A voyage through time at the Tetería del Califa

  • How we did it - the new Teteria from start to finish.

Ellie Cormié's brilliant and sumptuous new design for the Califa's iconic rooftop bar brings a very personal touch to this unique space.

By James Stuart

It seems like almost yesterday that we opened the Teteria del Califa, Vejer’s iconic cocktail and tea bar with it’s panoramic terrace. But when I look back to find early photographs I am trawling through my album of 2007! Originally known as ‘Los Balcones’ (for its large balconies) the original design (by Bertrand Gouillou and myself) was in desperate need of a refurbishment and a new eye. Here at the Califa my business partner (Regli Alvarez) and I are used to doing most of the interior decoration ourselves but it’s much easier making things look interesting when dealing with centuries old stone walls, cross vaulted ceilings and centuries old worn floors. The Teteria is effectively a new building (from the 1970’s) built on top of some old caves with only one old stone beam remaining. The original decoration was designed as a space to hold exhibitions that changed every few months so the white walls and plain furniture were designed as an unobtrusive backdrop to a succession of artists and photographers that exhibited over a decade in the space.

James, Regli and Khadi - 2007 on the opening day of the Teteria

It was Ellie’s idea (my girlfriend & business partner at the Corredera 55 restaurant) to redevelop the Teteria using my family collection of photographs taken by myself and my father Charles (spanning 1970’s to date) as the backdrop for a whole new sumptuous and exotic look. Ellie in her previous life was not only an award winning restaurateur (with a Michelin star to her name) but one of Scotland’s foremost designers (and winning Scottish Designer of the Year award) with design projects at Gleneagles, Malmaison and a score of restaurants to her name. The photographs were really just informal family photos but her idea that the context of father & son, 3 generations (my father, me and my children appear) taken in exotic locations such as Aleppo, Palmyra, the Wadi Rum, Petra, the Atlas Mountains, Lebanon, the Hadramout desert and Yemen would make the exhibition personal and unique.

Charles Stuart (my Dad) somewhere in the Hadramout, Justin my brother and I in front of the Roman burial towers in Palmyra, me in the Aleppo market, Isabella my daughter behind a Camel in Essaouira, a building in Yemen...

With the go ahead from Regli and I, Ellie set off to furnish a whole new feel for the space. Her first first commission was the 1m. diameter brass lamp that would hang from the high ceiling of the terrace entrance. This was organised by two of our staff at the Califa - Ashraf Labaqi and Nawal Essaadi - who took a break from a holiday to the dunes at Merzouga to organise the commission from one of Marrakesh’s foremost brass workers Younes Zakha. It was two months work for two men as the finest detail was all hand etched, the sphere (in 8 pieces) was soldered together and then shaped and polished by hand. The second commission was the marquetry inlaid ceiling that was built by master craftsman Manolo Revuelta in his workshop in Cañada Ancha (Vejer). Ellie and Manolo spent hours on the design, the placing of the Califa star (the Rub el Hzib* - see below) was crucial for the proportions of the ceiling. The ceiling was finally transported in pieces to the Teteria for installation.

The giant lamp in its box outside the Teteria, the lamp in the owrkshop before shaping and polishing, Manolo in his workshop with the marquetry ceiling, Manolo as Hercules hanging the lamp, Ashraf hanging the Mustafa Hamano collection on the stairs.

Next up were the images for the walls. It took a couple of months to organise the photographs and digitally clean them from dust. Many of the photos (both mine and my father’s) were taken in colour so I adjusted them to black and white and sepia tones to fit in with Ellie’s vision of the space. We were missing the strong faces that Ellie required for the four photos next to the bar but I had a copy of Wilfred Thesiger’s book A Vanished World and remembered his wonderful photos of Iraqi tribesmen. The Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford manages his legacy and I was able to purchase from them the four pictures I needed. Thesiger is of course a real photographer and one of the 20th. centuries great Arabian explorers, I was worried that our own photos would pale in artistic comparison to his but happily the blend is reasonably seamless (helped by the fact that they are in a separate room!). My mother Sasha donated some Amzigh jewellery bought in the Atlas mountains a couple of decades ago and an old family kilim (Syria, 1960’s) eaten by mice was cut up and framed for the walls.

Ellie with samples, Thesigers photos, replaciing the original stained glass window with a view of the Califa palms, rug sizing, framing the original 'Phoenecian blue' installation.

The winter between work and travels for Ellie was a mash of drawings, colour charts, textile swatches and visits to suppliers. Finally in February the fitting. The opening of the giant box freshly delivered to Algeciras posed a problem as it didn’t fit first in our own delivery van and secondly it was too large to go up the stairs to the bar. No problem said I, let’s hoist it up the outside of the building and in through the terrace doors. After a great deal of effort (anything unwieldy and heavy is an effort at the Califa as the complex is a labyrinth of winding staircases and narrow corners) we got it to the terrace only to discover it was 5cm. wider than the doorway (blame it on the tape measure I said). Finally after smashing the side of the doorway out with a hammer and chisel the lamp got to its final resting place. Ellie breathed a sigh of relief. We then discovered it takes three people to change the bulb - one I said would undoubtedly be a Spaniard, another quite likely to be a Scot and we’d be sure to find either a French or an Irishman to finish the job!

Thank you to Ellie Cormié, Manolo Revuelta, Younes Zakha, Ashraf Labaqi, Nawal Essaadi, Frambuesa (confección), Kiko Fotografia and all the craftsmen that helped create this wonderful space. Thanks also to my father & mother Charles & Sasha for donating photos and memories to the space. Click here for the Teteria photo gallery.

The Rub el Hizb According to some historians, the origin of the eight pointed star (known as the Rub el Hizb in Islam) can be traced to Tartessos, a civilization that existed in Andalucía from the 9th to 6th century BC. In the 8th century AD Abd al-Rahman I adopted the star (born in Palmyra and exiled to Andalucia Abd al-Rahman was the first independent Muslim ruler of Al-Andalus). During his reign he popularised the star and extended its use throughout the Mediterranean and North Africa. (The Califa stars varies with most depictions of the Rub el Hizb in that we do not set the top of the star as a single point, we have one point rotation so that the top of the star is actually two points).