This month's meetup started off with three Pratt students sharing their chair designs from Pratt Institute's
summer study abroad program in Copenhagen.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: I started Apartment Therapy because I love design, and very early in my career I became acquainted with a store that most clients and the design community are enamored by — ABC Carpet & Home. As you ride to the top of the escalator on the rug side, you are greeted by many traditional woven rugs, yet twelve years ago, a little side display popped up. It showed cotton rugs of various sizes that looked modern, fun, and affordable. It was called the Amagansett Collection, evoking a light and airy feel, and was very different than any of the other rugs in the store. Twelve years later, this little collection has grown to a full-grown company — Madeline Weinrib Atelier. It includes a full line of carpets, textiles, clothing, and starting this year, a wallpaper collection. You're the granddaughter of ABC Carpet & Home's founder, Max Weinrib, but early on you felt that you didn't want to be part of the family business.
MADELINE WEINRIB: Right, I taught at SUNY, after studying Fine Arts at Parsons in Paris.
MAXWELL: Were you just looking for something different than what you grew up with?
MADELINE: Actually, I just wanted to paint. I wasn't really thinking about the family business, and definitely not as an option at the time. In Paris we painted on campus, in the streets — we painted everywhere — it was an amazing experience.
MAXWELL: And then eventually you came back and were asked to be represented by the gallery?
MADELINE: Yes, I was asked to put together a collection, but initially I wasn't interested. Then one day I saw a beautiful window display of Tibetan carpets — their colors and patterns &mdash and was inspired. It was tough to break into the rug floor at ABC, though &mdash the men were a bit patronizing (traditionally a male-dominated department). At first I didn't want to part too much with my painting imagery. I was exposed to many images and ideas during travels, and wanted to remain open to embracing new images. I felt rugs could be an interesting challenge, if I could make them my own. With painting, it's a self-contained work &mdash you don't have to think about other objects in the room and how they'll interact with the work. It was a very different way for me to think about creating a piece.
MAXWELL: Sounds like it was a bit constricting?
MADELINE: It makes you think with "borders". Working in rugs allows me to open up in a new way. Confinements can actually help with the creative process.
MAXWELL: And at first you didn't find rugs interesting, correct?
MADELINE: I grew up in a home filled with carpets. I found them dull, boring, and typical — maybe it was just the world I was used to, but after a while I stopped seeing them. I was a bit of an art snob — I looked down on the decorative arts, as most of my art friends did. I wanted to be a "serious" artist and didn't see this as a possible route. "Decorative Arts" was a dirty word. Yet once I embraced it I felt different. In fact, it opened up a whole new world for me since so many others were looking down on it.
MAXWELL: You felt that rugs "weren't fun," and were "very busy" — you wanted to strip them down.
MADELINE: Yes, with the ZigZag rug, one of my first pieces, my thought was to layer it — a smaller rug on a bigger rug (hot pink on stripes). This is how the showroom displays my rugs and how you probably saw them in ABC Carpet that first time.
MADELINE: I still paint. In fact, I did this one about six months ago. With carpets, I hope to use similar imagery.
MADELINE: This is craft paper with charcoal, deeply layered. You can see how this rug was inspired by my drawing.
MADELINE: This was in a Chinese carpet I saw in Nepal. I thought about taking one element of the carpet and using it around the rug. I took away the border and used pops of color. In painting I strive to represent my own, unique voice while remaining timeless. I strive for the same in my rugs — overall this is a very important element of art and design.
MAXWELL: So no border — yes, this is unique, as most rugs have one, and painting doesn't.
MADELINE: Exactly, it's a very different perspective and way of creating than I was originally used to.
MADELINE: Again, a simplified version of the pattern, with bold colors. Overall, I want my work to represent myself and my vision.
MAXWELL: When did you know that people liked it?
MADELINE: I didn't use my own name at first, so it wouldn't conflict with my painting. The Amagansett Collection, my first, was a name that I felt represented beauty, yet was at an attainable price point. It was really a creative decision, though, not a business decision.
MADELINE: These were inspired by old images I found in textbooks.
MADELINE: This is an off-seam rug — it has an unexpected break. If you look, you'll see that it is very similar to the earlier craft paper and charcoal drawing I made.
MADELINE: This shows the steps in getting to a design. On the left is the most traditional, and the first step. The middle image shows the next step, where I asked them for a black and white version (of course, they thought I was crazy — black and white isn't so popular there). In the final step I asked them to remove the vines. Sometimes I take suggestions from weavers throughout this process — this full cycle takes about one year.
MADELINE: Inspired by Suzani weaving.
MADELINE: This is one of my newest designs, where we have the ink dripping slightly from the zig zag.
