Inside Mellah, a Moroccan rug–lover’s dream in Dufferin Grove
Mellah is a new store at College and Dufferin that’s piled high with gorgeous vintage rugs sourced straight from Morocco. Owners Miriam Zittell and John Honeyman left their Manhattan digs at the end of 2015, then spent the winter searching the crafting communities of Marrakesh for handmade rugs unique to the region. They packed a shipping container with 100 one-of-a-kind pieces and headed home to Toronto to set up a storefront. The Dufferin Grove space opened in April, and is called “Mellah” after the walled Jewish quarters of Morocco that feature some of the region’s most culturally rich markets.
The couple are not carpet experts: when they lived in New York, Miriam was a fashion designer at Theory, and John was the catering director at Le Pain Quotidien. But because of a sound bylaw in their Manhattan condo that required 80 per cent floor coverage, they became obsessed with hunting down beautiful, affordable rugs—often in less-than-conventional ways, like visiting old ladies’ apartments to scope out their stockpiled collections. At the end of 2015, they decided to switch careers and move back to Toronto with their daughter, Zelda (they wanted to be closer to family), and opening a carpet store felt like a natural move.
The store’s rugs generally start at a couple hundred bucks and go all the way up to $4,000:
Vintage Beni Ourain rugs, which lie on the floor in the photo below, are hand-woven using un-dyed wool in subtle geometric patterns. They’re the priciest rugs in the store:
The store sells a lot of Azilal tribal carpets, which are woven by Berber women in the Azilal region of the Atlas Mountains—typically with pops of neon wool. They’re relatively affordable, with a five-by-eight piece priced at around $1,000:
Boucherouite rag rugs (at the top of the pile) are also popular. They’re made from recycled material and feature a wild mix of shapes and colours:
Mellah also stocks some traditional Moroccan apparel. This lightweight Berber pom-pom dress ($75) is a breezy summer look:
The couple found a “leather guy” in the markets of Marrakesh, who custom-makes duffle totes ($225) out of soft Maroquin goat leather that’s tanned with sumac. The bags are then lined with a durable canvas:
The shop also sells sequinned wedding blankets ($495), which are typically given as part of a Berber woman’s dowry and worn by the bride as a cape on her wedding day. They also look great thrown over a sofa:
Apparently, John and Miriam’s daughter Zelda was extremely helpful during vendor and maker negotiations. To close a deal, they’d simply say she was getting restless and they had to leave:
This mother-of-pearl dresser was sourced from a man named Abdellah, a third-generation antique collector and dealer in Marrakesh. It was handcrafted in Morocco, but the look is inspired by Damascene design. At approximately $8,000, it’s the priciest thing in the store (the couple secretly don’t want to let it go):
Babouche slippers ($75) were made by another “leather guy” in Marrakesh. They can easily be transformed into cute flats by adding a thicker sole. Crafters can also pick up vintage hand-dyed indigo cloth from Mali:
These hand-woven totes ($45) make great beach bags:
Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. 1090 College St., 416-580-7122, mellah.ca.