Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The story behind our carpets at the new Park Hyatt New York

Photo: Ben Schlappig, One Mile at a Time

In August, the media was abuzz with the opening of the Park Hyatt hotel in New York. Eight years in the making, it was intended to be a New York icon. Even so, the vision for the interior design was created by the Toronto firm Yabu Pushelberg (YP) which has been our client for many years.

We started work on this project in May 2009 but the carpets were not installed until August 2014. Through experience, we have become accustomed to the lengthy process attached to carpets in iconic hotels, but we thought it would be interesting for our blog readers to see how a carpet project might extend over five years.

Ana Cunningham was the Creative Matters designer assigned to this project from start to end and here she explains the process.  

How many pieces did you create for the Park Hyatt New York?
There were five rugs in the Glow design (from our Aerial Collection) for the lobby and one custom piece for a lounge named the "Courtyard."

Glow in the lobby at the Park Hyatt New York 
90% wool, 10% silk : 72 oz : hand tufted in a low, tight loop with 30% tip shearing

What were the creative considerations of the spaces?
When we started the design process, Alienor Guilhem - who was at that time based in YP’s Toronto office - had some of the finishes selected. Metal finishes, a sample of the marble floor and some fabrics gave us direction for selecting the colour palettes. She printed out imagery as inspiration for the Courtyard design.

In both locations, we knew we were working with spaces that were fairly neutral, giving the rugs centre stage. With the Courtyard, we were really able to play with the design and include a variety of colours (the rug ended up with 14 colours and 18 blends). With Glow, the organic orbs gave relief to the undulating linework in both the walls and floor.

The custom carpet for the Courtyard at the Park Hyatt New York
90% wool, 10% silk : 72 oz : hand tufted cut pile : 14 colours with 18 blends

How did you and YP eventually decide to use a customized version of Glow?
After the preliminary concepts were complete (we had to reconfigure the Glow pattern for each of the five different sizes), we started asking the mill to supply samples. Only one sample of the Courtyard carpet was required for approval. However, the Glow colouration required many samples before the final colourway was selected. We initially thought the original Glow design in silver would work but the marble floor was much warmer in tone, causing this colourway to look much greener than anticipated. We tried various approaches. Some matched the warm taupe of the floor too closely, causing it to blend in (which was not the desired effect). The final approved custom colourway was on the bluer side grey, with a hint of violet to inject a touch more life.

What were the practical considerations?
When it came to quality of the carpets, we suggested a low tight loop for the Glow design which we knew from experience would stand up to the heavy foot traffic expected in a hotel lobby. For the quieter Courtyard, we recommended a cut pile quality which created a more residential look. 

Detail in the custom carpet for the Courtyard

What influenced your mill selection for this project?
From early on in the project,  we planned to use a mill in Thailand that we have been working with since Creative Matters opened for business 25 years ago. We were confident their handtufted quality would be the best for a busy hotel.

You said you went through many samples – how does that work?
To have a sample made, we need to select colour poms. Because the Glow design requires a very specific tonal transition from one colour to the next, we needed to ensure that none of the areas were too low or too high in contrast. Essentially, if one colour turned out to be incorrect, it would throw the whole design off.

Grey poms

For each sample, we sent an email to the Thai mill specifying the colour by referring to poms from our ARS pom box (the mill has the same box). If the ARS box did not have the appropriate tones, we would have to send custom poms. Our orders always include a quick computer rendering of the sample but what appears on a screen will never be accurate. Poms are the only way to understand the colours we need to achieve. Once the mill completes the sample, it is sent to us via FedEx. Generally it takes four to six weeks to receive a sample but if necessary we can expedite the process.

Once the final sample has been approved, how to you continue to play a role in the production of the carpet?
Once the sample is approved, we prepare the production order and send it to the mill. We tag the sample noting approved colours, quality and techniques such as the 30% tip shearing which adds another level of dimension to the rugs. The mill then completes a CAD (a computer design) where our designs are placed into the required format for production. The CAD is sent to us for final approval prior to commencing. During production, we ask for photos because it’s always useful to see the goods on the loom - a last chance for changes before latex is applied to the back. We also follow the shipping of the carpets to ensure they arrive on time.

