Marrakech Style

Two Expats Uncover The City’s Designer Details

Caitlin & Samuel Dowe-Sandes, Founders Of Popham Design

American expats Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes only intended to live in Marrakech for one year—and that was 13 years ago. Raised on the east coast (she is from Maine, Samuel was raised in Vermont), the couple lived in New York City before moving to Los Angeles, where Samuel worked in the film industry. By the mid-2000’s, however, they needed to shake things up. "We came to Morocco to change our lives, and we did," says Samuel.

"I think it was important that we came wanting a shock and a change, which probably made us more receptive to the opportunities here," he adds. The biggest "opportunity" turned out to be the couple’s founding of Popham Design, a studio that crafts vibrant, design-forward tiles that marry Moroccan traditions with modern style.

Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes, Founders Of Popham Design. Photo courtesy of Nicolas Matheus.

Local Recommendations

Explore Marrakech with Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes

"Marrakech is guaranteed to provide a sensory feast and, for so many travelers, a shock from their normal daily routine," says Caitlin. Samuel agrees, noting that visitors should also "recognize and enjoy the public-private split. The bustle can be overwhelming, but the moment you step off the street away from the din, the tranquility is there waiting." Here are some of the couple’s favorite spots to soak up the magic of Marrakech.

Bab El Khemis Flea Market

“This is not for everyone—it’s not the glamorous Marché Paul Bert in Paris,” says Samuel about the Bab El Khemis flea market (Gate Bab El Khemis, in the northwestern medina; +212-6 6214-2420) in the old town. “But in a world where so much is disposable, the market is an acknowledgement that everything can be reused.” Among the emerald green toilets from the 1970’s, piles of copper parts from the 1930’s, recycled rebar, ornamental wooden doors from medina riads, and cell phone parts from the 1990’s “there are some real treasures to be found,” Samuel notes. “Our first house in Marrakech was decorated almost entirely from our finds here.” Part of the thrill is, of course, the hunt—and the anticipation of what might lie at the bottom of the next pile. “There is a bustling feeling of commerce here, in which you ask yourself, ‘Is it junk or is it chic?’,” says Samuel. “And where a new chapter is always possible.”

Medina doors ready to be restored to their original splendor at Bab El Khemis flea market.

LRNC Studio Interior Design & Accessories

Founded in 2013 by Belgian designer (and self-professed “sun chaser”) Laurence Leenaert, LRNCE Studio (59 Sidi Ghanem; +212-5-2420-0108) is a décor and accessories brand celebrating North African craftmanship and materials. It’s a philosophy that resonates with the Popham founders. “There’s a bit of Matisse, a bit of Picasso in Laurence’s simple but evocative designs,” says Caitlin, noting the quirky, cubist-modernist influences in the hand-painted pottery and embroidered rugs and textiles. “She does artisanal work the way it should be done: she celebrates the handmade by making the hand of the maker present in each piece.” Many of the materials used are upcycled or used in new ways, adding to the novelty and originality of the pieces. Among the leather sandals with mismatched bands, the painted bowls with a hint of a face peeking out from below, and a chenille yarn woven “dinner blanket” emblazoned with a still life tableau, Caitlin cites an “insouciant pouf with a woman’s figure outlined in Majorelle blue” as her favorite.

LRNCE Studio, a décor and accessories brand celebrating North African craftmanship and materials. Photo by Laurence Leenaert for LRNCE Studio.

Maison ARTC

For another example of the creative spirit thriving in modern-day Marrakech, head to Maison ARTC (Mohamed El Bequal, 96 Residence Kelly, Gueliz; +212-52-438-1427), the boutique of Artsi Ifrach, one of the most prominent fashion designers working in town today. “His unique collections are ethereal and grand, mixing vintage and traditional African fabrics with unexpected materials,” marvels Caitlin. Located in the French colonial-era Gueliz neighborhood, and open by appointment only, the showroom is lined with the couturier’s vibrant, one-of-a-kind creations, as well as a hand-picked selection of accessories and quirky objects. Revel in the mix of patterns and textures, then try on a multicolored flared coat or a dramatic flowing gown—even if they aren’t what you’d typically wear back home. “These are imaginative runway pieces for the daring,” notes Caitlin.

Inside Maison ARTC, Artsi Ifrach's boutique in Gueliz.

Plus 61 Restaurant

Opened by Australian expat friends of the Popham couple, Plus 61 restaurant (96 Rue Mohammed el Beqal, Gueliz; +212-5-2420-7020) in the “new town” neighborhood of Gueliz is “airy and light, and unlike anything else in Marrakech,” says Caitlin. “And after endless tagines, the fresh, globally-inspired cuisine is welcome.” Though a sense of place is still everywhere: the modern, streamlined space is outfitted with furniture, ceramics, and décor handmade by Moroccan artisans, and the ingredients are sourced in Marrakech and the surrounding region, mainly from bioorganic farms. Chef Andrew Cibej celebrates the simplicity of Australian cuisine by letting the ingredients speak for themselves in dishes influenced by the flavors of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and South Asian cooking. And all the bread, yogurt, cheese, and pasta is made in-house daily, as well. The menu changes seasonally, but examples might include beef dumplings, homemade ricotta with red peppers, and roast sirloin sandwiches with eggplant relish. Caitlin also advises not to miss the “amazing cocktails, which are named for Australian beaches, like the Bronte Blush and the Tamatini.” “This restaurant should definitely be on every visitor’s list. It’s already on the locals’ list of favorite spots,” she says.

On the table at Plus 61. Photo courtesy of Gaelle Le Boulicaut.

Yves Saint Lauren Museum

At the iconic Jardin Majorelle—one of the most popular tourist attractions in Marrakech—visitors are invited to wander through the lush gardens and fountain-adorned nooks on the grounds of the home of designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. For those who want to delve deeper into the life and work of the famed designer, though, there’s the nearby Yves Saint Laurent Museum (Rue Yves St Laurent; +212-5-2429-8686), opened in 2017. “The museum is small, but every inch of it is considered,” says Caitlin. “And it’s worth a visit as much for the gorgeous Studio KO architecture as for the collections.” The first dedicated fashion museum in Africa, the structure greets visitors with a brick façade inspired by lace patterns, followed by a sleek white interior that takes cues from YSL couture linings. Facilities include a research library, archives, auditorium, bookstore, café, and spaces for permanent and temporary exhibitions. “The black hall of YSL creations is particularly breathtaking,” notes Caitlin. “Each time we visit, my daughter and I like to select the one piece we would love to go home with. My favorite is a Braque-inspired ensemble that resembles a bird.”

Impeccably dressed mannequins display Yves Saint Laurent's iconic designs at the designer's namesake museum. Photo courtesy of Nicolas Matheus.
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