A bit of Tunisia comes to Los Angeles
At the newly opened Maison of Hand in the La Brea neighborhood of Los Angeles, palm fiber light shades are suspended from wooden beams or attached to bases made from olive wood. Vividly patterned cushions have been fashioned from repurposed kilim rugs, and glass decanters are encased in strands of bulrush. Most of the pottery, according to Faycel Mekbel, cofounder of the 1,200-square-foot home goods and furniture boutique, is from Sejnane, a town in northern Tunisia, where the female artisans make it without a pottery wheel, the same way their ancestors did for hundreds of years. Those pottery skills are listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
“I liked the idea of bringing in something from a different place that was also my cultural heritage,” said Mekbel, who is originally from the adjacent country of Algeria. “There’s a uniqueness to it we haven’t seen here.”
Mekbel opened the store — the site of a former art gallery — with business partner Jesse Terry, a Denver-born engineer who lived in Tunisia while working for a petrochemical company.
After purchasing and outfitting three Airbnb properties in Bali, Mekbel realized he wanted to find a way to channel his love of home design into something more permanent. He connected with a designer in Tunisia who makes the palm fiber shades, which have a gently windswept look, and anchored the store around them. In upcoming collections, the natural-colored fibers will be dyed black and mounted on olive wood that will feature gold leaf appliqué.
In curating the space, Mekbel and Terry sought to showcase pieces that would blend in with most decor types.
“It’s bohemian chic, and that can work with anything,” said Terry, “These pieces are Mediterranean, and that’s very much the look here — the weather, how people live, into the outdoors, natural colors, being eco-chic. We felt this would fit in well here.”
Mekbel said the sustainability factor was high on his list of criteria in creating the inventory; in a cozy upstairs loft, low tables are made from reclaimed wood, also used for deck chairs covered with weatherproof fabric. The olive branches used for lamp stands are collected when the trees are trimmed every couple of years. Seagrass covers wall sconces, and vintage kilim rugs are either restored or converted into upholstery for armchairs and pillows. Soaps are made with olive oil, and scented candles under bell jars have the fragrance of jasmine, Tunisia’s national flower. Little notebooks are printed with old Tunisian photos and postcards.
Terry said he and Mekbel wanted to offer a range of prices to allow anyone to enjoy a bit of North African culture; small glasses for tea (or shots) decorated with bulrush are $4 each. The palm fiber lamps average $700, with the armchairs going up to about $2,700.
“I hope we’re not just selling a piece but also a culture and tradition,” said Mekbel. “Everything in here tells a story.”
Maison of Hand, 456 South La Brea Ave.
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