sneak peek: caitlin & samuel of popham design

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.

  1. Rob Marchant says:

    Love the tiling effect in the top picture!

  2. Batya says:

    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!

  3. Christine says:

    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.

  4. Kelly Clark Boldt says:

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



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