Discovering a rich craft heritage while on assignment in North Africa, photographer Daniel Holfeld was inspired to create Dar Sol, Dublin's first Moroccan lifestyle store. In conversation with Jillian Bolger.
I first travelled to Morocco about seven years ago on a photography assignment. I'd been used to travelling around Europe within my comfort zone, so in Morocco it felt like all my senses had been awakened. Not only to the rich culture, heritage and tradition, but also everything is illuminated in this amazing sunshine.
I started going back every two years, with commercial assignments. I always brought items home in my hand luggage and my friends would say, 'Oh that's amazing!' That gave me the confidence to think that people in Ireland will like this.
The relationship Ireland has with craft is very similar to Morocco: the same types of weaving, the same rural communities. In Ireland, they'd have been in the West and Donegal; in Morocco, they're in the Atlas Mountains. I didn't think about this until I started Dar Sol ('Dar'means 'house?' or 'land' in Arabic and 'Sol' represents the universal term for sun).
When sourcing stock, I decided to do it ethically. The rugs and soft furnishings come from a co-op where the women are hired directly and get paid per square metre of whatever they weave. They're earning more money from Dar Sol than if they sold to a local Moroccan selling to tourists in the souk.
The pouffes and leather goods are made by a family whose craft has been passed down through generations. It's all Moroccan goats' skins dyed with natural oils. Seeing them work the stitching and embroidery is wonderful. My grandparents were weavers and I grew up around looms, so I respond quite well to that. Coming across a family-run business is a very personal thing for me.
My uncles took on my grandparents' mill when they passed away. They have been really helpful, checking the fabric, the weight and weave. They are vetting everything I bring back, and it's nice to have their opinion.
The wooden pieces are all antiques and difficult to find. The man at the co-op, a local Berber, was wondering where I sourced such great pieces. Berber doors, used in the coffee tables, are becoming hard to find. Berber communities have moved on, their buildings have changed, and they're selling these pieces on. The coffee tables are made of cedar wood and once that's gone, I'll never find that one again. When I unpacked them in the showroom, they filled the air with the scent of cedar oil.
With Moroccan design it's all about natural materials. Less is definitely more. Invest in one key piece - a mirror, a rug, a pouffe - and let that be enough. You don't want overkill. Pull back on the colours too. My collection has lots of neutrals, which customers can easily work into their homes.
Dar Sol is quite new, and I'd like to grow the brand. Alongside the Dun Laoghaire store, I'm talking to people about a pop-up and have had a few interesting suggestions. The stock will evolve too. There's ceramics I want to get in from new Moroccan designers who are winning a lot of acclaim in Morocco. I'm still testing the formula, what people like, what colours work, so want to fine-tune that before the pop-up. dar-sol.com