Third Annual ICFF Rug Review and More!! (2011)

Good day fellow denizens of the world we call rugs, and welcome to the end of the Month of May (cue The Arcade Fire). May is a great time of year. Spring is in full bloom, Memorial Day (for those of you in the United States) “officially” kicks off the summer, which much to popular belief, does not officially start for another three (3) weeks, and it is when you will find the birthdays of some of the brightest and best people in the world of rugs. Yes, yes, I am being grandiose, but May is also when you will find the most amazing of furniture (and to a lesser part rug) shows: The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF).
ICFF always falls on or near my birthday (see previous note about birthdays), and with a much needed trip to Ohio to visit my boyhood home (before my mother moves out of it and to see our nephew) on deck, and a strong desire from the household to get to New York, and the need for some contemplation away from home, and to see some Red Spruce investors, and, well you get the point, we planned a grande driving adventure (the details of which I will not bore you with – today) that began in New York City at the Javits Center (currently undergoing a massive renovation, by the by). Join me if you will then, as my husband Nicholas Christie and our dearest of friends Peter Kitchen (both “official” employees of Red Spruce for ICFF purposes) did, for a certified press tour (The Ruggist had press credentials for ICFF!!) of the best/worst ICFF had to offer in rugs and carpets. And with that, the lead mention goes to….
Warp and Weft
I’ve known Michael Mandapati for several years now, having first met him while I was working at Lapchi, and I’ve always admired his work, and both his personal and design styles. I’m as much of a fan of the concise and simple nature of his company’s name as I am of the Kooche’s “k” logo. I mean come on “Warp and Weft” what could possibly be more descript? In advertising and merchandising, he always errs on the side of simple, clean lines letting his rugs and carpets speak for themselves. His booth at ICFF was no less simple, no less clean. And the rugs? They speak for themselves: Beautiful. Warp and Weft was showing a stunning geometric piece from their new tufted collection. WAIT! STOP THE IMAGINARY INTERNET BLOG PRESS! Did The Ruggist just say “stunning” and “tufted” in the same sentence? Yes, yes he did. I think we all know that I am generally not a fan of, oh, how do I say this, oh yes: Cheap Tufted Crap. But, and before I upset Mr. Mandapati, the tufted produced by Warp and Weft is not in that category, it is quite simply some of the best I’ve ever seen. It is not cheap (as a function of price and quality), and it is not crap (as a function of design and everything else). What it is, is impeccably made, beautifully styled, and most importantly in an ever changing marketplace, it is well suited to the needs and demands of his, we can assume, discerning clients. It is also the result of years of hard work and dedication on the part of Mr. Mandapati, which has yielded a superior quality tufted product worthy of his brand, and I for one think he has hit the mark spot on.
Echelon in Gilt by Warp and Weft
Escape Landscape Rug Designs
I walked by the booth of Escape Landscape Rug Designs several times before deciding to stop in for a chat. To be frank, I was being a bit cynical and thought to myself “That company name doesn’t really roll of the tongue easily….” but I kept being called back by the rugs. So luxuriously textured. So richly coloured. So unique! After about my third pass, I noticed the booth to be free and I stopped in to speak with the woman attending to the booth, and in doing so I had my best 2011 ICFF encounter and the second best rug experience I’ve ever had at ICFF. (The first being finding the carpets made by Muni two (2) years ago). The rugs created by Ms. Anita Bell are simply amazing, and not to diminish my own “artful and whimsical” Red Spruce work (plug!!), her rugs are truly works of art. I’ve never seen a better artistic interpretation from inspiration to finished rug as that made by Ms. Bell. Did I mention made by? Oh yes, Ms. Bell makes the rugs herself, by hand, in England. Why? To quote: “It’s very hard to get the nuances of colour and design just right when trying to get someone else to make it.” Oh if I liked the ladies I would be in love.
Shoreline Rug by Anita Bell – Escape Landscape Rug Design
Ms. Bell’s rugs aren’t for everyone of course, and there can be great debate whether they are even for the floor. I tend to think of them as wallhangings due to their high degree of texture, and non-trip friendly use of pile heights, but they are amazing, and I, for only the second time in my life, am smitten. Ms. Bell pulls her inspiration from the natural environment, and she does it well, transcending merely reproducing a photograph or an image, her hand and creative mind, working to hand tuft her vision, her interpretation into being. A kindred spirit in Ms. Anita Bell found have I.
Luke Irwin
The booth of Luke Irwin was quite open and inviting, the rugs a mix of Persian styled and Nepali. As could be expected given the current craze there were Ikats, and there were abstractions. I entered the booth with Nina Smith-Ackerly of GoodWeave (Yup. That’s right. I said it!) and was greeted by the incomparably british Eleanor Horsey. After Nina excused herself and I bid her warm farewells, Ms. Horsey gave me the quick overview of Mr. Irwin’s work and of his rugs. I must admit that at first I was rather ho-hum on the entire affair, but then I started looking more closely, and I discovered three (3) of my favorite things about ICFF this year.
