June 1, 2006
Already famous for its bold patterns, the Rug Company is forging unconventional partnerships with product designers.
As they set out to revolutionize the rug industry, Christopher and Suzanne Sharp didn’t have product designers in mind. When the couple left Riyadh in 1989 after traveling in the Middle East for a number of years, friends in Saudi Arabia enthusiastically bought up their superb collection of tribal rugs. Christopher, then a producer of documentary films, and Suzanne, a souk shop hound, had established extensive contacts among merchants and rug workshops. They moved to Malta and opened a general furnishings design shop, but it was their rug knowledge that was special. “The rug trade had such a dodgy reputation.” Christopher says. “We decided to change that completely with superior expertise, service, and fixed prices.”
The Sharps launched the Rug Company in London in 1997 according to those same reformist principles. (They have since opened showrooms in New York and Los Angeles, with franchised dealers in Oslo and Barcelona.) The company still markets vintage Armenian, Berber, Persian, and Turkish carpets, but current business consists mainly of unique modern rugs designed by Westerners and executed by traditional craftspeople. Evolving from a period when they produced just their own designs, the couple’s Designer Collection features collaborations with fashion designers like Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood. Last year they began forging more unusual partnerships with product designers including Ron Arad, Rodolfo Dordoni, Barber Osgerby, and most recently, Committee.
In the central hall of the Sharps’ large North Kensington house, where they live with their four children, one of Suzanne’s rugs sits next to others by Smith and Westwood, all gleaming with hand-spun wool whose colors vary line by line. The Rug Company’s products are entirely hand-knotted in India, Turkey, China, or Nepal, and their most popular size—about 9 feet by 12 feet—corresponds to that of a rug loom. Not large, they are like short stories by masters telling a well-designed tale. Their prices, with an average of about $8,000, seem fair in relation to their executed value. It’s a craft-intensive operation.
“You have to be a bit more relaxed with this kind of process,” says Edward Barber, one of the partners of Barber Osgerby. “If you are dealing with an injection-molded plastic product, you know exactly what it will look like when it comes out.” Barber believes that the change is productive. “It’s quite interesting when people from one field design for a completely separate field. Because their mind-set is not geared to that, you get strange things happening.”
For Committee—led by married product designers Harry Richardson and Clare Page—Christopher and Suzanne are the key to the success of these collaborations. “They are passionate about quality,” Richardson says. “They are also supportive and committed to what we come up with. And the textile colors are tremendous. You don’t see this anywhere else.”