MADELINE: This is one of our newest products — wallpaper. It is a marriage between the decorative arts and my work as a painter. The design is hand-drawn but I needed to find a printer who would be able to capture that hand-made quality.
MADELINE: They build schools and provide education to children who may otherwise not be able to get it. They also provide bikes, as many of these children travel a long distance to get to the school. They also provide breakfast, lunch, and medical care. I'm proud to be working with them.
Q & A
Q: You've traveled all over the world for your influences. Where do you plan on going next?
MADELINE: I'm almost afraid to say where (for fear of being followed by the knock-offs!). But I can say that the dripping of patterns is my new thing. Beyond that, I'm not sure just yet.
Q: Who are some other rug designers that are influential to you?
MADELINE: Judy Ross (who's here tonight) has wonderfully fresh textiles. I also love the Paul Smith stripe.
Q: Are your rugs all woven? Printed?
MADELINE:All of my rugs are woven.
Q: Do you use all vegetable dyes?
MADELINE: I use vegetable where possible, but you can only get to the truly rich colors with chemical colors.
MAXWELL: Chemicals set black?
MADELINE: Yes. This is why you don't see it in traditional weaves, it wasn't attainable with vegetable dyes.
MAXWELL: What about Indian rugs?
MADELINE: Yes, those are organic. Some are 100% (or close). I made two in Turkey using Ottoman-inspired colors, like Aubergine. You can't get that color with vegetable (organic) dyes.
Q: Do you still feel like you are close to the origins of your work?
MADELINE:I do. It is important to have work grounded in historical context. It's reworking history, but it's important to know the influence of a work.
Q: I noticed a lot of the designs could be made giant? Or patterns are pulled from a small part of a larger design?
MADELINE: Yes, I like playing with scale, and borders. It's very expensive in a woven product, though, and you have to be very specific with your decisions. You can't have multiple colorways of a rug, it's too expensive. My choices have to be exact and purposeful.
Q: How involved are you in the rest of ABC Carpet?
MADELINE: Not at all. I felt at the beginning that it was important to keep my work on its own. I don't put my rugs on sale, which is a common practice at ABC. My father wanted to put my rugs on sale the first week of opening my business! It's just not the way I want to offer my product.
MAXWELL: Let's talk more about the business of rugs. After all, you run a business — what have you learned?
MADELINE: I've read a lot about negotiating. I find that to be one of the most needed skills in running a business. From weavers, to my customers, to my staff. It's a consistent give-and-take, which I find fascinating — you don't learn this when working as a painter, alone in your studio.
Q: There is often a point where you have to decide on your accessibility by the masses. Do you see yourself becoming more mainstream?
MADELINE: I feel a lot of conflict around this issue. I love handmade, but I want to grow the business. I'm constantly thinking about ways to do this — for example, going with cotton versus wool, which is inordinately more expensive. It's tough that so many knock-offs are surfacing, though — it's painful. People don't realize how many years go into making and developing a design.
MAXWELL: It's a cheapening of your designs. Yet you want to be accessible. How can you reconcile this?
MADELINE: It's very problematic. There is one company in particular that keeps knocking-off my designs. I actually contacted them to see if we can work together, but I was pretty much ignored. I have fifteen people on staff. I need to pay them every week, as do the big guys. So I get it. I don't want to be just a business, though, I want to remain an artist and keep up the artistic effort. So it's a constant struggle.
MAXWELL: Are there any artists out there who have grown their business in a way that you admire?
MADELINE: Philippe Starck. Michael Graves — his Target line is great. It's the melding of good design with mass accessibility, without sacrificing the original intention of the product.
Q: Do you have a prototype process? If so, what is it?
MADELINE: It's all done in small quantities, and it takes a long time. It could be eight months from design to weave. It's an average of two years for the full cycle (iteration to final product). Then the big guys come in and do it in two months. I'm doing a new project with the Neue Gallery here in Manhattan, a kimono based on wiener werkstatte principles. The director was just saying the other day that he can't believe how long we've been working on it — the design process takes a long time.
Q: How long did you work in rugs only before expanding the line?
MADELINE: About six years. Then I met people looking to resurrect Ikat textiles and I jumped all over it. At the time it was a small project where we experimented with the design. Ikat was traditionally made as one-off originals. The weavers have had to learn how to duplicate, be consistent in colors roll-to-roll — it's been a long process. But a wonderful one.
Finally, congratulations to the evening's winner of two of Madeline's beautiful pillows from Uzbekistan!
• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteer, Lisa Hunt!
• Special thanks to Knoll for welcoming our Meetup to their showroom!
• Special thanks to our wine sponsor, September Wine & Spirits!
Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, Herma Ryan, Madeline Weinrib