Luke Irwin – Self-Titled Marketing Monograph
The first is (and please excuse the poor photo quality) is the Luke Irwin marketing piece given to me by Ms. Bell. This is the kind of attention to detail and impression we should all strive to present to our customers, clients, and those we just pass on the street. I wish I could do so well all the time. This self titled monograph really makes you believe that Mr. Irwin can and will make the perfect rug for you. Plus, he’s still of a scale where his boutique, or workshop, or atelier or whatever the en vogue word to use is, is capable of pulling it off without flaw. Or so we can presume.
Morning in Manhattan by Luke Irwin
My second favorite thing was this rug, named: “Morning in Manhattan”. I love it because it has Greyhounds (I have a Greyhound named Pebbles!) and because my husband Nicholas loves both Manhattan and Greyhounds, and because of the subtle colour, and because of the amazing deco styling. This is great design, maybe not the most appropriate for rug design, but who cares, I like rugs and I like this design. In fact, if anyone at Luke Irwin is reading this, please give me a call. I might like to buy it!
Stonehenge by Luke Irwin
My third favorite thing (in no order about which you should concern yourselves) was this rug named: “Stonehenge”. This is a mostly topical reference to our friend Peter being with us, and this design being strikingly similar to a tattoo he has on the inside of his biceps. It just made me smile and maybe smirk a little. I like it when design crosses the boundaries of media, especially in this context. Imagine a client, one of those people with nothing to do and all do in which to do it. Oh my mistake, there may be a lunch or brunch involved. But anyway, imagine that client, admiring this rug as a thing of beauty. How would they feel about a very similar design being tattooed on someone? I am not one-hundred percent (100%) certain, but I’d enjoy seeing the look on his/her face.
Brief Intermission (w/thoughts on Tibetan Construction)
I think we all know there are too many people who are, or who fancy themselves rug designers, out there trying to make too many rugs (particularly in Nepal of Tibetan construction) of designs that are too similar to one another, and who will never reach appreciable market share (if that is indeed their goal). A smart rug designer would partner with a good company to license their designs and then sit back and be the creative person they are at heart. That is of course, in my humble opinion. That being said, I know that you are starting to think: “All this way into the post and The Ruggist has not said anything overly offensive or critical.” Well wait no more!
What can I say here without getting myself sued? Ahh yes.. “Without any reference, implied or explicate, to the following rug company or any other rug company I may or may not have written about in a recent blog post, or furthermore may or may not write about in the future, let it be known that I find the concept and practice of making knockoffs to be most offensive.”
Zonas Creative Carpets
Zonas Creative Carpets Booth
The rug shown here prominently in the Zonas’ booth is, in my, dare I say expert opinion, clearly derivative of at best and a knockoff of at worst, an old (and I will say outmoded) Odegard design named: “Crazy Border”.  That is all.
Proper Rugs
Colour!! The proper rugs (by the way, I LOVE the name of this company) made by Proper rugs are full of rich hues, great use of contrast, and are quite visually pleasing. They are, to use a Nova Scotiaism – a proper thing.
Mossy Rocks by Proper Rugs
Proper Rugs also gets the 2011 ICFF Jan Kath Commemorative Button Prize for this button:
Seriously though, I like the designs and I like that the story behind the rug is held out for everyone to know, but I’m not so keen on the fact that the company tagline is: “Luxury rugs that tell a story”. Saying something is luxury is like saying something is collectable. True luxury items are never marketed as such just as collectables are never mass marketed on television.
Christana Ruhaak
I stopped in to meet Christiana because I was drawn in by their handbraided rugs in rich warm hues. I was more taken in by the fact they are made by a woman in Indiana! Love, love love!
Detail of Braided Rug by Christina Ruhaak
In summary…
Overall I enjoyed ICFF this year and it was very refreshing to see a bit of a changeover in the rug exhibitors. Absent this year were previously perennial favorites emma gardner and amy helfand studio, but then again, ICFF is about buzz and marketing, and as is said, absence makes the heart grow fonder. It was nice to see more english designers making the trip across the pond, and I am particularly keen on the emerging trend of authenticity in production (for reasons obvious).
I had a great time in NYC and at ICFF and got to once again spend my birthday in the city that never sleeps (except from 05:00 to 11:00), and I was able to spend it in great company. I got to visit with many friends and even ran into a colleague from way back in my Ohio days. After ICFF/NYC I spent a lot of time thinking and I’d like to leave you with this:
We’re all very fortunate to be able to make and sell beautiful rugs and carpets. We’re honoured that people want to and choose to buy and talk about what we make, for our product is a true luxury. From the lowest to the highest of qualities a rug will always remain a treat, a want, an indulgence, because the floor still works without it. To quote some movie dialog: “Do you always make a joke?” “Only about serious things.” We may find our work serious, but let us remember to be a bit irreverent and mocking, and boisterous and easy going, and hope that at the end of the day it’s not all in vain.