Rugs that go for bold in Eagle County |

Rugs that go for bold in Eagle County

Jura Koncius
L.A. Times/Washington Post News Service
Tom McCavera/Washington PostEmma Gardner is a rug designer with inventive designs and vibrant colors. Chinese River incorporates butterflies, leaves, spirals and flowers. The colors were inspired by a Japanese kimono.

The designers of the luxury suites at the new Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George’s County, Md., decided to design rooms around bold, modern rugs so arresting that guests would remember them and mention them to their friends.

They found just what they were looking for at the Connecticut studio of Emma Gardner, a rug designer whose inventive designs and vibrant colors have been featured in the pages of Elle Decor and Dwell magazines and at stylish restaurants and boutique hotels. Next month, when the 2,000-room hotel opens at the National Harbor development, Gardner’s hand-woven rugs will have a starring role in three of the suites.

“Her rugs are so new and fresh and hip, they were perfect for these very bold, one-of-a-kind suites,” says Foreman Rogers, one of the designers who worked on the eight “concept” suites. Gardner says her design philosophy is simple: Stay away from trends and go with your own creative impulses. “I just design what I’m passionate about,” she says.

A rug can function as a backdrop for a room or step forward almost like a painting, says Gardner, 41, who has long been drawn to color and decoration. Although not formally trained as an artist while growing up in Japan, Connecticut and New York City, she always had a creative impulse, she says. “Even when I was drawing princesses, I was more interested in the patterns on their dresses than anything else.”

She took classes in painting, drawing and textile design while pursuing a career as an editor of several online magazines for Conde Nast and In 2002, she and her husband, Patrick McDarrah, who worked in international film sales and distribution, found themselves between jobs and decided to sell their apartment in Brooklyn and move to Litchfield, Conn., to pursue Emma’s dream of designing rugs.

They hooked up with Rugmark Foundation, a global nonprofit group, to find mills that pledge not to use child labor. Gardner’s Tibetan-style hand-knotted rugs of silk or wool are produced in Nepal; Indian mills produce the hand-tufted designs of New Zealand wool.

After launching Emma Gardner Design, the young couple and their 14-month-old daughter set off on a cross-country tour in a Subaru with a roof rack packed with sample rug designs. Six weeks later, Emma Gardner rugs had representation in to-the-trade showrooms in eight major American markets. “We had this attitude: Things just would fall into place,” Gardner says. “It was amazing.”

The motifs in Gardner’s work reflect her interests in Asian art, travel and patterns from nature, from rubber-tree leaves to bones. She is also known for her unique color combinations: One version of her Curio design features chocolate, red, spicy orange, gray and butter rectangles; Flowers on Water layers giant periwinkle and violet flowers on a charcoal background. She creates three to five designs a year and, in addition to rugs, she designs alpaca and wool throws made in Peru, as well as pillows. Gardner’s line is sold to the design trade through showrooms such as Arbiter at the Washington Design Center and through a handful of design shops, including Contemporaria in Georgetown. Prices range from $50 to $150 per square foot, $2,700 to $8,100 for a 6-by-9-foot rug.

We caught up with her by telephone at her office in Connecticut.

Q. Where do you get your ideas?

A. I often happen upon a color combination in an unusual way. I did a rug last year called Color Slick. We had gone to Europe with the kids on a scouting trip and went to Castle Howard in England. They have peacocks roaming all over and I was struck by how incredible the colors were. I was also thinking about the look of when oil spills on the ground at a gas station, a shimmery liquid quality. Both were iridescent and very beautiful colors, and both images came together in the design for the rug.

Q. Some say if you have no idea where to begin decorating a room, start with the rug. Do you think that is good advice?

A. More and more people are using rugs as a foundation piece, as opposed to an accessory. There is a strong case to be made for that. Generally speaking, people fall in love with a rug ” the color or the design ” so that kind of passion is a good place to start. If you choose one thing you love, it can serve as the anchor for the room. Then you can be more neutral with your furniture.

Q. What’s the difference between decorating around traditional Oriental rugs vs. contemporary designs?

A. My advice would be the same for both kinds of rugs: Go with what you love. You should work with the colors in the rugs to create the room. You can mix both kinds of rugs in a house, not ONLY Orientals or ONLY contemporary. Sometimes things look too stuffy if they are too matched or too perfect.

Q. What’s the best way to arrange furniture: on an area rug or around it?

A. It depends how you want the room to feel. Sometimes a large rug with furniture half on and half off can unify the room. It’s as if everything is floating on an island together. This approach may give the room a cozier feel. Some people are loath to cover up any of the rug: They use glass-top coffee tables and put furniture only up to the edge of the rug. They are making a statement that this is the focal point of the room.

Q. Can you explain the importance of knot count in determining rug quality?

A. We generally do 80 or 100 knots per square inch. You can do up to 150. The higher the knot count, the thinner the ply of the material, whether silk or wool. With a higher knot count, you can render designs more crisply. The lower the knot count, the chunkier the design turns out to be and the chunkier the feel underfoot, because you usually do a higher pile height with a lower count.

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User