Meet Ateliers Zelij

We get to know our new partners, Delphine and Samir of Ateliers Zelij...

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Where are you based?

Ateliers Zelij was born and is still based in Toulouse. South of France, this town is famously known for its unique architecture made of terracotta bricks. Toulouse is a rich mix of South European and Mediterranean cultures. 

What is the history behind your studio?

We met in 2000 at Toulouse during industrial design training. At this time, Samir was creating furniture in his workshop in Morocco and I (Delphine) came from Boffi studio, an Italian company that produces contemporary kitchens.

Our training in industrial design was a chance to take a break from our working life. During this time we discovered we shared a passion for surfaces and Moroccan cultural. We quickly decided to invest in the fusion of contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship.

What is the concept behind your creations?

We love to explore different techniques. Our approach is to combine traditional expertise with contemporary design. We are fascinated with the fusion of these two concepts.

With his strong understanding of sculpture, Samir, gives Zellige a new meaning. He plays with forms, contrasts & shades and thus has made these tiles suitable to the modern world without compromising the manufacturing process of zellige and respecting artisanal culture. 

Tell us a bit about your ethical design approach..

Our company is founded on the values of open communication and respect of our partners, mainly based in Morocco. Our vision is an open and united world in which the economy is a result of social and environmental progress. We are respectful towards our customers.

Our commitment to our values is reflected in:

  • The guarantees of the Labor Code clauses in the country of production and the minimum age for work.
  • The practice of management that respects the rights of all employees and gives them a safe and healthy workplace. - A less stressful impact on the environment at all manufacturing steps. -The establishment of a thoughtful logistics policy for the delivery of our products.

Favourite Design Trend?

The Bauhaus movement!

A word that best describes your work:

'Oser l'air de rien'/expertise.

'Dare; Casually' 

Most memorable moment in your career?

Milan Design Week 2016 where Samir's creations were selected at Ventura Project. It's an amazing experience for a designer to have their work acknowledged by the public.

Top three influences behind your creations?

Nature, Geometry, Art

Words to live by?

"Cultiver sa singularité inventer, ne jamais copier créer ses propres codes changer les règles du jeu surprendre en restant soi-même oser, l’air de rien."

"Cultivate your singularity; invent; never copy; create your own codes, change the rules of the game, surprise but remain yourself. Dare; casually."

What is the most important part of designing zellige?

Firstly to understand the heritage and the process in which this tile is created. Secondly to constantly keep up with design trends, culture & art.

What is your production process?

Zellige is a hand-made mosaic combining accurately cut pieces from monochromatic enamelled tiles. The use of Zellige is popular in walls, fountains, floors and columns in Morocco. We do not change the traditional production process that answers to centuries-old rules:

  1. Clay extraction: special clay from Fez is mixed with water, then, kneaded with both hands and feet, until the clay becomes flexible and homogeneous. Cut into 11cm squares with a thickness of 12 mm, those tiles are sun-dried and then baked in a special klin (oven).
  2. Glazing: The tiles are enamelled and then baked for a second time, at 800°C, in a traditional wooden klin. This glazing confirmed our distinctive manufacturing process. Our color shades result in the differences in heat, including variations within the same color group.
  3. Tatooing & Cutting: Once the tiles are removed from the oven, they are separated according to color. Then a Rasham (graphist) draws the shapes to be cut directly on the tile. The patterns are tessellated to ensure maximum efficiency. Then the tiles are sent to a Naqqash (cutter) who uses a wide hammer carefully sharpened at each end, to cut the tiles. At the end a Khallas (finisher) cuts the edges to make sure they meet the requirements for each project.
  4. Installation: Once the Zellige pieces are collected, a Maallem (master craftsman) draws the design layout on the floor: this shows the exact place for each piece of Zellige. Each piece is placed face down and any additional adjustment is made to ensure a snug fit. In addition to geometric patterns, Zellige can also be used to make floral designs or calligraphy.
  5. Pre-assembled patterns: Our panels come pre-assembled & pre-grouted in +/_ 300 x 300 mm due to a development managed by Sika®, leader in construction solutions.
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Follow @opiadesign.sa on Instagram for daily interior and surface inspiration.


Getting to know Popham Design

When Caitlin and Samuel packed their bags and made the move from Los Angeles to Marrakech over 10 years ago, they had no idea they were about to change the surface industry. We got to know these entrepreneurs a bit better...

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Where are you based?

Popham Design is based in Marrakech, Morocco. Our atelier is situated in an olive grove on the route to the Atlas Mountains.

What is the history behind your studio?

