Bringing Morocco home
When Mostafa Raiss El Fenni left his native Morocco to study chemistry at U.C. Berkeley, he thought he was leaving the family antique business. After a few years directing a research lab, however, it was getting harder to return to Morocco with his wife and children, so he opened Sahara Moroccan Home Décor to “bring Morocco here.” The store on Ashby Avenue features colorful, handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces crafted by artisans in Morocco: mosaic tabletops, hand-woven Berber carpets, blue and white Fes ceramics, intricately painted wooden tables, hand-carved brass trays, leather ottomans, embroidered textiles, elaborately framed mirrors and multifaceted brass lanterns. One striking item is an undulating shaped sheepskin lamp, decorated with henna. Although he has a few antiques, Raiss El Fenni specializes in new pieces. “I want to help artisans in Morocco keep this art alive,” he explains.
In the back of his shop, Raiss El Fenni has tubs of tiles to help customers design their own corner of Morocco—from mosaic fountains to hand-painted tile back-splashes. Your custom-designed counters, crown moldings and even floors are then made in Morocco, shipped here and installed in your home. “When you decorate with handmade pieces, you get the energy going, and your friends will feel the spirit inside,” says Raiss El Fenni.
Sahara Moroccan Home Décor also functions as a mini-cultural center, with classes in Arabic and traditional musical instruments. Customers can rent everything they need to host a Moroccan tea party in their own home.
Sahara Moroccan Home Décor, 2110 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, (510) 295-4527; www.saharaimport.com.
Ducking into the unassuming storefront on a quiet corner of Hopkins in Berkeley is like discovering your grandmother’s attic (if your grandmother was a world traveler with exquisite taste). Owner Elaine Zelnik opened Ninepatch in 1973 to showcase quilts and baskets. As times have changed, she has added an eclectic array of jewelry, folk art, playthings, decorations and miniatures from far-flung corners of the globe.
From China: tiny carved bone boxes adorned with cats; from Nepal: embroidered purses embellished with shells and bells; from Haiti: recycled oil drums and metal wall-hangings depicting Adam and Eve, birds or mermaids. In fact, Zelnik is enamored with mermaids. “They are feminine and fluid,” she explains. Mermaid motifs are scattered throughout the store, showing up in beaded figures, tiny dolls and garden art. She also displays devils, angels and a few glow-in-the-dark saints. “Nothing has a modern twist,” Zelnik says.
Ninepatch, 2001 Hopkins St., Berkeley, (510) 527-1700; www.ninepatchonline.com.
Cake and candy land
Linda Moreno’s passion for confections began years ago, when she was a teenager decorating birthday cakes for friends and family. More than a decade ago, she opened Spun Sugar to share her sweet streak, giving bakers everything they need to adorn elegant or whimsical cakes, cookies and cupcakes or make candy treats.
Spun Sugar sells cookie-cutters to fit any holiday need or everyday interest (check out the martini glass, watering can or lobster). Her candy and lollipop molds include swans, swaddled babies, saws and statues of liberty. The edible sugar lay-ons feature rocking horses and race cars, flip-flops and palm trees, gardening tools and even a hamburger, fries and soda. The shop also carries a range of chocolate products including curls, chips, nibs, beans and colored wafers as well as high-end chocolate for professionals.
And if you don’t yet have Moreno’s way with the kitchen, she offers classes: “I love showing them the magic,” says Moreno about her students. “I tell them, ‘Once you learn these skills, you can always bring dessert knowing you will be the star of the party.’” Spun Sugar also offers catering, takes special orders, hosts children’s birthday parties and runs summer camps for kids and teens.
Spun Sugar, 1611 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 843-9192; www.spunsugar.com.
Fans of Itsy Bitsy rave about two things: the variety of gorgeous jewelry for every taste and pocketbook and the attention owner Shun Yang gives every customer. Find Brazilian polished metal hair clips, French Art Deco barrettes, Japanese hair sticks, as well as purses, pins, pendants and Japanese imports, including sensuous silk scarves made from antique kimonos. Adorn your inner princess with a rhinestone tiara.
For many Itsy Bitsy customers, it’s all about the earrings. The shop sells bold, squares of sterling silver surrounding vibrant pigmented resin by Lulu Smith; delicate pussy willows with tiny freshwater pearls from Michael Michaud; and tear-shaped Lucite earrings in gumdrop colors from Alexis Bittar. Also find luminescent Polish amber, a large selection of clip-ons and teensy posts for $6 in a variety of shapes from alligators to grapes.
Yang, originally from Taiwan, spent 10 years in Japan on her way to the United States. Yang’s service philosophy is simple: “There is a Japanese saying, ‘Your customer is your god,’” she says, adding, “I respect people, no matter what they spend. The important thing is for the customer to be happy.”
Itsy Bitsy, 5520 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 428-1651.