Art of Carpet Making through a Designer’s Eyes

By Clare Tatterall

Carpet is one of the most popular flooring materials in commercial settings because of its comfort, ability to stand up to foot traffic, and effectiveness in absorbing and improving sound, especially in an open-plan layout. The ever-increasing range of available carpet colours, patterns and textures also allows for great flexibility in design. Carpet isn’t just used as a neutral backdrop to room furnishings; it’s often chosen to add interest and dimension to a space and, in some instances, even serves as the focal point.

The possibilities for this soft surface floor covering are endless. Coverings wanted to get into the head of someone who has been designing this textile for years and looked no further than Interface’s Kari Pei. As vice-president of global product design, Pei has been bringing the brand’s visions to life since 2015. Here, she walks us through the production process, from initial inspiration to actual carpet on the floor.

What are the steps involved in carpet creation?
There are many beginnings to the creation of a collection or even just one carpet. Sometimes it is from a brief. Others, it is from a desire to challenge the machine. Occasionally, it is simply a unique idea that comes to mind.

Once the concept is formed, no matter how it started, we draw it out either in Photoshop or a specific application for carpet manufacturing. We take that design through a series of programs to determine thread-up, shifts and pile heights, apply various yarn colours and simulate the installation to inform final designs and format.

We then move to ordering samples and trials from our ‘zero run plant,’ which acts as a laboratory for designers to assign final pile heights, stitch rates and shifts.

We continue to run trials to refine contrast levels and review the entire colour line. This is both an exercise to make certain the products can be reproduced efficiently and consistently, as well as to develop the final trials that are then evaluated and tested by a large group of stakeholders: product design, product development, manufacturing, custom design, field services and marketing. Assuming that aesthetic, performance, install and sustainability standards are met, the product/collection is ready to be introduced to the world of commerce.

How long does the entire process take?
This varies by the size and scope of the collection or product. The process for a single product can happen fairly quickly — six months — compared to a more extensive collection, which takes approximately one and a half years.

Where do you find your inspiration?
The places I am usually inspired by are art galleries, nature, fashion and also engineering unique constructions at the machines.

What influences your decision-making when developing a new product?
Typically, I focus on three key questions, asked in two different ways: Is it beautiful or does it make a person have an emotional reaction? Is it commercially viable or is there a place in the market for it? Is it innovative or does it have a reason for being?

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a product designer?
For commercial spaces, it’s important to offer beautiful products at a competitive price. Ensuring that we meet this need is critical and always challenging.

What are the top carpet trends for 2021?
This year, we’re seeing that colours are either soft and calming or happy and optimistic. We continue to notice more texture and contrasting textures. Nature-inspired patterns are very prevalent, showing natural elements integrating with geometry is a fresh approach to products with intelligence.

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