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Contemporary art for the floor

Whether in stylish apartment or minimalist villa, intricately crafted carpets with diverse motifs are in vogue again. Computers take care of the design while traditional weavers in Asia in calculate which knots go where

Words Marie-Sophie Müller

First walls got their colour back, now it’s the turn of floors. Times have changed since blank floorboards or even cold tiles made living rooms uncomfortable. Carpets are back.

Modern interior designers and their customers have long since associated the term “carpet” primarily with the unfashionable Persians of their grandparents’ era or with more practical types of carpeting. That image of the carpet is now finally taking a beating. Customers are coming on board and recognising the true qualities of good carpets: great atmosphere, sound absorbing effect, accentuation even of larger rooms, wonderful haptics, precious material.

Jan Kath’s designs play with traditional patterns. Photography Jan Kath

The new carpets seize on the graphical aesthetics of coloured Kilim Rugs and Berber Rugs and go one step further. The appeal of the new carpets lies in the connection between traditional manufacturing and a seemingly endless abundance of styles and designs, which can be created digitally and convert and transfer the pixels to the knots.

Designers and producers, such as” Jan Kath, Alexandra Kehayoglou and Luke Irwin, have revolutionised the classic world of carpet design. The designs are inspired by the sixties, as with Patricia Urquiola’s optical art patterns for Ruckstuhl, or influenced by Africa, as with Studio Job’s designs for Moooi; they are inspired by Ottoman culture (Hussein Chalayan) or act like giant sketches (Carsten Fock for e15).

The wealth of creativity exhibited by companies such as Walter Knoll, The Rug Company, Golran, Edelgrund, Nanimarquina, Hay and Danskina also shows: nobody can say any more that carpets are boring.

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The Rug Company looked to contemporary artists and designers like Consuelo Castiglioni for designs. Photography The Rug Company

Suzanne and Christopher Sharp from The Rug Company were collectors before they founded their carpet company. Four years spent in Riad wandering endlessly around the souks of the city helped them become experts. “Choosing carpets starts out from a sense of pleasure and eventually becomes an exploration of their history and tradition, the different knots, the variety of materials. Once you begin to take an interest in them, carpets become addictive”, says Christopher Sharp.

Having returned to London, they dealt in old carpets and found a niche in the market. “People did not want the same as their grandparents, rather were looking for something different, more modern, but just didn’t know what”, says Suzanne Sharp. She began to develop her own designs, geometric patterns in bold colours. The pair found a carpet weaver in Nepal whose work met their discerning standards. “It’s like with olive oil: it’s the process, the method of processing that characterises the quality of the product”, says Suzanne Sharp knowingly. “Quality and sustainability are the new luxury”, says her husband Christopher.

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Nanimarquina also thinks in new dimensions. Photography Albert Font

The Rug Company now operates some 25 shops worldwide and works with designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Tom Dixon, Jonathan Adler or Paul Smith.

Jan Kath from Bochum remixes the original carpet by playing with the familiar, altering the patterns digitally, fading colours, artificially fraying materials. He recently exhibited the “Spacecrafted” collection – woven explosions of colour, like looking at distant galaxies through a Hubble telescope.

“Military Brocade Roomset” by Alexander McQueen for The Rug Company. Photography The Rug Company

The son of a carpet dealer from the Ruhr district, he found his way back to his parents’ profession via a circuitous route. Having run out of money while backpacking in Kathmandu, he took a job as a quality tester in a carpet factory. When the owner offered to sell him the factory, he agreed and started creating his own designs. The 42-year old is now regarded as a pioneer of the new carpet trend, supplying such high-profile customers as Bill Clinton. And even some Sheiks from the Emirates prefer to decorate their yachts with the designs of Jan Kath than with traditional oriental carpets.

Many designer carpet companies manufacture in Nepal. The families of the weavers and carpet makers in the villages in the Kathmandu valley were hit hard by the earthquakes in April and May. Jan Kath, Luke Irwin and the Sharps provided relief for them in the form of aid packages, special sales and money.

The carpet meadow is an individual piece by Alexandra Kehayoglou. Photography Dries Van Noten

Thousands of kilometres away in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Alexandra Kehayoglou works out of a studio adjoining El Espartano, her parents’ factory, designing artistic carpet landscapes. One of these, a wide runner made up of several small green wool islands, which is more reminiscent of a mossy landscape than a carpet, was used by Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten in his prêt-à-porter show in Paris in September 2014 as a platform for his summer collection.

At the end of the show, the models were seen lounging on the fleecy undulating artwork like a band of elves. The 33-year old has been virtually overwhelmed with orders ever since. “It’s difficult for many people to envisage how a carpet can be art”, says Kehayoglou in an Interview with the New York Times. “But perhaps this is changing.”

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