// arthitectural / Interiors / Matali Crasset | Dar HI

Matali Crasset | Dar HI

Interiors Room 5

matali crasset created an ecological house in the Tunisian desert.

After the experience of the HI hotel in Nice, now Dar HI in Nefta which is the fruit of the collaboration between matali crasset, Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chapelet with a new concept of eco-retreat.

Matali literally rose a citadel, from the sand, dedicated to well being. Protected by surroundings walls you find a composition of elevated houses that constitute the Dar HI as a small village. The overall architectural goal was to give a strong proposition while in harmony with the natural site and the local life.

Dar HI’s main colours are ochre and sand with a comprehensive choice of body and spirit care within areas that are private or communal, a pool, a restaurant and a Spa.

The dialogue and collaboration between Philippe Chapelet, Patrick Elouarghi and matali crasset started in 2005. They all decided to push the contemporary experience a bit further with Dar HI a new concept of hospitality and serenity.

They all have a common interest always to question their ideas and the desire to conceive innovative projects; those are the main reasons why their collaboration is so dynamic.

matali crasset develops a design that is meant to be practical and believes in initiatives that have a sense locally but also collectively. Patrick and Philippe are creative entrepreneurs that are always ahead of their time. They are driven by the renewal of propositions, the reinvention of codes and sites and the research on contemporary hotel industry and well being. These strong set views unite them for an intransient length of time. After Nice and the HI hotel, Paris and the HIMATIC, it is now Tunisia with Dar HI.

Dar HI is not only another project. “The HI Hotel wasn’t meant to be duplicated: it has been conceived as a laboratory that is not duplicable”, says matali. The Dar HI project is articulated around notions of well being and eco-retreat in an unexpected and magical site.

15 minutes away from Tozeur airport, Nefta is the entrance door to the south Tunisian desert; between Chott-El-Jerid and sand dunes. Grabbing travellers and connoisseurs of international hotel industries, Philippe and Patrick didn’t arrive in Nefta by chance, a wonderful site with a village rich of an imaginary world.

The choice of Tunisia was first of all for Patrick the expression of his real attachment to his roots: “my father is Tunisian and I have wished for a long time to develop a project in that country; to work with Tunisians and to share experiences with them.”

After being back and forth throughout the country they voluntarily avoided all the touristic and popular towns and are attracted to the desert. The Tunisian tourist business was developed by Tour Operators and concentrated in high popular sites that are internationally renowned. These destinations have completely cannibalised any other destinations that are away from the popular tracks. The country has many natural exceptional sites that invite different types of travellers who prefer to be away from the crowds. The country however didn’t offer any original small hotel structures, nor contemporary bed and breakfasts and nothing with an ecological plan.

With the opening of Dar HI Tunisia there will now be a place with a spa, an ecological retreat that usually travellers go very far away to find, for example in Kerala India. They will now have this a few hours away from Paris.

Creating a new project in the desert is not a small decision and answers to our very contemporary need to retire from our stressed lives and be in a place that has optimum conditions to renew our energy. “The desert, is the perfect place for space, radical change of scenery, rest, reversion to sources”; notes Patrick.

To access the Dar HI you walk towards it and this is the beginning of your stay. The car has been left further from the house. A discreet door leads you to imagine that you walk in a private house. The entrance, a corridor, a ramp is the last stop where you leave your “codes” at the exterior. You take off your shoes and wear babouches (Tunisian slippers). You are at home.

As you can find in the traditional foundouks, Dar HI is a house in which the stays are prolonged, at the opposite of short stay tourism. The organisation of the areas favours the different possibilities to either share moment with other people or to be in a calm retired place to rest. The guests can do as they please according to their wish.

In the same spirit as a bed and breakfast, Dar HI’s team offers a simple yet friendly service. The objective is to feel at ease without being annoyed constantly and fully enjoy the house. At Dar HI there is no shame for being lazy, observe, read, loiter, take care of your body and your mind, to discover at your own rhythm local life, and slowly let yourself go to the site’s atmosphere. Guests feel free to organise their lives indoor or outdoor and free to discover Nefta and its wonderful surroundings. If you are a curious traveller, for a unique experience, it is also possible to spend a few days during your stay within the date grove in a palm tree tilt or try out a typical house the Dar Malika that is close to the Dar HI.



“I have conceived an architecture that is towards the indoor when outside and towards the outdoor when you’re inside, exploding the codes” explains matali. With the surrounding wall, typical of local architecture, Dar HI follows the movement of the terrain, following the shapes of the site and emerges from the sand as a mirage citadel. Inside, the elevated houses seem to be planted into the sand and they structure the project. They are located according to their sun exposure and panorama. “This architecture of pill houses allowed to propose different scenarios that can be lived at Dar HI” says matali. The pill houses are elevated above the surrounding wall and offer different panoramas: the date grove, the village of Nefta or the Chott-El-Jerid….

matali crasset designed 3 different areas : the pill houses, the troglodytes and the dunes. Each possibility has interaction with the site and hotel life (interior terrace, pool, hammam…) and its guests.