When we moved to Marrakech from Los Angeles, in 2006, we knew nothing of concrete tiles. But we bought a 250+ year old house in the Medina which needed a top to toe renovation. While working on the house, we encountered so many great artisanal techniques, including concrete tiles. Given that the tiles are individually handmade, we asked ourselves, why not create tiles with our own designs. We designed three for the house, our best-selling ZIGZAG, WINK and LOOP DI LOOP. The notion that others might like traditional concrete tiles with more modern designs came shortly thereafter. And we were lucky to find an enthusiastic and supportive audience right away.

What is the concept behind your creations?

We produce a decorative product and our goal is always to create something that is fresh and beautiful. Our company celebrates the traditional handmade concrete tile technique while giving it renewed relevance through our patterns and colors.

Tell us a bit about your ethical design approach..

Our company is founded on the values of open communication and respect of our partners, mainly based in Morocco. Our vision is an open and united world in which the economy is a result of social and environmental progress. We are respectful towards our customers.

Our commitment to our values is reflected in:

  • The guarantees of the Labor Code clauses in the country of production and the minimum age for work.
  • The practice of management that respects the rights of all employees and gives them a safe and healthy workplace. - A less stressful impact on the environment at all manufacturing steps. -The establishment of a thoughtful logistics policy for the delivery of our products.

Three words that best describes your work:

Authentic. Personal. Eclectic.

The reason we fell in love with concrete tiles is that the hand of the artisan is ever-present. Concrete tiles are not perfect. They don’t get spit out of a machine. They have an authenticity and a personal quality that our clients love. And our design sensibility is very eclectic, which is reflected in our collection of patterns. We are inspired by many different things, places and people.

Most memorable moment in your career?

Probably packing up that first container of tiles destined for the US. We literally helped the team load each and every (950+) box. It was a seminal moment for us in seeing the potential of Popham Design. It also established our hands-on attitude. We are on site every day, designing and trouble-shooting, which has proven essential in distinguishing our business and in keeping it afloat

Top three influences behind your creations?

  • Light
  • Architecture
  • Art

Favourite words to live by?

Well you can’t do better than Winston Churchill for rallying language. We like this one:

'Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.'

Best advice you've ever been given..

My late-father, when we were first launching Popham Design, which was the first entrepreneurial venture for myself and Samuel, warned us about the importance of good accounting and business planning. He was a banker and had seen many clever start-ups go under because the owners didn’t pay enough attention to the financial side of the business. So, KNOW YOUR NUMBERS is something we’ve taken to heart.

What is the most important part of design concrete tiles?

Understanding this and playing with the scale of our patterns is an essential part of the design process. The creative process always involves some constraints, which challenge us in a positive way.

What is your production process?

Every popham design tile is lovingly and painstakingly hand made by our mellums(master artisans). It takes these skilled artisans 3-5 minutes per tile, and the tile is made A to Z by the same tile maker. There is no line of production for our product.

Prior to producing any tiles, our mold maker creates the patterned molds in brass. And our color team mixes the colors that are to be used in the production – we have about 130 colors – to our exacting formulas.

The tiles are made face down. A brass pattern mold is fitted into the steel mold that gives the tile its shape and size. The pattern mold resembles a large cookie cutter with sections for each “piece” of the pattern. A slurry of pigmented concrete is added, using a funnel, into the appropriate sections of the brass mold. Next, the tile maker adds a concrete-marble mix that makes up the back of the tile. Then, the tile is pressed. At this stage, the tiles are as delicate as a cookie and will crumble if not handled very carefully. The tiles then enter our “hammam” (a humidity and temperature-controlled room where they cure for 3 weeks. Our tiles are cured and then air dried, not kiln-fired like a ceramic tile, so very little energy goes into their production. Ninety percent of the materials that make up our tiles are sourced locally. We use reclaimed, filtered water in their production. Our tiles contain not lead or other harmful toxins. 

Once the tiles have cured and dried, they are given a final inspection by our quality control team before being boxed and then shipped throughout the world.

Favorite Design Trends?

Well, this is selfish, of course, but the artisanal “movement” is a trend we hope will endure. This is a good moment for handmade products. Consumers crave clothing, furniture, tableware, etc. that is not only made by hand, but in which the hand of the artisan is apparent. 

And this appreciation for hand made products has translated into interiors that are refined but not sterile. Modernism that’s grown up a bit, and gotten better with age. We are fans of brass and copper – warmer metals – and are enjoying their re-emergence in bathroom and kitchen fixtures as well as lighting.

The rich layering of textures and patterns that we are seeing in the lifestyle press is a trend close to our heart.

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