Philippe Xerri's bijou house in Tunis

Philippe Xerri's bijou house in Tunis

Rock the Kasbah furniture designer Philippe Xerri has renovated a charming house in Tunis in a simple style using local materials

Text: Hari Alexander & Photography: Christian Michelucci
The house is furnished simply and the tiles bringing out the Arab soul

Tunisia may have won independence from France in 1956, but the two countries continue to be closely allied. French furniture and interior designer Philippe Xerri moved to Tunisia 12 years ago and he's done a lot to provide work for local craftspeople, with an emphasis on using sustainable materials. He bought this late 19th century stone house in the heart of the capital Tunis four years ago. It was in a fairly rundown state and the refurbishment took six months.  

Tunisia and France are good mates. France is the biggest export market for Tunisian goods and despite a number of recent terrorist atrocities in the country, French people continue to holiday on the Tunisian coast and take mini breaks in the capital Tunis.

Which is where Philippe Xerri lives and owns two properties, one being this charming 65 m2 stone house in the heart of the old town, next to the capital's biggest souk. He bought it so friends and family members have somewhere to stay when they visit him, and he wanted it to be a home from home but with an Arab soul.

He kept things clean and simple. After the major works of rewiring, re-plumbing and re-plastering was done, it was a case of sourcing traditional ceramic tiles for floors and walls. 'It needed to function like a modern house, but look in keeping with the area it's in,' says Xerri, who found pretty much all the interior design materials at nearby markets. 

The walls are mostly painted white, while natural local materials such as stone and wood are much in evidence in the kitchen and bathroom.  Bright kilim covered Rock the Kasbah furniture does not predominate in this house, rather one chair has been placed in the master bedroom, while kilim cushions are used liberally in an arch walled living area.

Xerri replaced damaged floors with antique tiles from local souks
Locally sourced ceramic tiles in black and white make a strong statement in the galley kitchen
The dining area has a stone floor
The living room is pale, with a wool rug
A Rock the Kasbah kilim covered chair
The main bedroom has an ensuite shower room
The shower room has black and white ceramic tiles

Xerri, who worked in the fashions industry in Paris, moved to Tunis 12 years ago. It was going to be a short visit to source traditional hand-made textiles for a client, but Xerri soon found himself immersed in import-export as Tunisian business people valued his help in arranging for them to export to France.

He developed a profound interest in local artisan workshops, particuarly those that made textiles and handicrafts, and two years ago he launched Rock the Kasbah, a line of chairs and footstools upholstered in vibrantly coloured antique kilims. 'It's about ethnic chic..a fusion of modern and ancient. The kilim fabrics are so rich, their colours and patterns so vibrant, and people love them. They look great anywhere, in a sleek modern room as a touch of colour, or in a bohemian style room. They are very versatile. And very comfortable.' 

 

Smoke your hooka in this arched den
Rock the Kasbah is building up a cult following among lovers of ethnic chic
Chair being covered with a kilim
Philippe Xerri, promoter of Tunisian craftsmanship
Kilim covered armchair by Rock the Kasbah
Chairs are all covered with different antique kilims sourced by Xerri

Xerri says most of the kilims he finds on his travels are between 50 and 80 years old. They have to be cleaned and repaired, and he works out which parts to cut for the seating covers. The frames of the chairs are made from pine and beech wood from sustainable forests.

'I work with a lot of different artisan worktops in Tunisia. I love the kilim makers, they are highly skilled,' says Xerri. 'They use wools coloured with vegetable dyes and there are no nasty chemicals used at all in their work. It takes a week for a workshop to make one kilim on a hand-loom, so it's not quick work.'

Rock the Kasbah furniture prices start at around 900 euros, depending on the kilim used. New kilims for floors are similarly priced. Xerri has sales outlets in France, with an office in Paris, and he sells also in Italy, Germany Holland, Japan and the UK. 
 
Note, the Tunis house can be rented, see https://www.airbnb.fr/rooms/717507
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