The Park Hyatt rugs arrived at our New York warehouse in July 2013 where they were inspected by the client and YP with rave reviews. They remained in storage until shortly before the hotel opened its doors this August. Carpets are generally the last items to go in, once all the other trades are done.

Photo: Ben Schlappig, One Mile at a Time

For budgetary reasons, you often never see your finished work – how does that feel?
True, we don’t all get to see the rugs we worked on in person but for this project I have had the unexpected pleasure of seeing the Glow carpet well displayed in the October issue of Surface Magazine with none other than Mario Testino artfully placed upon it. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our first carpet for a museum

Aga Khan Museum photo on Facebook

A magnificent addition to the Toronto cultural scene opened in September and we are very proud to be part of it. Not only is the Aga Khan Museum the first museum in North America devoted to Islamic art, but it is also the first time Creative Matters has designed a floorcovering for a museum.

Situated at the north end of the city, the museum is part of a $300 million complex that has been eight years in the making. More than 1,000 artifacts from the 8th to 19th centuries are on display. We created the carpet for the Bellerive Room which features a ceramics collection.

Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki chose to use the geometric patterns often seen in mosques throughout the museum. They can be seen in the inlaid floor of the courtyard, etched glass, wood screens and … in the tiled carpet. Creative Matters was invited to join the creative team in January 2014. Interior designers Studio Adrien Gardère from Paris had already decided upon a red tiled carpet for the Bellerive room and asked CMI designer Ana Cunningham to develop the idea into a floorcovering.

The final choice was 36” x 36” tiles in a burnt orange and gold. The tile motif was enhanced by a square within a square. The inner square contains an ornate scroll pattern and the outer square contains what we believe to be the Iris, a symbol of religious freedom, often seen in old Persian rugs.

©Creative Matters
As thousands of people will browse the artifacts every week, the tiles were printed in a hardwearing nylon and manufactured in the U.S. The tiles were made with pad attached and this was adhered to the floor when the carpet was laid in August.

When Ana had the opportunity to inspect her work and admire the stunning architecture at a preview, she said, "I loved how the etched glass and wood screens added another dimension to the space with the reflections and shadows they created. Truly a special project to be a part of.”

©Creative Matters

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Everything you ever wanted to know about red carpets – the carpets that is, not the people on them

Although Creative Matters’ carpets are produced and installed all around the world, we actually design in Toronto, home of North America’s most important film festival.

During the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), way too much attention is paid – in our opinion anyway – to what is happening on the carpet and not to the carpets themselves. In fact, back in 2010, knowing the success of the Festival is dependent on volunteers and sponsorship opportunities, we offered to design and produce all the red carpets at no cost to TIFF. In return, we hoped to add "official supplier of red carpets" to our resume. 

As with any highly successful festival, such offers have to go through a lot of "red tape" and so far, our carpet proposition has not reached fruition. However, we would like to share our thoughts behind the red carpet, so here is our first design and a Q&A with Ana Cunningham who is our Creative Director and the designer working on the project.

Speculative design in 2010 for a TIFF red carpet ©Creative Matters

You created this design four years ago. Obviously styles change. How might you modify it if CMI has the opportunity to supply carpets for TIFF 2015?
The original design created four years ago was a quick concept and most likely would have undergone several iterations and refining prior to production. As for 2015, I think our approach would be much more subtle and sophisticated, while appropriately highlighting the sponsors. Old Hollywood glamour is still on my radar as inspiration, so perhaps a design with a modern deco edge in subtle shades of red would work.

Speculative design in 2014 for a TIFF red carpet
Designed by Leah Phillips, based on the Orchestra design from XXV Collection ©Creative Matters

What influences your design decisions for a red event aisle runner carpet?
The carpet design itself would need to be subtle enough so that it doesn’t clash with the movie stars, while still being a promotional tool for the show and their sponsors. 

The most important question on any well-heeled woman’s mind is surely about the materials required to ensure the highest and pointiest of celebrity stilettos do not get caught?
Our first choice for quality would be nylon goods, especially if we were asked to supply for both indoor and outdoor venues. We would manufacture it in either solution dyed tufted or printed, in the lowest pile possible, so as not to disturb any Louboutin heel which will float across its surface.