The pill houses
These houses have exceptional views that are all different. Some have a panorama overlooking the horizon of the salted lake, others have a view of the palm grove and its very diverse landscape. Both are very different, one is more intimate being high above the ground with a panoramic view and the other on the lower ground so more amongst the communal area. High above the ground the room is structured around a bow window, as if the view was integrated in the room. A small table to nibble or work, a large bed that hides part of the shower and toilets compose the room. Down below it is like a small village square. Everyone has a space that is protected from the sun. The square, the bar, the water point and small fountains are all places to be easily together.

The troglodytes: for a mineral experience
Three areas called troglodytes with small bricks from Nefta are completely independent with their own private terraces but also linked together by a circular area from one to the other. Collective life is articulated around a small square with a small water cascade and a bread oven. These rooms can be rented entirely for a stay with friends or family. The freshness reminds of the typical troglodytes houses of Matmata.

The dunes: to have the feeling of having an indoor landscape
The three areas called dunes are at sand level. They are like open spaces that the wind would have sculpted. The inspiration was the bivouac that allows you to modulate your comfort as you wish. The experience of living within the dunes creating your own nest to feel closer to the desert. They are all different, one has a loggia with a natural light and an indoor garden, the other very spacious has an external terrace and a large window with a view of Nefta, the third one also very spacious and fresh. It offers a view on the date grove with an independent room and an alcove wooden terrace.

Dar HI has different communal areas that are places to meet and share. “Leaving the communal areas as open as possible, I wished to leave an easy circulation with a large potential to use the area as much as possible” says matali.

The kitchen: open on the exterior – It is a laboratory where you can see the cooks at work, all from Nefta village. The area is also open for the guests every hour of the day or night. There is no area dedicated for the restaurant but a large table and small tables that can be arranged…

The auditorium: an area that changes according to the activities – Cinema, music, rest … It has foam material seating that have the superior part that can be used as a back rest. As there are no televisions in the rooms this area allows people to gather and listen to music or watch a movie.

The library: around the staircase – Like a hedgehog, the staircase has wooden sticks where books are placed and easily accessible. You can come choose a book, read it, put it back or sit comfortably to read it.

The modular living area – With poufs, it is a very agreeable area that you can build yourself. With alcoves, suspensions in terracotta and its chimney, it is a nice area for intimate and warm evenings.

Dar HI bazaar by FeGHtima – The shop selection created by Frédérick.e Grasser Hermé will allow you to discover typical products and aromas. This boutique as a food bazaar will be full of local products but also other objects, books, cooking utensils…

FeGH has an amazing personality and has a pronounced taste for extravaganza and out of the ordinary. Meals as if you were home

The meals are prepared by local cooks. They will cook traditional dishes from the region ‘as if you were home’ and will go pick every morning vegetables from our garden. Everyday the dishes will be prepared and served throughout the house even in the oasis under the palm trees shadow.

The vegetable of the garden will all be organic and Dar HI will encourage the villagers to reuse the forgotten agricultural lands. Dar HI has committed to buy other villagers production to encourage the cooperative system.

The spa area of Dar HI – Dar HI has a natural source of hot water flowing under its basement. A natural geothermic principal, the hammam will not need any other generator to stay warm. The pool also has natural warm water.

In the heart of Dar HI, the HI body and soul is dedicated to well being for body and spirit. It has several massage and body care areas, a bathtub with oriental relaxing essential oils, a meditation room, and a very spacious traditional hammam. In the pure oriental tradition the hammam is heated with steamed hot water that comes from the desert.

You can change in the entrance, then discover a room for body care (soap, scrubbing…) and a room that is warmer. The sinks are in Foussana marble and the wall covered of faience designed by matali that use a combination of colours from turquoise blue, light blue, acid green and orange.

Dar HI proposes various types of body care within the house. The traditional essences that have therapeutic virtues from the region of Djerid are associated to the natural cosmetic products of REN (English brand) to guaranty a high quality of body care. Some specific body care will be available with clay and salt based products, thanks to the proximity of the Choot-El-Jerid but also with warm sand. The benefits of massage are the high priority of Dar HI with traditional Arab massage, scrubbing within the hammam and different oriental techniques (thaï, ayurvedic…) that will be put in place by Bertrand Poncet who is our well being partner at the HI Hotel. The masseurs are all local and will be trained by several techniques by Bertrand Poncet’s team.

As you can find in India, Dar HI can be a luxurious ecological retreat that can organise yoga and ayurvedic therapies. Professional masters will come and propose themes stay to initiate guests to meditation, relaxation and well being.

Nefta seduced Philippe and Patrick. “Nefta called us” dares Philippe to express the very peculiar atmosphere that you feel.

