New rugs with figurative finesse

The appetite for statement rugs is now finding expression in figurative designs that are as creatively experimental as they are technically challenging, says Jenny Dalton

The Rug Company wool Vivienne’s Rose Dust rug by Vivienne Westwood, £985 per sq m
The Rug Company wool Vivienne’s Rose Dust rug by Vivienne Westwood, £985 per sq m

If there’s a story for next year, it’s the rug as a figurative, representational statement,” says Rodman Primack, chief creative officer of Design Miami. “Just like in contemporary art, the figurative and fantastical are returning to the fore after years of domination by the abstract.”

Moooi Carpets polyamide Malmaison rug by Maison Christian Lacroix, £1,984
Moooi Carpets polyamide Malmaison rug by Maison Christian Lacroix, £1,984

Witness one of the hits of this year’s Design Miami/Basel, a metallic mixed-media rug (price on request) featuring the national flower of every country in the Americas, designed by Hechizoo’s Jorge Lizarazo. Or US studio New Moon’s remarkably detailed botanical studies on black backgrounds ($170 per sq ft) – one of a range of figurative rugs on display at Hannover’s Domotex show.

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The Hechizoo rug went to a Portuguese art collector, and for Primack this represents an evolution in collecting, with buyers increasingly focusing on rugs. “Collectors tend to start out with chairs, then move onto furniture and lighting. And now they’re looking into textiles with a deeper understanding and interest,” he says.

Mogg wool Stucchi rug by Cristina Celestino, from £1,760
Mogg wool Stucchi rug by Cristina Celestino, from £1,760

The result is a rise in exciting and experimental designs. Paris-based Studio Marc Hertrich & Nicolas Adnet, for example, has produced four new line-drawn designs on dramatic dark printed backgrounds, including two graphic city illustrations: Paris Est Une Fête (from €2,800) and Reflets de Minuit (from €3,100).

Ted Baker wool/Tencel Technibloom rug, £1,199
Ted Baker wool/Tencel Technibloom rug, £1,199

Even Jennifer Manners, queen of abstracted geometric, has got the figurative fever, as seen in her Lotus rug (from £3,049), which is strewn with representations of the flower. East London specialist store Floor Story has a range of representational designs, including by artist Eve Spencer, such as the Damselfly (£1,495), which features an oversized image of an insect at its centre. And at Italian furniture company Mogg designer-to-watch Cristina Celestino’s Stucchi rug (from £1,760) is one of the most striking designs of the year, with its gorgeous representation of stuccoed Italian plasterwork.

Galerie B wool/nylon Reflets de Minuit rug by Studio Marc Hertrich & Nicolas Adnet, from €3,100
Galerie B wool/nylon Reflets de Minuit rug by Studio Marc Hertrich & Nicolas Adnet, from €3,100

Front, meanwhile, has added to its photorealistic offering with the pioneering Tunnel (£2,400 per sq m) by Michaela Schleypen, who has developed a new way of hand-tufting (the shooting of coloured strands of thread into a rug’s backing rather than using knots) by twisting extra colours into the threads pre-weave. The design, inspired by Greenwich Foot Tunnel in London, features greys in around 120 shades – far more than is usual in rug design – while her limited edition Aquarium I and II (£3,140 per sq m) use more than 1,000 different coloured threads to create underwater scenes complete with swimming fish and turtles.

Moooi Carpets polyamide Fool’s Paradise rug by Marcel Wanders, from £1,466
Moooi Carpets polyamide Fool’s Paradise rug by Marcel Wanders, from £1,466

“There’s an appetite from designers and architects for increasingly statement pieces,” says Aneeqa Khan, CEO and founder of Eporta, the fledgling online trade marketplace where buyers can source new brands from around the world. Her team has charted a 43 per cent rise in requests for such rugs – particularly those with figurative designs – in the past few months alone.

