Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


The calm, soothing interior of this Marrakech home is testament to its expat owners' singular style and their thriving business in tile design.

Expat American designers Samuel and Caitlin Dowe-Sandes love a good house project. Since moving from California to
Marrakech 10 years ago, they have updated and remodelled three houses for themselves. Each one has offered a great
opportunity to experiment with colour and pattern, helping to spur new ideas that feed into their collections for Popham Design, the stylish cement tile business they founded together not long after their arrival in Morocco. Their new house, in Gueliz, is the family's most substantial home yet, arranged over two storeys with a private garden forming a buffer zone between the family and the city beyond.

"The easy way of living in Gueliz was a really big attraction for us,"says Caitlin. "We can walk to our daughter's school in five minutes and to the restaurants and shops. We also have a lot of friends here. To have a bit of garden space in the centre of town is a big treat and the central staircase and big volumes with high ceilings were also a draw for us. This house had really nice bones."

Both Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes grew up on the East Coast of the United States before moving to Los Angeles, where she worked in public relations for architecture and design firms while he was a film producer and writer. They decided to take a sabbatical year and go travelling, but soon after arriving in Morocco they were gently seduced by Marrakech. Before long they had bought a traditional house, or dar, in the medina next to one of the mosques and threw themselves into a learning-curve renovation. One of the discoveries they made along the way was how easy it is to get things made here, in a city of artisans, including their own tile designs. Popham Design was born soon after, named after one of the couple's favourite beaches in Maine. When their daughter Gigi — short for Georgina — was born, they moved to Gueliz, the 'new town' that was first laid out by the French back in the 1920s, settling first in a modest bungalow. But as Gigi got older and their lives busier, a yearning for more space led to a two-storey town house close to the flower market.

"When we started work there was a little window at the back of the sitting room we wanted to open up but it turned into quite an excavation," says Samuel. "We were ripping out boulders of rock." The sitting room was opened up further by removing half-walls and archways and opening to the central hallway, where the staircase is lit by a high window.

There is also a separate dining room, kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor. Upstairs, Caitlin and Samuel converted two small bedrooms into one large master bed, with a new fireplace and bespoke wardrobes. Gigi's room is across the landing, along with a guest bedroom recently converted from a former study.

Popham Design tiles feature throughout within a colour scheme dominated by soothing blues and greys, which contrast with the reds and pinks that the city itself is famous for. Paint colours are bespoke blends, with a duck-egg blue used in the sitting room and a striking grey-and-white stripe for the walls of the hallway, along with a midnight blue in the dining room, echoed within a dramatic wall of scarab-motif tiles.

The furniture is a blend of antique, mid-century, custom and contemporary with pieces sourced from the souks and antique stores of Marrakech and during the family's many trips around Europe. Paris is a particularly rich hunting ground, especially in recent months, after the couple decided to open a new Popham showroom there. "We do have quite a few mid-century pieces, but we are against being married to any one particular period," says Samuel. "To us, that's just boring. I would say that if anything drives our choices then it's about appreciating an eclectic mix of things from different periods and styles." Outside, the family added a plunge pool in the front garden, which is a particular blessing in the summer months, and a screen of bamboo around the boundary, creating a green wall that offers both privacy and shade. The house offers colourful living and a calm retreat, all in one home. It is the perfect Moroccan setting for the whole family.

"Gigi has a cabana in the garden and her own balcony off her room," says Samuel. "There's more space for her here and the swimming pool, as well as a custom swing. So for a five-year-old, what's not to like?"


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