December 01 2010
Dublin-born Luke Irwin may have been heading for an identity crisis before finding his niche as a bespoke rug designer. He’d worked in theatre design, in the picture department at Christie’s, and as a literary agent, PR and antique dealer. Then, in 2003, a serendipitous conversation with a half-Tibetan, 12-year-old boy, whose father was a rug-weaver, inspired Irwin to create rugs and employ him. Now all his confections are hand-knotted in Kathmandu and India.
Irwin admits that he struggled to think of his first design, based on crop circles. But it proved a hit: people liked its graphic impact and one Boston academic congratulated Irwin on their accuracy. “Fortunately, now I’m never short of ideas,” he says. This perhaps explains the diversity of his designs (priced from £300 per sq m), which includes the stars on the US flag morphing into doves (first picture; given as an inauguration present to Barack Obama by the Irish nation), geometric patterns reminiscent of David Hicks, animal motifs and painterly-looking ikat-based rugs (third picture).
Despite this eclecticism, Irwin is totally focused when designing bespoke rugs for clients: “I look at the features of a room, its art, furniture… If it has wallpaper, I might take a motif from it. A rug needs to pull all the elements of a room together, but subliminally. If it’s the first thing you notice in a room, it’s failed.”
Indeed, subtle effects seem an Irwin trademark. For a client with an apartment in Hong Kong, he designed a rug with fish motifs (second picture) made of differing percentages of wool to silk, creating the illusion that the fish appear and disappear as you walk around it. As an imaginative finishing touch, Irwin suggested covering the skirting board with mirrors to reflect the fish and suggest a sense of infinity.
Also shown: fourth picture, Pink Ayippa Grass rug, based on paintings by aboriginal artist Joy Kngwarreye.