Moooi Carpets polyamide Polar Byzantine Chapter 4 rug by Klaus Haapaniemi, £1,553
Moooi Carpets polyamide Polar Byzantine Chapter 4 rug by Klaus Haapaniemi, £1,553

Signs of this representational revolution began to appear in 2010 with The Rug Company’s production of an Alexander McQueen-designed piece, which used the hummingbird motif that had inspired a fabric in the late designer’s collection. Then in 2012 came Hermann August Weizenegger’s Ocean rug (€15,750), sold by Haw, which features gradients of blue silk tones as waves; and Luke Irwin’s 2014 Ockham’s Razor collection (from £1,300 per sq m), featuring Manhattan and Paris street scenes based on vintage pictures of the cities.

Alternative Flooring wool/nylon Strawberry Meadow rug by Liberty Fabrics, £149 per sq m
Alternative Flooring wool/nylon Strawberry Meadow rug by Liberty Fabrics, £149 per sq m

The McQueen design was so intricate that it required The Rug Company to adopt techniques from Aubusson tapestry stitching, rather than traditional hand-knotting. Since then, increasingly nuanced and sophisticated designs have pushed makers to greater lengths to produce rugs that capture the full spectrum of designers’ visions.

Jennifer Manners wool/bamboo silk Lotus rug, from £3,049
Jennifer Manners wool/bamboo silk Lotus rug, from £3,049

“We always encourage our designers to focus on the creative side of things, and we’ll worry about how to make it,” says The Rug Company’s co-founder Christopher Sharp. A case in point is the firm’s newest design, Vivienne’s Rose Dust rug (£985 per sq m), designed by Vivienne Westwood. Featuring large-scale painterly rose blooms, it is made by hand-knotting three-ply threads, meaning the rug uses more blending of strand lengths than the company ever has before and mixes more hues of wool, in this case 100 per cent Tibetan. “In theory this is something that could have been done in the past, but the designs never required it,” explains Sharp. “Previously the detail was limited to the size of the knot, but this new technique has allowed us to incorporate more intricate patterns, painterly artwork and photographic designs.”

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Liberty Fabrics has brought in new high-speed machinery for its latest project for Alternative Flooring, which uses a range of sized-up Liberty blooms, as in Strawberry Meadow floral (£149 per sq m). While these pieces would have been possible in the past, says Alternative Flooring’s creative director Lorna Haigh, the new machinery means the textiles can be produced much more quickly than before.

Digital printing directly onto fabric is also removing limitations for patterns and decorations on rugs. Ted Baker’s growing collection is digitally printed in the Netherlands by boutique rug specialist Brink & Campman. Its Technibloom (£1,199) is a technicolour bouquet of deeply hued digital roses layered one on the other and resembling a lush painting rather than a rug.

Moooi Carpets’ latest highly dense designs use a pioneering jet printer, allowing immense diversity in its carpet portfolio – from Marcel Wanders’ gothic multifloral Fool’s Paradise (from £1,466) and Tricia Guild’s pretty pastel Couture Rose Fuchsia (£1,631) to Klaus Haapaniemi’s detailed story-telling rugs based on a Finnish poem (£1,553), via Maison Christian Lacroix’s circular eye-popping Malmaison flower power designs (£1,984).

These technical advances mean that manufacturers are prioritising smaller runs of experimental designs for higher-end clients, says Eporta’s Khan. And inevitably, this is also leading to the customised and bespoke rug. Moooi, which only began Moooi Carpets in 2015 as well as its “Your Own Design” service, launched an online “rug designer” Works Configurator this spring, allowing the individualisation of several of its designs through recolouring, resizing and reshaping. And Front allows customers to commission their own photorealistic rugs using a tonal approach echoing that employed in Schleypen’s Tunnel design. “To me there are no practical limitations to designing this way,” Schleypen says. “The only limitation is the time it takes to weave, which can be up to five months. Otherwise, whatever you see can be turned into a rug.”

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