A residence built with Moroccan charm

| March 22, 2016 | 0 Comments
The residence of Moroccan Ambassador Nouzha Chekrouni was rebuilt in 1996 after a fire in 1994 destroyed the original residence. The new building is full of Moroccan touches. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The residence of Moroccan Ambassador Nouzha Chekrouni was rebuilt in 1996 after a fire in 1994 destroyed the original residence. The new building is full of Moroccan touches. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

If you don’t pay attention, you might just miss the small sign and street number of the Moroccan ambassador’s residence on busy Aylmer Road. It’s not far from the plush fairways of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, nor from the Champlain Bridge to Ottawa. In fact, it’s just far enough away to stand alone on a stunning piece of property near the Ottawa River.
Follow the long driveway and at the end you’ll find a majestic three-and-a-half-storey brick mansion, the home for the past seven years of Moroccan Ambassador Nouzha Chekrouni and her husband, El Menouar Bentefrit. They live there alone now that their two children, both of whom still live in Canada, are adults. Their married daughter is a translator and their son works at a technology start-up.

The main reception room runs nearly the length of the house and is almost completely open, with a back wall of windows overlooking a large garden. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The main reception room runs nearly the length of the house and is almost completely open, with a back wall of windows overlooking a large garden. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This residence, surrounded by mature trees, has a story. It was created from the ruins of the previous Moroccan residence that burned to the ground in 1994 . It was carefully rebuilt two years later with the idea that it should not only be modern and functional, but should also reflect some Moroccan traditions.
Relying on advice from officials in Morocco, and from a Montreal architect who specializes in Moroccan design, the elegant traditions of the culture show up with stunning frequency in the house.
The front door is framed by a massive marble arch, and once inside, guests are greeted by a lovely mosaic tile fountain with three brass spigots. “It doesn’t work,” admits a smiling ambassador as she shows it off, but that doesn’t matter to her at all.

Ambassador Chekrouni has been living in the residence for seven years. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

Ambassador Chekrouni has been living in the residence for seven years. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The main floor reception area covers nearly the length of the house and is almost completely open, with a back wall of windows overlooking a large garden.
“When I first came here, there were no houses there,” says the ambassador, wistfully pointing out a new home just visible past the garden. Although the river can’t be seen from the main floor, the upper storey windows provide a fine view of the water and the city of Ottawa beyond.
The centre of the reception area features a white marble fireplace and white furniture set off by a bright red Moroccan carpet. A painting of horsemen with spears hangs over the mantel. A more modern piece is the work of a young deaf woman, a protégée of the ambassador when she was the minister responsible for women and the disabled before being appointed to her Canadian post.

This hexagon-shaped space is typical of a room found in Moroccan homes. Above is an elegantly designed wood ceiling. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This hexagon-shaped space is typical of a room found in Moroccan homes. Above is an elegantly designed wood ceiling. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

Each end of the lovely reception room has its own distinctive space: one end, where the ambassador enjoys her afternoon tea, features a design in orange and blue. The other, near the wood and wrought-iron staircase, is where she relaxes over morning coffee.
Nearby, the gold oak-panelled dining room comfortably seats 24 and is located conveniently close to the kitchen. When the house was rebuilt, the designers decided to add an extensive kitchen in the basement, for use when the ambassador hosts large receptions. Food is a serious matter at the residence and guests are treated to a delightful array of Moroccan specialties, all cooked by the ambassador’s Moroccan chef. Among traditional favourites featured at the long, sumptuous table are pastillas — sweet and savoury meat pies served as appetizers — as well as mouth-watering tagines, which are traditional stews seasoned with caramelized prunes and dried apricots. Couscous is another national dish readily available at diplomatic get-togethers. And one mustn’t forget the traditional mint tea.
“We welcome guests to share with us,” says the ambassador.
Several steps down from the main reception room is what is known as the winter garden, a sun-lit informal space featuring carved wooden furniture and decorated in subdued colours. It is heralded on either side by elegantly hand-carved plaster archways.

The centre of the reception area features a white marble fireplace and white furniture. A painting of horsemen with spears hangs over the mantel. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The centre of the reception area features a white marble fireplace and white furniture. A painting of horsemen with spears hangs over the mantel. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

Perhaps the most traditional space in the house is the Moroccan room created for the enjoyment of those who live there, their families and countrymen, as a touch of home in a foreign land. A beautifully crafted plaster wall with a tall arch leads from the main reception area into a hexagon-shaped room lined with an orange-red bench. This is typical of a room found in Moroccan homes. Above is an elegantly designed wood ceiling.
“This is where we serve tea and pastries,” Chekrouni says.
The house has four bedrooms complete with ensuites, staff quarters and high up, a guest suite with a view of the river.
After so many years here, the official residence has easily become a home for the active ambassador, who can golf nearby with Canadian friends, look out her window at Canadian scenery and sip mint tea in a traditional Moroccan space… a lovely melding of two cultures.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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