An Algerian Kitchen Makeover

As someone who has lived in rentals or government-provided housing for the past 16 years, I know there’s only so much one can do about drab or ugly kitchen tile. And if you’re like me, a person who is in the kitchen a lot and also very into interior design, then bad tile really bums you out. One easy solution: Stick-on tiles/stick-on wallpaper that looks like tiles. My favorite stick-on tile purveyor is BleuCoin. I’ve used their Mexican-style stick-on tiles in our Madrid kitchen to spruce up a very beige and blah kitchen that was clearly intended never to be seen by guests; it was merely the place your household staff made the magic happen and kept out of sight. Seriously, there was even a tiny room off the kitchen to be used as the maid’s bedroom, but we used it for storage. Anyways, the tiles helped a little bit.

I’m excited to tell you about the glorious tile situation in our Algiers home, but first I’d like to share a rather absurd tile-adjacent story from our last home in Rabat, where our sizable kitchen was adorned with floor to ceiling tea-stained tile with dark gray grout and a super bonus row of sepia-tinted 3-D fruit motif tiles that screamed “I come to you from the year 1990! Please have a grape.”

So, when we moved in, in the late summer of 2018, the kitchen had a gas cooktop. Rejoice! If you love to cook you know a gas stove is where it’s at: It’s easy to control the heat because you can see how big the flame is and it’s excitingly primal to cook on actual fire. But when we were being showed around the house, a very serious young lady who worked for the housing section of the U.S. Embassy warned of the dangers of gas and assured me the stove wasn’t functional for our own safety and she pointed to the electric oven/stove combo that had been plopped against a far wall of the large kitchen. “Use that,” she said. I was bummed, but I obliged. I asked if the embassy could 1) install a hood above said plopped range and 2) take the defunct cooktop out of the counter as it was just taking up space I could use for cutting up food and whatnot. They told me it would take a while to find the same granite as the counter to fill in the range hole and I said “Oh, I’m not picky, even a wooden slab like a cutting board would be fine.”

A few days later, some workmen arrived. They indeed put a slab of wood in the square formerly occupied by the gas stove. I saw it, gave a thumbs up and went to do something else. I wondered whey they were still there and I smelled paint. When I returned to the kitchen, they had painted the slab gray and there was a whole assortment of artists brushes laid out. Which is when I realized they were painting a piece of wood to look like the granite countertop. This project took another day. I didn’t stop it. The workman who did it, bless his Moroccan artisan’s heart, he did a very, very good job at replicating the patterns and textures of granite on a piece of wood. When someone else called from the embassy to ask how I liked the new whatever it was, I just started laughing and told them, well, it wasn’t quite what I had asked but the workmanship was undeniable. “But you asked for wood. We wondered why you asked for wood,” this guy said. I thanked them for their responsiveness and for all their considerable effort. And that piece of painted wood, neigh, that piece of art, became a major talking point when we had people over.

I present: The 1990s called and wants all of its things back (Mixed media: tile, fruit tile, granite, gloriously painted wood)

Okay, back to present day. Our Algiers kitchen has some cool things going for it. A gas stove that we can actually use! A super high vaulted ceiling with wood beams, and french doors that open on to our patio. However, the dark gray floors and counter tops, and shiny white cabinetry made it look a little blah and cold. One of the first things I did when we moved in was order and installed these “Penny” tiles from Bleucoin:

I liked how they looked. But I soon learned stick-on wallpaper over a very hot gas stove doesn’t work. The panels above the heat started buckling and then peeling off. I requested a fix from the embassy – perhaps a piece of stainless steel over the stove? Again, they obliged. (Seriously, we are so spoiled). It took me about one hour to realize steel is hella reflective and you know who doesn’t want to stare at her dark eye circles and cat t-shirt self wielding a spatula through a haze of cooking grease? This girl.

Around the same time, I went to the Algiers home of our Dutch friends. I love everything about their house. (Picture the Durell’s in Corfu house, but less crumbling.) It’s an antique- and book-filled home perched on a hill overlooking the bay of Algiers. They have endless trees and vegetables and flowers and a few turtles wondering the property and last year they rescued an injured falcon from their yard. Anyways, they also have gorgeous turquoise and green tile in their kitchen and told me its from a local tile making family, the Boumedhis.

This is the tile our friends have in their kitchen.

Shortly after that, I met our landlord in person. He’s a cool guy who seemed happy that we like the house so much. (I wasn’t sure he’d be pleased that I had wallpapered our bar area downstairs, so I didn’t necessarily point that out to him). I asked about installing tiles in the kitchen, and he was happy to oblige and he of course knew of the famous tile-making Boumehdi family. He said I could go and pick out some tiles and choose what I thought looked best. Mission accepted, with relish.

The landlord let me make the final call, to leave my “Mediterranean touch” on the place. I picked the one one on the right with the delicate little flowers. They installed it while I was on my Moroccan yoga retreat, and when I came back and saw it in person, I was very happy with it. It makes the kitchen much more polished, cheerful, and yes, Mediterranean. I love that the tiles are local. In fact, after I visited the Boumehdi’s ateliers (there are two brothers and each has his own store), I’ve noticed their beautiful tile all over town, like on the exterior of one of my neighborhood’s several hammams.

Without further ado: The new and improved Mediterranean vibes Algiers kitchen. And, if you’d like to read more about what I cook in this kitchen, check out an interview with me over on my friend’s new blog, Salt and Sumac.

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