amy azzaritointerior designInteriorssneak peeks

sneak peek: caitlin & samuel of popham design

by Amy Azzarito

In 2006, Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes moved from LA to Marrakech for what was supposed to be a year-long sabbatical that turned into a life-changing adventure and includes a tile business, a one-year-old named Georgina and a black lab named Cricket. Their renovation of a more than 250-year-old home located inside a mosque in the Marrakech medina inspired the couple to start a handmade cement tile company, Popham Design. Their decorating style was influenced by the fact that they moved from LA with very few possessions and had to start from scratch. For the most part, they either found pieces at the local flea market or had them made; the amazing craft culture in Morocco makes the cost of doing a prototype for a table, chair or bed relatively minimal. For decorating and renovating the house, the couple tried to marry their eclectic style with the local vernacular. Thanks, Caitlin, Samuel, Georgina & Cricket! — Amy A.

Image above: The wall behind the bed is clad in Popham’s Curly Branch Coral tiles in dove/milk. The lantern was custom made for the room by a local metal worker, and that’s a Berber wedding blanket standing in as a bedskirt.

Image above: The bookcases were built to fit the very narrow room, and since English-language books are virtually impossible to buy here, we steal whatever reads we can from house guests. We call it the Dar Noury Room Tax. I had the black cushions on the sofa made from a Persian curly-lamb fur coat that I bought at a Paris flea market. They are very cozy. Tables are by Bill Willis, a famous American expat designer (now dead), who lived for many years in Marrakech. The two nude cut-outs framed on the wall are by Samuel’s artist father, Roger Sandes. The tile pattern on the floor is called Wink in kohl/milk by Popham Design.

CLICK HERE for more of Caitlin and Samuel’s Marrakech home!

Image above: The daybed is covered in an old striped kilim rug that we bought at the Marrakech flea market. The pillows are covered in an embroidered linen from a store in Marrakech called Scene de Lin, which has gorgeous textiles. The floor features the pattern with which we launched Popham Design, Loop di Loop.

Image above: The sofa (which we bought with a pair of matching chairs) was found at the flea market called Bab El Khemis. “Khemis” means Thursday in Arabic, and that’s the day when this market is especially hopping. We had it recovered and refinished for about $30, not including the fabric, which we bought at Zarin’s in New York. The series of four Birds in Flight are by Samuel’s father, Roger. Both of Samuel’s parents are artists — his mother, Mary Welsh, does amazing collages of interiors and exteriors of homes. They came to visit over our first Christmas in Marrakech, and Roger brought a whole portfolio full of works on paper as a gift. It was amazing and instantly made our bare house feel like home.

Image above: I fell in love with the dour duo in these portraits the minute I saw them. Everything else — zebra hide, glass lamp, tortoise shell — are all from the flea market and then rehabilitated.

Image above: The porcupine quill mirror is one of those DIY projects that was perhaps a bit ambitious. Samuel had a vision for the piece and asked a guy from the spice market to procure some quills. What he got instead was essentially a road kill, the whole carcass. Over a week’s time, Samuel delicately removed each and every quill by hand before painstakingly affixing them to another flea market frame. We like using mirrors across from the entryway to a room — they draw you in and bounce the light around in interesting ways.

Image above: The mirror is an old window frame that we found resting derelict on someone’s terrace. When we offered to buy it, I think the owner was surprised that anyone would pay to cart off his junk. Coral candelabra we had made by a local metal worker.

Image above: The tile pattern is a traditional design that we call Habibi, and which we also manufacture. We “piped” the room in wood painted high-gloss black. The print above the toilet is from Roger Sandes’ Pearl Diver Series.

Image above: This is the Master Dressing Room — or was, until we moved over to the guest side of the house. The black wool robes are called djellabas and we have them on hand for guests since the nights can be quite chilly. The daybed is covered in a striped fabric also from Scene de Lin. Both carpets are Beni Ouarains.

Image above: We installed old-fashioned pulls on all the bathroom and bedroom doors.

Image above: The metal swing chair is from a shop near the factory, and the Ikea sheepskins make it a very comfortable perch. The star lantern we bought up in Tangier, and the tile pattern on the floor is Popham Design’s ZigZag-on-Four in kohl/milk. We installed radiant heat under the courtyard floor, which is lovely in the winter.

Image above: For the first few years that we lived here, we got around primarily on bikes. Thrilling and terribly dangerous, as helmets are unheard of here. This is my vintage Peugeot with a bunch of roses from the Mellah market.

