Interior designer Kelly Wearstler has had a career trajectory likely only possible in her adopted hometown of Los Angeles. Starting out in the early nineties, she was a waitress turned Playboy centrefold turned interior designer to the stars: her modelling money helped launch her studio; her glitzy clients include Gwen Stefani and Cameron Diaz.
Now Wearstler runs a global lifestyle brand: She has her own fashion, jewellery and furniture lines, and has written four books, each documenting the kind of maximalist, explosively colourful interiors that have helped make her famous. She also creates carpets for the Rug Company, a renowned London-based tapestry manufacturer run by Christopher Sharp. He’s never been in Playboy, but has collaborated on floor coverings with many of the world’s top designers, including Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen.
Sharp and Wearstler were in Toronto recently to promote her collection (it’s available in Canada exclusively through Avenue Road). We caught up with both of them to talk about animals, graffiti and what cuts a great rug.
One of your rugs is called the Serpent rug, and has snakes spiralling across it. Tell me about it.
Wearstler: I love animals, all animals – even snakes. It’s just a sexy carpet because it has great movement. And people love animal prints. It’s a different take on that.
Two of your rugs – Graffito and Zephyr – were inspired by graffiti. How does street art play into a luxury rug line?
Wearstler: One of my friends recently said the perfect thing: Rich people want to look poor, and poor people want to look rich.
Sharp: That’s so true. Particularly in L.A. We always say at the showroom in L.A., the scruffier the people look, the richer they are. The ones who come up suited and booted – no.
Wearstler: And for me personally, there’s a street in San Francisco that’s a quarter-mile long and it’s all graffiti. I’ve always been very drawn to it. And when I was decorating our house, which is a very traditional 1926 Georgian house, I wanted to give it a new spirit. So I did a graffiti wallpaper in the stair and vestibule. That was inspiration for the rugs.
The Rug Company is famous for its collaborations with renowned designers. How do you balance their unique aesthetics with the look of your brand?
Sharp: I am really ruthless about it. Literally, my biggest job is constraining their enthusiasms. Because each rug is handmade, and takes four months to make, I want curated, great stuff.
Do you often paint out your ideas?
Wearstler: We’re painting all the time in the studio. I put a paintbrush in everyone’s hand – regardless if they are working on the fashion or architecture or jewellery side of things. I mean, we’re not painting all day – I wish – but it makes cool things happen.
These rugs are almost art. Why does it make sense to tread on something so refined?
Sharp: I think the first thing is, because all our rugs are made by hand, they are just about indestructible. So the actual construction, and the materials, are not precious. They just look precious.
Wearstler: And people wear art. If you think of great fashion design, it’s art that people wear. Might as well walk on it.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, March 13, 2014.