Indian women spinning recycled sari silk yarn

  Graham Head surveying an Aquasilk rug
  Brilliant ideas: patchwork patterns and overdyeing

With radical reworkings of traditional rug designs in dazzling colors like glowing citron, electric violet, and acid green, Graham Head has been transforming the industry. Since 2007, Head, the vice chairman of ABC Carpet & Home, has launched several collections that elevate the rug from functional flooring to one-of-a-kind artwork. There are pieces made of salvaged textiles woven together to create patchwork patterns; rugs woven entirely from vibrant silk threads recycled from saris; and vintage carpets given new life with overdyeing.

Aquasilk, ABC’s newest collection, which launched in September, also boasts painterly rugs with faded patterns and brilliant hues, woven from recycled sari silk but with the softfocus look of a faded mosaic floor. “The whole showroom used to look like vanilla ice cream—all sisals, beige, and cream rugs—because that’s what everybody wanted,” says the charismatic 53-year-old Englishman, surveying stacks of vibrant carpets in ABC’s lofty sixth-floor showroom. “For the first time, color seems to have overtaken people’s emotions.”

Color for a New Consumer
Why the sudden burst of pigment underfoot? Head’s a-ha moment came when house hunting led him to the same kind of shiny, modern apartments springing up all over New York—white boxes with lots of light but not much soul. “I realized that the rugs on the floor and the art on the walls would now be the defining factors that give personality and flavor to these places,” says Head. “People are looking for furnishings that are unique, and when real estate costs what it does these days, don’t you want every piece in your home to be special?”

Head is also seizing on a confluence of generational shifts. Consumers are younger, more sophisticated, and more design-savvy. “They’re prepared for something new and they’ve got the confidence,” says Head, whose 21-year-old daughter recently asked if she could afford an Aquasilk rug. The fact someone her age would be drawn to an item as “boring and old-fogy” as a rug surprised Head, who says it is testament to the product’s artistic and aspirational appeal.

A Change in the Craft
There are also notable changes on the manufacturing side in the traditional carpet-weaving centers of India, Turkey, Nepal, and Pakistan. The children of carpet business owners who choose to join the family business are more educated, global-minded, and Internet-savvy. “Young people coming into the business are looking at rugs in a totally different light,” says Head. “They’ve got young tastes and young talents.”

Head points out that just 15 years ago, weavers were afraid to start a rug without precise instructions. “It was basically color by number,” he says. Now he gives young artisans inspiration and guides them through production while also giving them creative license. “They feel like they’re a partner in the process.”

Head’s next collection, due out this spring, will feature silk rugs with the metallic sheen of gently tarnished silver, copper, and brass, with the overall effect of a faded fresco. His passion and creative momentum at ABC seem unstoppable. Says Head, “We’ve got to provide theater, to provide entertainment. If there’s no theater and no art, you’re just selling a commodity.” 888 Broadway, 212-473-3000

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