And are there materials to avoid so that a dress with a train does not create a static nightmare?
If a nylon carpet is not treated with an anti-static solution, then yes, nylon would be a problem. In this case however, the products we use have all the bells and whistles to stand up to such elements.

Would you have to produce an indoor red carpet and a different outdoor red carpet made from materials that can handle rain?
For a continuous look, we would use the same carpet for both the indoor and outdoor venues. Nylon would stand up to the outdoor elements, for the short amount of time required for these events.

Is there a specific red for movie red carpets - vermillion, scarlet, ruby, crimson, magenta, fire engine red, Ferrari red, cherry …
The official red carpet that we know of, specifically for the Oscars, has a proprietary blend of several red shades. This is to ensure the carpet appears as the appropriate red on a digital screen, which I’d say resembles a scarlet red.

Do dress stylists know what colour to expect and how to coordinate outfits?
Yes, and the red carpet will come into play when stylists select wardrobes for their clientele.

As someone who works with colour every day, which colours would you choose for a red carpet appearance and which would you avoid?
Whenever I watch a red carpet event I just swoon over the pale, crystal studded dresses. The red carpet is a perfect backdrop for these shades - you can see what I mean at this link: 

A colour to be wary of would be certain shades of orange, which could quickly clash with red and look sort of drab.

Are there official dimensions for red carpets?
Typically, if you were to search for a red carpet runner online, they come as 4’ x 20’ however, for an event like TIFF, we would customize to the size required. The carpets can be made in up to a 15’ width and 100’ in length. If a larger or wall-to-wall piece is required, our talented installers use the latest hot-melt bonding tapes to seam the carpet together. Interesting fact - the Oscars use 16,500 square feet of red carpet which takes two days to install!

Outside the entertainment industry, in what situations do designers call for carpets that feature a lot of red?
Traditionally red was very much a prominent colour in handmade rugs due to its
symbolism which varies throughout the history of various cultures. Today, if a designer requests a rug that features a lot of red, one would assume it has been selected to be a focal point in the space. It’s admittedly a little more daring to order a red rug, however, undoubtedly bold to do so.

What are some of the non-entertainment-industry red carpets CMI has designed?
One of my favourites is the dining room in the St. Regis hotel in Mexico City, but if you want to practice walking a long red carpet, the lobby rug at the Gowlings law office in Vancouver is a good one.

Elevator lobby rug at the Gowlings law office in Vancouver
 Designed by Leah Philips and Sylvia Anderson with Group 5 Design ©Creative Matters

In Toronto, there's an interesting piece at Fraser Milner Casgrain - because the red shades are offset by a golden streak, the eye doesn't realize it is looking at what is essentially a red carpet.

Reception area rug at the Fraser Milner Casgrain law office in Toronto
Designed by Ange Yake, Erin DeMille and Daniella Savone with IBI Group, Toronto ©Creative Matters 

We also have a number of designs in our collections that demonstrate both the splendour and the versatility of red shades.

The Rory design in the Aerial Collection
Designed by Ana Cunningham ©Creative Matters

The Scratch design in the Aerial Collection
Designed by Ali McMurter ©Creative Matters

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trade show here we come

Just like fashion designers, we have our custom pieces (haute couture) and our collections (ready-to-wear). However, we don’t walk our carpets down the runway, so trade shows are where we present our collections “in the wool” to current and potential retailers.

We are shortly off to NYICS – the New York International Carpet Show - taking place this year from September 7 – 9. It’s been interesting to see this relatively new fair (10 years) steadily growing. Domotex in Germany and Forza Tappeti in Italy are longer-running and among the ones we have attended regularly during our 25 years in the business.

While a show is always a special time to connect with trusted retailers, friends and trends, two particularly exciting things are happening for us this year. After XX years of introducing collections, this is the first time we will present a collection made with natural dyes. And, it’s also the first time we will host a draw at our booth when, in collaboration with our fair trade endorser Label STEP, we will draw the winner of a stunning (if we say so ourselves) handknotted rug.

The Natural Dye Collection was only set into motion during Carol Sebert’s spring trip to Nepal when she finally discovered a dye master with the requisite skill in natural dyes. Once the design “Percolate” was established, then came the inevitable of  toing and froing with samples in various colourways. We finally settled on five for the launch of the collection but only one of them has made it off the loom in time for the show. Mulberry, which will take pride of place at our booth, thankfully arrived in Toronto last week.

