As the movers and shakers of the handmade rug industry, the interior design trade plays a pivotal role in shaping the end consumers’ purchasing decisions. After focusing on the greenness of the handweaving process from the manufacturers’ standpoint (See “Special Green Report—Handmade Rugs—The Original Green Floor Coverings,” ARTES (Oct. 13, 2009), this article takes a hard look at what the country’s most reputed and green-attuned designers and other members of the design community are thinking. Do they view handmade rugs as an eco-friendly floor covering as compared to machine-made?
For many members of the interior design trade, any interest in a handmade rug’s eco-friendly attributes is clouded by the challenge in finding the esthetically perfect rug for the project. Explains Carl D’Aquino of D’Aquino Monaco, a premier Manhattan-based and internationally reputed design firm: “It’s so hard to find the right texture, colors, and patterns that adding the green parameter makes it even more difficult.” Continues the award-winning Jamie Drake of Drake Design Associate: “I’m aware of handmade rugs as being greener relative to their machine-made alternatives. However, at the end of the day, the green aspect is more of a bonus in addition to a rug’s quality and esthetics.”
Why is the design trade’s awareness of the greenness of handmade rugs so limited? For one thing, green floor coverings are not yet the primary concern for a majority of clients. “If residential clients were educated, it might help,” states award-winning and LEED2-accredited professional (AP) designer Clifford Tuttle of ForrestPerkins with offices in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Dallas. “However, in the hospitality sector, the demands and constraints are such that handmade rugs, however ecologically desirable, are not viable.”
In residential projects, Washington, DC interior designer and environmental design consultant Alejandra Dunphy of A/D Studio, Atlanta, GA, who also manufactures handmade rugs in South America states that clients’ understanding of rugs’ greenness “depends on how much you educate your clientele on the eco-friendly attributes of the rug production process.” Ideally, adds Ms. Drysdale: “Good designers are thoughtful people who educate their clients on the consequences of their decisions.”
In many cases, allergies to machine-made rugs have triggered designer awareness of the greenness of their handmade counterparts. Ms. Drysdale’s pulmonary reaction to the “toxic” off-gasing in her wall-to-wall carpeting was such that she could not move into her new home until it was removed. “Thanks to my little health problem, I became aware of carpeting’s toxic load and what it can do to us which most of us don’t realize.” From this unfortunate physical reaction was born an avowed passion for handmade oriental and decorative rugs and for their eco-friendly benefits.
Those lucky few designers who have had the opportunity of traveling to the countries of origin and observed the hand weaving process first hand have fully grasped handmade rugs’ sustainable attributes. When in Egypt, internationally acclaimed New York-based designer Michael LaRocca of Michael R. LaRocca, Inc. discovered the fascinating process of hand dyeing wool and concluded that handmade rugs were far more desirable from a green standpoint than their machine-made alternatives. Early exposure to weavers in her native Ireland and travel to looms in Armenia and Nepal have made Clodagh passionate about handmade rugs’ greenness. “Oriental rugs are produced using human energy which is renewable,” states the legendary internationally known designer who has made sustainability her mantra. The handmade rug production process—from the spinning to the actual weaving—is part of “an energy circle that creates a win-win situation for all” which has a positive and humanizing effect on the craftsmen. Indeed, she notes: “Despite their poverty, they were singing while they were working!”
Clodagh is among the few designers who have expressed a true avocation for things green before it became trendy. “I was green long before the term even existed!” she exclaims. However, for a vast majority of interior designers, education will be key to their awareness of handmade rugs’ greenness. Is the rug industry responding to this educational need? The designers interviewed for this article responded with a resounding “no” and voiced the need for immediate action. States Mr. LaRocca: “It’s the moral responsibility of the [rug] industry to take the bull by the horns and educate people on the handmade alternatives in floor coverings.” Advertising, public relations, direct mail campaigns, and educational seminars offered by handmade rug vendors are among the key measures designers endorse. Moreover, Mr. Tuttle suggests that the handmade rug industry develop a type of green certification program3 as has been done by the Carpet and Rug Institute for machine-made carpeting.
Meanwhile, there are opportunities through the design industry for educating its members and ultimately the end user. ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) Deputy Executive Director Thom Banks in Washington, DC has been involved in the creation of the Regreen Program (www.regreenprogram.org), a partnership between the ASID and the U.S. Green Building Council whose goal is to develop the best practice guidelines toward the implementation of sustainable building and design projects. While their guidelines do mention the desirability of area rugs versus wall-to-wall carpeting, Mr. Banks feels there is a vital need for an additional educational program delineating the attributes of the various handmade products versus the machine-made. Meanwhile, Ms. Stelmack mentions initiatives such as the architectural 2030 Challenge—the global undertaking designed to transform the U.S. and global building sectors into becoming carbon neutral by 2030—as being key to raising awareness of handmade rugs’ green properties. Most critical, she remarks, is the Council for Interior Design Accreditation’s recent policy change dictating that interior design schools’ curriculum will soon have to include courses on sustainable design in order to remain accredited. Hence, the new generation of interior designers entering the workforce will be all ears for the green attributes of oriental and decorative rugs. “Manufacturers in the handmade rug industry will need to properly educate interior designers-it’s a matter of survival!” insists Ms. Stelmack.
However, many designers believe that no matter how educated clients may become, they will still resist waiting six months to a year for custom wall-to-wall handwoven goods. According to Mr. LaRocca, this creates a problem in Manhattan buildings for instance which dictate that most floors be covered for noise. Installing sisal while you wait is a solution this designer has resorted in these situations or with impatient clients. Other designers point out that not all clients have the budget—particularly in these lean times—for handmade rugs and opt for the cheaper and faster machine-made alternative. However, these obstacles do not deter Clodagh who is convinced that people will listen if properly educated. In effect: “It’s simply a question of good planning and organization. If you order the rugs at the beginning of the project, they will come in on time!”
While still in early days, consumer awareness of things green is growing. Judy Swann of Green Interior Consultants (ASID, LEED AP) of Westport, CT, who advises the interior design trade on implementing green design, has seen the tide shift in the sustainable direction. “Up until last year, most designers would say ‘go away’ to me,” she notes. “People are starting now to ask questions on what’s sustainable,” adds Mr. Tuttle. “Ten years from now, this new awareness should enhance the growth of the handmade rug industry.” Indeed, concludes Mr. Drake: “Many residential clients will be demanding these sustainable products.”
1 Foster, Kari, Stelmack, Annette, and Hindman, Debbie, Sustainable Residential Interiors. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley (2007).
2 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Green Building Rating System, a certification program and nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.
3 The Oriental Rug Importers Association (ORIA) is currently developing a green certification program. Details will be announced in 2009.
Photography by Blaise Wayward