Faissel Farhi, owner of Zellij Gallery along with his wife Ghizlane, has created what may be “the” handmade Moroccan tile outlet in the United States — right here in WeHo at 511 N. Robertson Blvd. near Melrose (in the two-story beige building also housing Jay Wolf and Le Petite Trésor). “Zellij” is an Arabic word meaning tile work made of individually chiseled geometric tiles set using a plaster base.
Farhi’s grandfather started the business in 1912 in Fez, Morocco. “I grew up going to my dad’s factory after school and playing with these little pieces of mosaic that they were making. To me it was a game,” Farhi said. But after college in Florida, inspiration struck when he travelled through Spain. “Especially Alhambra,” said Farhi. Seeing Moroccan tile used in beautiful, historic buildings, “I started to appreciate it. I discovered that I have this gift. I know the people who make it.” He convinced the family business to enter the American market, feeling an obligation to educate interior designers about authentic Moroccan tile. “People in the U.S. are used to buying tile, perhaps handmade tile, from Mexico, but this is definitely, like one author referred to it, ‘The Prince of Tile’.”
Farhi smiles like a young boy when asked what satisfies him in his work. “When I get a client who knows what they are buying,” he said. “It’s a handmade product so the colors do not always match. The sizes sometimes vary slightly.” Zellij currently offers 24 different colors, but come February its palette will increase to 35.
And this is why Farhi opened a retail store. He wants to tell customers why his tile matters, why it is unique, in person. The first WeHo showroom opened on Almont just south of Santa Monica Boulevard in 2011. But within six months he and his wife moved to their current location, choosing it over the Pacific Design Center. “You get more foot traffic and better exposure,” Farhi said.
February will mark the gallery’s fifth anniversary, and Farhi said business is great. Including he and his wife, Zellij has five staffers in L.A., “with about 30 artisans in Morocco.” Turnaround is at least a few weeks. In terms of customers, Farhi said it’s “fifty-fifty.” That is, half trade (interior designers) and half end-users (home owners).
Marketing is pretty much word-of-mouth. “What works for us is mainly the location, when people come and see [the tile] in person,” Farhi said. But social media, blogging and Las Vegas trade shows figure in, too. “It’s hard to measure,” the effect of marketing, “but you have to do it.”
And why WeHo? “It’s such an open-minded city,” Farhi said. We feel that we are home here, my wife and I. People are very nice and accepting. They are more open to different cultures. I find it very unique and beautiful.”
511 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048