Thursday, February 21, 2013


For Bill Willis it is almost possible to sum up his life as “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll” if he wasn’t such an amazingly creative architect and designer to the very rich and famous! He left Memphis in his early 20’s and with his southern drawl intact moved to Europe for study and work.  In 1966 he left the wildlife and settled in Morocco, creating a new Marrakech style from his love of Moorish and Andalusian design.

As a student at the Ecole des beaux-Arts in Paris Willis was entranced with Orientalist paintings by the French artist Georges Clairin, an influence for his later interiors while in Morocco.

John Paul Getty ll, an heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world, and his beautiful wife Talitha, was friends from Willis’ days in Rome where he had an antique shop near the Spanish Steps. He accompanied the Getty’s to Marrakech on their honeymoon in 1967 where they all fell instantly in love with this exotic city.  Paul and Talitha purchased Palais du Zahir in the old medina for only $10,000 and commissioned Willis, who had decorated their Rome apartment, to create something beautiful. 

The glitterati of the day came to refresh, party and soak in the exoticism of Marrakech life. The Rolling Stones, Gore Vidal, Marianne Faithful and many others came to indulge in the excesses of the beautiful and  doomed Getty’s, who were by now addicted to heroin. Talitha was in Roger Vadim’s 1968 film, Barbarella, with Jane Fonda.  Patrick Lichfield took this iconic photograph of the couple on their Marrakech roof in 1969. In 1971 Talitha died of an overdose at her home in Rome.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge’ commissioned Willis for their first Marrakech home, Dar es Saada, which was next to the Jardin Majorelle. They later purchased Villa Oasis, Jacques Majorelle’s own home, in the 80’s, and had Willis and Paris designer, Jacques Granges, turn it into a shimmering masterpiece. Willis’ masterful zellij tile work is on display in the salon vert.

Wonderful exoticism of Villa Oasis.

Yves Saint Laurent called this alcove off the library his favorite place.

I can definitely see myself in this room with a good book and a fire.

Catherine Deneuve, actress and muse to YSL, came to visit in Marrakech.

Willis created beautiful interiors for Marie-Helene and Guy de Rothschild’s Marrakech palace, Dar Zuylen.

Bill Willis spent 12 years designing the amazingly over-the-top Marrakech restaurant, Dar Yacout.
It is said that diners often get neck aches from looking up at the amazing ceilings!

The American owner of Casablanca’s “Rick’s Café” asked Willis to recreate her vision for the interiors that were similar to the famous film.

Willis purchased Dar Noujoum in 1973 and turned it into a magical abode. He died at 72 in 2009; illness and “Jack Daniels” took their toll. He was a consummate creator of grandeur, opulence and fantasy.

The last design project by Bill Willis was the master bedroom of Villa Oasis begun a month before his death.



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