Image above: In the grand riads of Marrakech, you always find trees in the courtyard. Many have lush gardens, but ours is a very humble house. We figured Dar Noury deserved a token tree, however; a sturdy olive that even bears a few handfuls of olives every year. The marble table was designed by Samuel and cut from local marble; the legs were meant to be chromed, but were inexpertly done. We’ve learned to pick our battles. The chairs are vintage from the flea. Everything in the courtyard is built for outdoor living, able to withstand the occasional rain shower and even a summer sand storm.

Image above: The exterior of our 250+-year-old home that is literally inside a mosque in the Marrakech medina.

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  • Lovely! I love the color-coded book case. I just did that with mine and I love it! It’s actually easier to find books because now I can remember what color their spines are!

  • what a gorgeous, eclectic home..filled with such beautiful and varied finds..other than the zebra rug and quill mirror, I love everything!! thanks for sharing, Grace! xx meenal

  • Oh my! LOVE all the different colors throughout the house from the soft wallpaper in the bedroom to the vibrant tiles in the bathroom!

  • I am so incredibly jealous. I visited Marrakech a few years ago and absolutely fell in love. I knew from the first picture that this must be Morocco. The little door somehow screams it. Looks like an absolutely beautiful life. :)

  • I think my all time fav! A great thing to dream about in the middle of the workday

  • That bedrooms (the first photo) is AMAZING! The tiles (I originally assumed wallpaper), lantern, that door – oh my!

    The tile work throughout the home is so beautiful, and to know the couple are the masterminds behind the work is even more impressive. Thanks for sharing!

  • Gorgeous!!! I love how you used the wedding blanket as an underneath layer – great touch :) I was just in Marrakesh last year and saw a lot of you beatiful tile work at Peacock Pavilions. I think – so cool to see it in your own home too!

  • Yep, totally amazing; a real heavy-hitter on the Sneak Peek scene! I think a one-Moroccan-interior-per-month rule should be mandatory! Thanks for sharing this!!!

  • I am crazy about those tiles. Really great to get a peek into the home of the creative team behind them!

  • Oh. My. Goodness. This is such an incredible home! I want to put every single one of these pictures on my inspiration board.

  • OMG. This is now my favorite of all the sneak peeks. Ever. It’s rare and wonderful to see a black/white/gray home that isn’t some form of Scandinavian minimalist.

  • Oh, how I LOVE Marrakech. My now-husband and I spent five days there back when we were dating. It was a super budget, last minute trip, but seriously one of the most gorgeous weeks of my life. We stayed in the medina and spent our days drinking mint tea, wandering the souks and generally getting lost. I dream of renovating a bathroom Moroccan style, and I’m currently getting settled in a new apartment that – despite our location in the midwest and the general characterlessness of the space – WILL be Moroccan influenced. It makes me so happy.

    Oh, yeah. I love this house.

  • this is WITHOUT A DOUBT, one of the best homes I’ve seen here. That bathroom is so daring! I would never choose red in combo with such a bold pattern to cover an entire room, but I feel so inspired!

  • Stunning home & the tiles are so fantastic. I would bring my whole library of English language books just for a visit!

    • hi krista!

      we do a decent amount of intl homes, but we’ll be arranging them in a new way when the redesign is live in may so you can sort them by location if you just want to see european homes :)


  • What a gorgeous home. That porcupine mirror is amazing! The textiles, the tiles, the metalwork…I am in home heaven!

  • I have spent collectively about two years living in various parts of Morocco and it is my absolute DREAM to restore a riad there! So needless to say I LOVE THIS POST. Also, there’s a book called “A House In Fez” by Suzanna Clarke that’s all about when she and her husband did just this in the city of Fez.

  • Stunning!!!!!
    Such great colour, pattern and texture. more pics to save for looking at on a rainy day, thanks! :)

  • Thank you for sharing your home! I cannot imagine not being able to go browse for books on a whim. If you ever need a care package with reading material, just send word…

  • Great pics! These would make a great collection on a stock photography site ! (you’d need property releases though!!) best Simon at Pixmac :)

  • For those who have never traveled to Morocco, or who have been only as far as Marrakesh, Fes, Agadir, or Cassablanca, this home would seem “exotic” and “divine.” However, as a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Morocco for two years, I find it extravagant and disturbing, perhaps because as a volunteer I had to constantly fight against being seen as an expat with bottomless pockets, an image that Caitlin and Samuel seem to be perpetuating. This comment may seem to be a little harsh, but this article bothers me, perhaps because instead of seeing a complete picture of their lives I am seeing only pretty pictures of their home, which is probably the scope of the post.

