You might think it is the stunning Arabia ceramics, the Finn Juhl chairs, the Poul Henningsen lights and Arne Vodder sideboards that keeps us doing our shows after fifteen years. It is also the dealers. An interesting bunch of people they have all come to Midcentury Modern® from different walks of life.
One such dealer, Colin Mace of the Beni Ourain Rug company, came to Modern Shows® from the world of acting and still works in theatre and television while selling his rugs to a mixed crowd. Theatre credits include War Horse, Crash and The Odyssey. He wrote and directed a short film The Beagle has Landed and starred in the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors. You may have seen him as Inspector Lognon in Maigret, Trev in BBC comedy This Country or Peter Stanley in the acclaimed ITV drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries.
We know him as Colin, Mr Mace, Beni Boy, the Berber man, a chirpy chappy whose rug-selling sideline has become more of a full-time job. We are lucky to have this positive presence at our shows Midcentury Modern® and Midcentury East and are excited to have him debut with his vintage Moroccan rugs up North at our Midcentury Modern® pop-up at The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, Yorkshire this 29th and 30th June.
These handcrafted rugs are proving more popular than ever with the recent resurgence of all things midcentury modern. We sometimes forget about the craft side of this era but everyone from Le Corbusier and Aalto to the Eames paid homage to Berber tribe rugs found on their travels by teaming them up with their minimal furniture at design events and in their own homes.
Nomadic tribeswomen passed down their looping techniques and secret family patterns from mouth to hand for generations. The naturally dyed colours and patterns aren’t just beautiful but symbolic too, with scattered oval, chevron and diamonds representing femininity and fertility. Originally patterns were linked to the places they originated from and so unique that you could determine which village a particular rug came from.
Colin often visits the families who make the rugs he purchases. Many are straight from source with tradition and history attached. We wanted to find out more:
So Colin, how long have you been an actor?
Since 1987 when I left drama school.
Are you still acting?
I’m currently working on a film produced by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) and a new BBC comedy drama about adoption. Both are very exciting projects to be involved with.
Do all actors have quirky sidelines like you?
Most actors have a side hustle, many write, some do therapy, some public speaking. There are other actors I know who deal in antiques. When I was younger I was a painter and decorator, a dispatch rider and occasional seller of double-glazing. Oh and I did two Christmas stints in Hamley’s. Absolute hell.
Do you ever pitch your rugs when you are on location? Once a dealer always a dealer?
I never push the rugs on a job. Highly unprofessional but if someone asks of course I’ll oblige. I have sold a few to friends.
What did your parents do for a living?
My dad was a businessman and my mum was a housewife. After they divorced my mum had to work. After a holiday in Morocco she was asked to go back and work there. I was thirteen and went with her, spending two terms in a French school in Rabat. I later spent holidays in Morocco for about four years.
When did you decide to start selling Beni O rugs?
I had the idea to start selling Beni Ourain rugs four years ago after a holiday in Marrakech.
What do you like about these particular rugs?
I love them as they are made of un-dyed natural sheep wool and are a true handmade and unique product that people love.
Do you find it difficult to let them go?
My house is full of rugs but I do have one or two that I won’t sell. My daughters would kill me if I did.
Colin Mace photographed by Wolf Marloh
Where do Berber rugs originate from and what is the story behind them?
Berber rugs have been made for millennia. They are hand crafted by the Berber tribes traditionally woven by the women and their daughters; a by-product of the family’s small holding that normally includes a small flock of sheep. Beni Ourain rugs come from the mountain villages of the Middle Atlas. They double knot the wool from their sheep producing beautiful soft elegant rugs, which are predominantly White/Cream with a geometric design picked out in Black/Brown. As the sheep live at high altitudes the wool is very thick and full of natural oils, this contributes to the luxurious nature of these rugs.
What’s your best story from berber rug-bagging in Morocco
My best ever rug-bagging was a year or so ago. I’d been given a tip about a village that had particularly beautiful rugs. When I got there it all looked very unpromising. But once I found the right house and the right family they let me in to what can only be described as an a Aladdin’s cave. Needless to say I came home with some absolute beauties.
What was your most exciting sale?
My most exciting sale was the first. At the Midcentury Modern® Show you guys did at the Oval. I sold a 3m x 2m rug for £900. I couldn’t believe that the idea of bringing these beautiful rugs to England and selling them was actually happening.
Can you tell us which Midcentury Modern designers had them in their houses and do you know which types?
The most well know midcentury designers to bring Beni Ourain rugs to Europe and America were Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer and Arne Jacobsen. They were the ones to match these unique wool rugs with modernist architecture and furniture.
Can you tell us all the different types of Beni Ourain rugs?
There are many different types of Moroccan rugs, the most famous being the iconic Beni Ourain. But rugs from Azilal in the High Atlas are becoming more popular with their bright colours and whacky designs. Most people will be familiar with Kilim’s and Boucherouite rugs. Less well known are the Haouz and Atlantic rugs as well as the beautiful rugs from Zayane and Hanbal.