exercised zero restraint, filling the spaces with flamboyant tiles, sexy stenciling, majestic fireplaces, and the softly polished waterproof plaster known as tadelakt. But thanks to his fearless implementation of such ornate, artisanal details, Bill Willis is credited with single-handedly reviving Moroccan-inspired design and bringing it back into mainstream culture.

Bill Willis bookTo preserve the designer’s magical creations, editor Marian McEvoy recently published Bill Willis – a luscious collection of fifteen interiors that she and photographer Nicolas Mathéus painstakingly tracked down, styled and captured on film.

bill willis image2

bill willis image3

bill willis image4

bill willis image5

bill willis image6

bill willis image7Above photos courtesy of Architectural Digest

Bill WillisPerhaps considered Bill Willis’ greatest masterpiece, the Villa Oasis in Marrakech was the beloved home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The once derelict, rundown structure in the corner of Jardin Majorelle underwent an intense makeover by Willis and collaborator Jacques Grange to become the handsome home that it is now.

Villa Oasis entranceThe grand entrance to Villa Oasis a jewel box of delight. Color and pattern play happily together, drawing the eye to examine every inch of the space.

Villa Oasis library by Bill WillisThe library incorporates intricate wood carving and stenciling to achieve a sense of excitement and movement. Pierre Bergé’s collection of Orientalist paintings hang proudly nearby.

YSL favorite room in the worldA small nook in the library is often referred to by Yves Saint Laurent as his “favorite room in the world.”

Hand drawn Bill Willis fireplace design with its complete facade detailing. It is nothing short of a work of art.A rare drawing by Bill Willis showing his concept for a signature fireplace design.

Villa OasisThe salon inside Villa Oasis. Previous owner Jacques Majorelle painted the consoles to the right.

Working with designers Bill Willis in Marrakesh and Jacques Granges in Paris, Yves Saint Laurent turned his villa into a museum of Moroccan handicraft, via NYTimes

master bedroom at Villa Oasis by Bill WillisThe master bedroom, began only a month before Bill Willis’ death, was completed by Pierre Bergé as a tribute to the iconic designer.

YSL's Marrakech house; Villa Oasis. Designed by Bill Willis & Jacques Grange. The view through a pair of painted doors into the library. Photography by Oberto GiliAn ornately-framed view into the library

The above photos are courtesy of Wall Street Journal / Photography by Oberto Gili

YSL's Marrakech house; Villa Oasis. Designed by Bill Willis & Jacques Grange.YSL in the gorgeous Villa Oasis

This is a thank you note that Yves drew on a letter for Bill Willis, thanking him for a magnificent party and the gift of a rug. Yves was drawing snakes on everything. via NownessA thank you note that Yves drew for Bill Willis, thanking him for a magnificent party and the gift of a rug.

Restaurant Dar Yacout in Morocco designed by Bill WillisRelish Bill Willis’ designs in person, dining in the still-popular restaurant Dar Yacout

Bill Willis and friendsBill Willis with his glamorous friends, from left to right: designer Francois Catroux, his wife and YSL muse Betty Catroux, Bill Willis, Yves Saint Laurent, and Pierre Bergé in the front.

    Leave a Reply

    Leave a Comment