Unlike fashion, our collections are not tied to a particular year and season. While rugs within collections continue to be popular with our retailers, we continue to add designs and colourways.  Consequently, also up front and centre in the booth, will be Drift and Shale, two new designs for the XXV Collection released in 2013. Within that collection, we will also premiere three new colourways of the highly popular Dream design, and a blue version of  much-loved Suspension.

In our Toronto office, Abigail Williams is the chief logistician for trade shows because - in addition to her design work - she also manages CMI’s relationships with retailers. In order to have the new designs in time for the show, she is in constant communication with the different mills. She, more than anyone, breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Shale left Nepal on Monday headed directly to New York via Fedex.

Last week, Abigail was busy was selecting all the rugs she wanted for the show and physically  loading them up on a skid. In New York, she will unload them and make them all pretty with the input of president Carol Sebert who is naturally an essential member of the trade show delegation.

Abigail still has to finalize the details of the draw with Reto Aschwandan who will travel to New York from Label STEP’s headquarters in Switzerland. The rug raffle has an interesting history dating back to our anniversary celebrations last November when many visitors were invited to take part in the design process. From the 60 designs that emerged, six were selected for online voting and “#58” was the design that headed off to Nepal. No doubt, Abigail is looking forward to making the call that tells someone they are the lucky winner of a one-of-kind rug valued at $5,000.

And when business moves from the trade show to somewhere more comfortable, our favourite place to entertain clients in New York is the Soho Grand hotel where many of our rugs can be appreciated in situ. Nothing is more apt than discussing floorcoverings in the bar area while gazing upon a splendid sweep of our woven axminster.

Abigail doesn’t know it yet, but once the trade show business is complete, there’ll be a quick trip to the Park Hyatt. The hotel only opened last week, so it will be the first opportunity to inspect our lobby carpeting. And thinking back to our collections, it’s interesting to note that although the Park Hyatt was a custom project, the designer at Yabu Pushelberg actually chose to use the Glow design from our Aerial collection which was remastered in an exclusive colour combination.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The unbearable perfection of binding

The New York City designer chose the ultimate in simplicity – a one-coloured grey rectangular rug with no pattern. She also chose the ultimate in luxury fibres – 100% silk.

She was only willing to trust the simplicity of the design and the luxury of the fibre to the finest production processes. For this she came to Creative Matters. No detail was to be left unperfected in the painstaking production of this rug. And that included the lesser-documented process of binding.

The easiest, most economical way to finish off the edge of raw carpeting is to sew tape over the edge of a carpet with a high powered sewing machine. Obviously, this was not our vision for the grey silk rug.

The Nepalese artisans to whom we had entrusted the production of the rug, take incredible pride in their work and for them binding is a three-step process.

First, the loose threads from the warp and weft were folded back and encouraged to grip each other tightly with a high quality adhesive. After it had dried, the artisans worked their way around the rug perimeter with a special stitch that anchors the threads securely. Finally, they took the same grey silk thread and closely bound the entire edge with an overcast stitch. 

The stitches may look simple but the ability to anchor the stitch to a weft thread is key. A poorly executed stitch will lead to a tension inconsistency and eventually knots unraveling from the rug. Search Google for rug binding and most of the entries will be from companies who specialize in this oft-needed repair.

This splendid grey silk rug is currently in shipment - we look forward to presenting it in its full splendour shortly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The dyeing process for our first natural dye rug

Following Carol Seberts’s discovery of some incredible natural dyeing expertise in Nepal in March, we are excited to announce our first natural dye collection. We’ll be bringing the first rug to show off at NYICS in September and rolling out the full collection quickly thereafter. And here is a sneak peak at the design of the first rug.

Percolate in mulberry
Designed by Ange Yake ©Creative Matters

The rug itself it is still in the weaving process, but here are some incredible photos of the wool at the dyeing mill. The dyeing stage alone, can take as long as two weeks.