Famous for its geological natural site, Nefta is located in a basin that has a date grove that extends until the beginning of the desert, the dunes, and the salted lake. A fabulous light, a landscape that invites to meditation, abrupt cliffs all these elements allow a wonderful panorama… the unique panorama of Nefta. The region is also famous for the date grove and the thousands of palm trees that give one of the best dates of the world: the “deglet nour”. Some water sources irrigate the palm trees and the vegetation is abundant.

The architecture of the houses is typical with walls made of whole bricks that have a distinctive ochre colour. Roofs and house doors are made of palm wood. It is not surprising that this particular location has inspired a large number of movie directors, for example: Star Wars and the English Patient were filmed in the Nefta desert. “Nefta was for a long time a luxurious touristic destination to the Saharian desert” says Patrick. The Sahara palace, now closed, was a very popular destination for stars of the 1960’s.

If the magical surroundings of Nefta is mainly due to its geographical location and the beauty of the landscapes it is also because of the atmosphere you feel filled with history. Patrick, Philippe and matali felt it straight from the beginning: “in Nefta is very spiritual”. The town is appeasing yet very lively. The energy mixed with a dolce vita is immediately perceptible. Nefta is an important religious village, a platform of Sufism that gives a poetic and mystical dimension to it. You can still find nowadays famous witch doctors. The feeling of meditation and spirituality is very strong.

A lot of famous Tunisian writers, lawyers, intellectuals were born in Nefta. “It is a town of wilderness and literature. Over the years the inhabitant’s rhythm hasn’t changed and the town has an overall serene atmosphere. The people of the town have an easy contact and they are the key to a nice discovery their town. Month after month, Patrick, Philippe and matali have made wonderful encounters and got very close to some villagers. In harmony with local life Dar HI is exposed south west and overlooks the Nefta basin. Dar HI has the best panorama in town. First you see the historical town, a bit further you see the date grove and in the horizon the Chott-El-Djerid (old salted lake) with beautiful sunsets. Dar HI is naturally integrated in Nefta’s landscape, rhythm and nature.

Nefta or the spirit of the site Patrick, Philippe and Matali wanted at first to conceive a house within the village to be in the heart of the town with its energy and spirit. They never considered to be isolated from local life on he contrary they wished their project to in the action and development of the town. That is when the project drifted towards a sustainable development project. From the first drawings of Dar HI, matali researched a way to combine contemporary materials to local artefacts. The designer worked with local craftsman taking into account their techniques and constraints. She observed their construction technique using beams and bricks that she used in the pill houses. For the walls she chose small clay bricks that are made in Nefta.

The palm tree is also transformed and reinterpreted in elements of the architecture and design within Dar HI. The gutter and recesses are reminders of the local architecture reference. The straw mattresses and the lanterns were highlighted by matali with some objects from everyday life like the carpet that floats in the wind, now the symbol of Dar HI. An eco lodge in the south Tunisian desert Ecology and sustainable development are the foundations of Dar HI’s project. The date grove is a local gem, in a fragile environment that has to be preserved and renovated. The renovation has started with a great development financed by the Albert de Monaco Foundation. Dar HI is committed in the same preservation and development of the oasis. A research laboratory will be in Dar HI to find news ways and techniques to use the palm tree and the dates.

Within the oasis there is a shadowed shelter, a log cabin with minimal comfort, a vegetable garden in which a will be selected carefully what type of species will be grown. The oasis and the vegetable garden will be used by Dar HI. Being in the desert, the question of water supply is therefore decisive. The water arriving In Nefta comes from a warm source and supplies

Dar HI for the hammam and the pool. This water is also present in small ditches around the pill houses and allows the irrigation of the oasis.

Hi life is a new way to apprehend the hotel business world introducing new codes and typologies in different locations. Hi life is a need for empathy and a search for details during creation process of the project but that will last even when the business is running. Hi life’s characteristic is the attachment to contemporary values of our society and invests in the following fields: contemporary art, design, music, ecology, organic and sustainable development, technology…. Hi life is the development of this new type of tourism on franchised small projects.

Location: Nefta, Tunisia
Architect: matali crasset
Project manager: matali crasset, matali crasset productions assisted by Marco Salgado and Francis Fichot
Client: Dar HIExecution architect: Mohamed Nasr
Shell building works & concrete masonry: ELB, Mr Louhichi
Follow up & surveying: Karconsult, Tunis
Electricity: EBF, Mr Ben Jemaa
Air conditioning: SBMF, Mr Ben Messaoud, Tunis
Carpentry: Mokded company, Nefta
Engineering consulting: Best Engineering, Tunis
Control office: Excell Control, Tunis
Upholsterer: Mr Hsine Azouga
Ironwork: Mr Samir Cherif
Tightness engineering: SNEC, Tunis
Ceramic: Mr Mourad Hsiki, Nabeul
Fabric: I.D All Créations, Mme Barka Douida, Djerba
Constructed area and terrace: 2347 sqm
Conception: 2005
Delivery: june 2010
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