Described as the “new town” of Marrakech, the neighborhood of Gueliz is known for its chic lounges, art galleries, and fashion stores set along wide, European-style streets. Now a haven for travelers and locals alike, throughout the decades, the town has attracted many international creatives, the late Yves Saint Laurent among them.
It was here where American couple Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes decided to purchase a home, years after initially putting down roots in the country. Inspired by the culture and whimsy of Morocco, they also established their own design firm. “We moved to Marrakech in 2006 from Los Angeles, where we lived for eight years, for what we thought was going to be a yearlong sabbatical,” Caitlin says. “Samuel was working in film for the producer Robert Evans and on his own, writing, directing, and producing projects, and I was a partner in a New York-Los Angeles public relations firm,” she recounts.
Samuel explains, “Within our first year in Marrakech, we’d bought a house in the medina, which we set about renovating. It was during the renovation that we discovered concrete tiles and we designed our first patterns for that house. That marked the launch of Popham Design.” Named after a favorite beach in Caitlin’s native Maine – and where the couple tied the knot – Popham Design is a Marrakech based design studio and bespoke tile workshop that produces colorful, handmade concrete tiles that are exported throughout the world, adorning luxury hotels, restaurants, and residences from San Francisco to Sydney. “In Paris, we have a small showroom of our own and our atelier in Marrakech has about 65 people,” they share. Now, at almost 14 years old, the company has launched new product categories with popham+. “These include brass and marble lighting, side tables, a luxe braided leather swing, a brass and concrete backgammon board, some rugs, and the like,” Caitlin says, adding that it has been fun experimenting with new materials. “Everything, apart from the rugs, is made here in Marrakech by our team.”
The couple bought their home, originally a four-bedroom villa dating from the 1950s, in 2013, and began an extensive renovation. The garage was transformed into a kitchen while two bedrooms were converted into a master suite with a fireplace addition. All the windows in the home were enlarged to provide scenic views of the Moroccan landscape. Two massive balconies were also converted into additional rooms – one a guest bathroom and the other into the couple’s 10-year old daughter’s art room.
The revamp included tiling from their own Popham collection, with bright, geometric patterns of blue and green adorning the floor. “The house is covered in Popham Design tiles,” Caitlin explains. “It was a place to explore and experiment with new designs. At the heart of our company is customization. Our clients can order any of our patterns in any combination of colors from our extensive palette. And we took advantage of this in our home, tailor-making not only tiles, but lighting and fixtures, too.”
One of Caitlin’s favorite things about the home is the collection of art it houses. “We’re not talking about important pieces, but items we’ve collected over the years and that add real personality,” she says. “Samuel’s parents are both artists, so we have pieces they have given us, including the large Tribal Artifacts by Roger Sandes in our study. And we bought ourselves a piece of art to celebrate our anniversary.” Samuel adds, “Living in Marrakech, we’ve discovered a few local artists whose work we admire, including Ghislaine Sahli. We have one of her early pieces in the dining room.”
Apart from art, the couple’s approach to decorating has always been to layer pieces from different places and periods – a Syrian blown glass light fixture, for example, sits alongside a pair of Scandi armchairs in Pierre Frey fabric next to a brass side table of one of their own designs. “Imagine the pithy conversation those pieces might have if animated…” Samuel posits. “We have so many treasured flea market finds, from Paris, Berlin, Marrakech, New York, and London. We like things that animate a room with their own histories.”
Transforming the home into the modern yet traditionally inspired haven it is now did not go without its challenges. “We were under pressure to make the house livable and though the construction team delivered on speed, with that came questions and decisions faster than we could handle,” Caitlin says. In the end, the couple brought together traditional artisan craft with contemporary patterns, elevating a historic aesthetic to celebrate Gueliz in style.
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia