THE INCREDIBLE PENTHOUSE OF DESIGNER LAURENCE LEENAERT IN MARRAKECH
Laurence Leenaert, the founder of the lifestyle brand LRNCE, has settled down in a penthouse in Marrakech. Moroccan craftsmanship inspires all her creations.
A few hundred euros and a sewing machine, that's all Laurence Leenaert took when she left Ghent for Marrakech eight years ago . There, the artist drew inspiration from traditional craftsmen and stunningly beautiful desert landscapes to create her collections.
For Laurence Leenaert, the daily trip by scooter to her studio is one of the most pleasant moments of the day, because she sees the city pass by, impressions that will reappear in her creations. With her husband Ayoub Boualam, the Belgian runs the lifestyle brand LRNCE, whose design is based on Moroccan traditions and craftsmanship.
Clothing, leather goods (the first ones it launched eight years ago were bags and sandals), ceramics, artworks, textiles, furniture and LRNCE objects all have the same characteristic: the simplicity of the lines combined with the liveliness of the colours. A style that the fashion world qualifies as naïve and which has allowed it to become a safe bet, from Brussels to New York. The designer credits her success with her work and Instagram. "When I moved to Marrakech, I had 90 followers. Today, I have 308,000."
When she graduated as a fashion designer from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent in 2013 , she made a surprising decision: instead of choosing London or Paris, she decided to intern for the German brand Bless, which allowed her to take a different view of the world. Indeed, Bless sees itself as a visionary brand with fair trade products and a multidisciplinary approach to thinking about fashion, but also about life in general.
Bless made such an impression on Leenaert that she embraced its values when she founded her label, LRNCE, eight years ago. For this, she settled in Marrakech, where she found in the local workshops the know-how for her creations.
With her husband, she moved into an apartment in Guéliz, the oldest district of the new Marrakech. “A haven of peace in a neighborhood brimming with life and energy,” she describes enthusiastically. "We like living here, because the neighborhood is easily accessible, but also because it really feels like living in a dynamic city."
The 160 m² penthouse revolves around a patio, typical of traditional Moroccan architecture. The apartment is therefore flooded with light, which is ideal, since this space is filled with plants. "This apartment open to the four winds is connected to the bustling city below: it gives me energy!"
The building was built in the 80s. The original terrace floor is in perfect condition. The apartment was renovated in 2018 by Italian architect Bruno Melotto of Trab Design. The designer and her husband fell in love: they decided on the first visit. "We bought a lot of plants, painted the walls here and there and that's it: so we quickly moved in!", she says enthusiastically. "As we have a lot of objects and works of art, we opted for neutral tones on the walls. Like a sage green in the kitchen, for example."
The young woman bought a lot of furniture and decorative objects in vintage galleries and antique shops in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as at the flea market in Marrakech. The walls are decorated with paintings by his hand, but also with works by the collective of Ghent artists Leo Gabin, the French Natacha Mankowski or the American Terry Ekasala.
What she likes the most are the 'Pagrù' armchairs in the living room , which does not prevent her from designing her own furniture: she regularly brings the prototypes home to try them out and refine them. "I constantly test new materials and like to combine different textures, from leather and marble to fabric, wood and zellige, a mosaic technique typical of Morocco. Put together, they create an interesting balance. For my desk for example, I used a wood veneer top, while the legs are made of large travertine spheres."
The stones are also present throughout the interior: the fruit of the many trips to the four corners of the globe that the couple has made together or separately. We also notice the presence of many books. "I like both, travel and books: they improve the quality of life," she says.
naive and childish
Initially, the designer only sold a few models of furniture on her website, mainly chairs and coffee tables. When she moved into this much larger apartment, she had no choice but to design others, better suited to the location. " I had to think about larger pieces of furniture, such as tables, small armchairs or a chest of drawers. I like the challenge of creating furniture that is practical, fun and aesthetic at the same time."
Leenaert used wood, burl veneer, stone, marble and leather. For her new apartment as for her brand, she worked closely with local artisans. The desk is large enough for two people to work on, but she also likes to concentrate all her inspiration on a piece of furniture that would only accommodate one person.
About her style, she says: " My drawings have always been naive and childish. The tribal side fascinates me, as do the symbols. But art can also be one of my sources of inspiration. Here in Marrakech, with the colors and vibrations of the city, everything comes together to feed my inspiration."
On weekends, she sometimes escapes the city to the edge of the desert, about a 40-minute scooter ride. "There, I have time and space to think. I take my sketchbook and when I arrive in an inspiring place, I sit down and start drawing. In the desert, it there's hardly anyone there. All I see are the palm trees and the vastness of space. That's where I get that special feeling of the beauty of life. These are the best moments of the daytime!"