    • emily

      i understand what you are saying, but i do hope you’ll keep in mind that this column is about showcasing beautiful homes. this is a design site so we aren’t trying to represent the full depth of these people in their personal lives. so please don’t assume things about their lives or behavior based on home photos that are designed to look as beautiful as possible.


  • gorgeous! and as for emily’s comment… i mean no disrespect but i think those that read design sponge are probably savvy enough to realize this is not how all of marrakesh lives. beauty comes in different sizes, i think you can tell that while this owner’s home may be extravagent in some respects, they obviously support and love their community/local crafts people and owners of flea markets.

  • I genuinely think that this is one of the most creative and well-designed houses I have ever seen (in real life or in pictures)! Inspiring!

  • absolutely stunning home! what a treasure, and what a find grace and team! i think this is the aspirational home for me….i would fly to the markets of marrakesh in a heart beat!

  • This home real-l-l-lly speaks to me. The slate gray should be cold but instead the place just looks delightfully livable and inviting. Can’t imagine how they have accomplished this while creating a business and producing a child in such a short time.

  • Your tile designs are wonderful, are they available in Australia?

  • Wonderful and Beautiful.
    Excellent mix of modern interior trends with archetypal Marrakech architecture. Great use of bold patterns and colours teamed with classical European styling.
    Truly Inspirational.

  • Now that you’ve teased us with all of this amazing tile, how can we get our sweaty palms on them????? My bathroom is crying for some wall to wall waves!

    • hi amy!

      just follow any of the links to popham design above- they make a lot of this gorgeous tile :)


  • The most gorgeous house yet on this site, absolutely love it; reminds me of the worst holiday of my life. :) The tile is incredible. Impressed beyond anything.

  • What adventerous souls. I was reeled in by that amazing chandelier above their bed. What fun, and so different from what we see in America. Great post.

  • Good lord, I love their tile!! And just in time – I am looking for tile for my house (and wow, is there a lot of bad tile out there.)

    Grace, could I put in a request for more tile features?

  • WOW! Absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. If I lived there I would never leave the house. You don’t see tile like that in the States.

  • Sam and Caitlin are old friends of mine and it’s so wonderful to get a glimpse into their life…(Now I want to visit more than ever!) I love their tiles and am so happy to see them here! Congratulations to the both of them for the courage to live their dreams!

  • Absolutely incredible! I have never seen so much wonderful pattern!!! Often I find pattern to be tedious and frilly. This is bold and fluid. Wonderful home!!!

  • Los Angeles misses Caitlin and Samuel and their savvy design sense! Your house is absolutely beautiful and oh so chic and the tiles are amazing.

  • As fabulous as this house is…there was a point where my eyebrow went up. It was when she talked about the sofa that they “had recovered and refinished for about $30.” It made me think that this level of style is attainable only if you are very rich or live in a place where the dollar goes very far. Upholstery (and tile work) are both labor-intensive and require some level of expertise and therefore quite pricey in the US, so this feels a little bit like design out of reach, even if I know I might be able to make my own quilled mirror.

  • I’ve never spent so much time reading and looking through a sneak peak as I have with this one. All of it is beautiful and the tiles are absolutely amazing!

  • A belated thank you for all of the kind words about the house and popham design tiles. Truly, you’ve made us so happy. And the shout-outs from friends so far away – Lisa, David, Olan – were a special treat. To all, look us up if you are ever in Marrakech!

  • Your home is truly amazing, and your tiles are superlative. I understand that you got your zebra hide from the flea market, but people should be aware that each purchase inevitably results in replacement, though I’m sure you just felt you were giving it a place of honor.

    Wonderful, unbelievably curated home, wow…

  • Totally the most inspiring interior i have seen in ages!! absolutely love it!!! amazing!!

  • I love this house. I love the tile. Especially in the bathroom with the red. It is all so bold and happy.

  • I’m stunned. If there is anything I like it’s Moroccan (okay, or Japanese.). Brave choice to move there though. I love the drama in your interior, and the tiles look amazing.

  • Holy cow! Gorgeous original details, incredible design that is authentic and true to the space. What an inspired abode. I’m about two seconds away from hopping on a plane and moving to Marrakech!

  • I have seen this home before – thank you for featuring it because now I can pin it and save it forever. I LOVE their tile designs.

    I visited Marrakesh a couple of years ago and spent quite a bit of time weeping at the beauty of the craftsmanship (to the bemusement of my husband).

    Popham Design is an amazing modern take on the vibrant beauty of the historic craftspeople’s work.

  • Could you tell me what the white mirror (against the red wall) is made of? It looks great!