The dyeing process starts with the preparation of the colour. The dye master tests and mixes the natural dyes making up a batch for each colour required in a rug. Tibetan dye masters have acquired a deep knowledge of the natural dyeing materials over many generations but due to the popularity of chemicals dyes, this traditional art came close to being wiped out.

When the dye master has achieved the correct colour, the yarn is placed in the hot dye where it is cooked for shorter or longer periods of time and at higher or lower temperatures, depending on the dye and the shade desired.

Once the dye master is satisfied with the tones the wool has taken on, s/he pulls the steamy bundle from the pot. Over 170 plants have been short-listed for dying use in Nepal, including: indigo, mulberry, saffron, turmeric, rhubarb roots and walnut. Madder root is often used for red hues.

Smaller quantities of wool are dyed in the pot and handled manually. Heavier quantities are loaded onto a spindle which is turned by hand to dip the wool into the dye time and time again.

When natural dyes are handled correctly, even in skeins of yarn not yet woven, the colours are simply beautiful.

Here the dye master in Nepal is showing us in Toronto how the dried wool now matches the colour specified in our design.A dye master - like a good winemaker - must be a chemist and a microbiologist with a working knowledge of botany, geology, meteorology and plant physiology. We’re delighted to have finally found a dye master who can meet the exacting standards of Creative Matters.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our latest discoveries from India and Nepal

By Carol Sebert, Principal

Even though our design hub is based at our head office in Toronto, an equally important part of our work takes place in the countries where our carpets are physically produced. We regularly visit India, Nepal, Thailand and now China to liaise with the skilled artisans who bring our creations to life.  

In March, I was back at the “temporary field offices” in India and Nepal. After 25 years of touring these beautiful but challenging countries, you might think I’d have reached a been-there-seen-that attitude. Actually, the reverse is true – every trip is still full of new discoveries.  Having toured so many production facilities, talked with so many local artisans and developed an ease with the cultural differences, I now experience it all on a much deeper and more detailed level.

Of course, with every trip, I’m looking for new inspiration: something that will really fit for a particular client; something that will take a new carpet trend just one step further; something that will honour fair trade practices even more …

Two important discoveries this year concerned knots. First I came across a mill which can achieve a perfect low tight loop pile. This has always been the domain of the Thai mills, so finding a similar quality in India means we can offer it to our clients at a better price point.

Then – oh joy! – another facility with a particularly extensive (over 100) collection of hand looms and remarkable expertise to go with them, including the Persian knot. Persian rugs aren’t our specialty at Creative Matters, but we see an opportunity here to offer our clients the remarkable quality of this knot in non-Persian designs. FYI, a 9 x 12 (2.75 m x 3.75 m) carpet takes six months of knotting.

The most exciting discovery of the trip was the potential of vegetable dying. I had previously discounted it because I didn't know of a master dyer who could get pretty well any colour under the rainbow but now I do! It's pretty special - talk about eco friendly - and we are thrilled to bring this opportunity to our clients in 2015. The photo shows an example of the range of colours that are produced (by talented hands) with the skin of pomegranates.  

Traditionally the fringe of the rug is left at the colour of the neutral wool used to assemble the warp and weft, so it was interesting to visit with artisans who are perfecting the art of pre-dyeing the warp and the weft to create a variety of blending or contrasting effects.

The art of weaving goes back centuries in these countries and the range and ingenuity of the equipment never ceases to amaze me. Here the weaver is using his foot to work the warp threads – like a pipe organ.

Abrash is a naturally occurring dye variation that creates subtle colour change - or a stronger contrast - within a rug. At Creative Matters we often find that such natural irregularities can add to the charm and authenticity of a hand woven carpet. In this photo, a mill owner was showing me his control of gradations with abrash – it’s useful for our staff to know we have a partner who can control the contrast so skillfully.

No CMI carpet gets to the loom before our designers have carefully examined multiple carpet squares. They arrive almost daily in our Toronto office in sterile-but-reliable Fedex packs, so what a pleasurable change it is to check samples in pure sunshine, under the proud and watchful eyes of the mill owners amid the smells and bustle of daily Indian life.

I work with colour every day but vibrance of colours in Indian street life never fails to astound me.  

Finally, what a joy it is to discover a precious moment like this. It perfectly captures my love of textiles and every little labour-intensive stage of producing hand-woven carpets.