When Sara Sugarman and Zak Profera met in the seventh grade, they probably didn't expect to be collaborating on a high-end rug collection years later. As high-schoolers, they snuck into bars together, but as grown-ups, they've found a different kind of bond — one based on a shared appreciation for design and craftsmanship. Over the past year, they've worked together on a new collection for Sara's family business, Decorative Carpets. The pair grew up in Los Angeles, but Zak now lives and works in New York. "Sara and I have been friends since childhood and have always been a part of each others' lives," Zak says. "When we were in high school, I'd actually park my car in Decorative's parking lot late at night when I was sneaking into The Abbey up the street on Robertson. I was always dragging Sara with me, of course. It's really funny to see this come full circle, especially since I live in New York now."
"He was always 'the creative one,'" she says. "There has always been a bit of a playful element in all of his work and you can definitely see that in the Mar a Mar collection. In our adult lives we really bonded over our shared interest in interior design; I think it was a natural progression."
"The name Mar a Mar means "Sea to Sea" and is a bit of a wink to the fact that Zak and I worked together from both coasts, LA and NY," Sara says. " I would fly to NY and we would stay up late pouring over color poms. He would fly to LA and we would look at quality and construction together. I think the color story and aesthetic of the line stemmed from what we thought would appeal to audiences on both coasts."
"We both agreed that we wanted something wildly fun and modern but definitely wanted to keep it rooted in tradition," Zak adds. "We looked at head-spinning, insane, endless amounts of Indian embroidery and Moroccan tile work and tried to reinterpret these very common motifs in a new light. I designed Layla to throw a tribal-influenced rug into the mix but wasn't sure how it would translate once woven since it is the most organic of all the designs. These things take on a completely new life when they are woven and tangible in your hands. Without a doubt, it's my absolute favorite."
"I named everything after the designs were complete," he says. "I don't like when a name feels totally distant from a design, so everything has a direct meaning to the actual composition. 'Ziz' is named after a river in Morocco — I thought of the design as a river weaving through a landscape. 'Martil' is named after the seaside town in Tangier. I basically dreamt about running away to a sleepy surfing village on the coast of North Africa and took that idea as inspiration for all of the names."
While Zak's background is in fine art and design, Sara's is in business. Decorative Carpets was founded in 1955 by her grandfather, Lou Sugarman, and it's been a family company ever since. "My grandfather moved to Los Angeles from Chicago after the war and got a job running the carpet department in a furniture store," Sara says. "He recognized a need for carpets and rugs tailored specifically to the design trade and understood that designers wanted more artistic expression in that medium."
"I officially joined the family business two-and-a-half years ago, but really I’ve been working at Decorative my whole life. When I was a kid, I would sit in the art department and paint my own rug designs. As I got older, I was always at the showroom during summers answering the phones, filing, organizing color poms. My grandfather and father never pushed me to come into the family business, but I think they wanted me to continue the legacy they created."
When Sara joined the company, she brought a fresh perspective on designer collaborations and marketing, having worked in publishing before re-joining Decorative. "My passion was in publishing and editorial," she explains, "and I moved to New York and got a job working for Gayle King at O, The Oprah Magazine. I joined Decorative with a strong marketing perspective and commitment I would have never had if I had gone straight from college into the family business."
Zak adds, "Decorative has always been a thriving business but it has taken on a whole new direction since Sara has jumped aboard. She's brought a new life to the showroom and to the brand and has a crystal-clear vision of what she wants it to be. It's family-run and very much still feels that way; the entire team is truly part of the family. (I'm not just saying that.)"
Sara says she spends every day working with her dad, "which I realize some people might not see as an advantage. I’m lucky that my dad has the faith and confidence in me to allow me to make some changes. Naturally I have the challenge of preserving what was created here before — I have big shoes to fill — at the same time, I'm able to strategize and guide the business in a new direction."
"The biggest challenge is really making a 56-year-old company current," she says, "and elevating what already is a great brand. We are very selective about the designers we work with and don’t want to become a company with tons of designer lines. We select designers we like and who we think offer something new and different to the mix."
"This spring we launched a collection with Commune Design, an extremely talented design firm in Los Angeles. For their first rug collection, they created a beautiful line of hand-knotted rugs in textural, organic patterns."
"We have a precise talent when it comes to custom rugs," Sara says, "We can translate a designer’s vision into a one-of-a-kind floor covering and we’re known for our hand-tufted carpeting. Fifty-plus years of experience has primed us to be experts in construction and fibers and we’re able to push the limits of what could traditionally be achieved. We own our factory in Thailand, which is a rarity, and have a smart design staff and impeccable quality control measures. We visit our factory regularly and treat all of our employees fairly."
Zak appreciates the sense of mission and focus that Sara and Decorative Carpets have brought to his work. "Working with Sara has been fantastic because she is someone who can reel me in." he says. "I'm the creative type that gets inspired if I see something shiny out of the corner of my eye so I have to produce and produce (and overproduce) and then edit down from there. I probably put together over 25 designs for this season's Mar a Mar collection and then cut that down to ten designs in varying colors."
The two plan to continue their collaboration on an upcoming line. "I just wrapped up a modern tribal collection for Decorative which will be totally hand-knotted in gorgeous combinations of hemp, silk and wool," Zak says, "and Sara and I are finalizing the last details of the next Mar a Mar collection for 2012. I was in Spain a while back and wanted to bring some Moorish elements into the mix for this next batch. We're going to introduce an entirely new color palette too, something a bit more tame (but never boring)."
"I'm also working on my own textile line right now called zak + fox (www.zakandfox.com) and am planning to launch it at the end of this year. It's a totally different aesthetic than Mar a Mar, definitely more personal, quieter. It will have its big moments too, though. I'm trying to refrain from using the word 'global' to describe the line since it's used so often so I'll refer to it as 'zen-eclectic' until I figure out a better phrase! But really, it's fairly 'globally' influenced. I can't help it."
Thanks, Zak and Sara!
Decorative Carpets' Los Angeles Showroom is located at 8900 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, California, ph 310.859.6333. They also have a location in San Francisco at 550 15th Street, Showplace Square West, #30, ph 415.503.1848. For more information, visit DecorativeCarpets.com.
Images: Courtesy of Zak Profera and Decorative Carpets