The oldest known piece of carpet was found in Siberia in 1949 and dates from the 4th century BC. It was discovered perfectly preserved under a layer of ice and the colours and incredibly intricate weaving can still be clearly seen. Of course it was made by hand so its creator was able to use as many colours and threads as he (presumably it was a he) wished. Modern day carpets have tended to stick to around 16 as that is the easiest number for a loom to handle.
Until now. Cue dramatic music. Brintons, which was founded in 1783 and which has carpeted both Buckingham Palace and Balmoral, now has a high definition HD loom that can weave up to 32 colours at once. This allows for a photorealistic finish with three-dimensional definition and means that one day we might all be able to have rugs made from our favourite photographs.
Technically that is possible already, but it would be prohibitively expensive to produce these one off designs so it’s not out there yet. As many of you will know, Brintons, who pioneered the mix of 80 per cent wool and 20 per cent nylon which is what most of us use, have already used this high definition technique in their collaboration with the Glasgow design company Timorous Beasties, whose butterfly rug can be seen in the image above in The Mad House.
Despite not classing myself as a flowers and butterflies kind of girl I adore this carpet. As does The Mad Husband although he appears to be an oddity. Whenever I suggest this rug to clients (and I do, often) the woman all adore it and the men all suddenly go deaf. I’m sorry to stereotype but there it is. Be braver boys. In this dark colourway it’s not all girls and wussy. Mind you, you can see a swatch of it photographed in the Mad bedroom as well and it’s not all fussy there either.
I saw an amazing example of this technique at the recent Clerkenwell Design week, where Brintons showcased the rug above which was created from a photograph of a sunset. It’s an incredible piece and this photo doesn’t really do it justice but if I tell you that although it looks fairly monochrome, it does indeed use all 32 colours available on the loom then you can perhaps understand some of the detail involved. It’s the machine version of that ancient 2,000 year-old rug with all the variations of colour and detail.
However, Natalie Littlehales, the consumer marketing manager of Brintons thinks we might be a way off that yet. “We do already do custom made designs for commercial projects so there’s no reason why it couldn’t move into mainstream residential but there’s a lot more to think about in terms of pattern and scale and colour combinations than there is when you just ask for a sofa to be made in a different colour or change the fabric. The possibilities are endless so you’d really need to understand these things first.”
So perhaps we’re not quite there in terms of creating our own personal carpets yet but there is already a huge amount of choice available. Mind you this brings us back to the age old conundrum of the patterned carpet which is greeted with huge amounts of resistance when it’s a carpet and welcomed when it’s a vibrant, colour-filled rug. No I don’t really know why either.
Natalie didn’t really have an answer for this but she did point out that patterned carpets are perfect for high traffic areas as they don’t show the dirt. “Brintons use an Axminster construction as it creates superior definition and a longer lasting carpet,” she said. So perhaps you could all let yourselves in gently with a stair runner. As I’ve said before stairs and hallways are the perfect places to push your boundaries as they are transient places where you don’t linger. A hit of pattern as you run up and down stairs is much less scary than a wall to wall pattern competing with the telly and the cushions.
For what it’s worth I think patterned carpet will come back. It’s on its way but these things take a long time. Mind you, it can be more effective when it’s a rug as you see some floor round the edges which tones it down a bit and allows the vibrant pattern to stand out without overwhelming the space.
But I also think it’s time we got over our irrational fear of patterned carpet because some of the designs are just gorgeous. It’s about putting them in a modern setting. These two were shot at Clerkenwell and while no-one yet is carpeting walls (I imagine it’s only a matter of time) you can see how these modern stools work really well against the traditional floral and reworked tweed patterns.
Imagine a dark green room, simple modern furniture and this carpet really stealing the show. I can totally see it but you would have to have very modern furniture and strong paint colours to make it work. What do you think?
I leave you with this fabulous Brintons advertising campaign from the 1990s when they teamed up with Vivienne Westwood to make dresses out of carpet. I have never forgotten it and it remains, to my mind, one of the strongest advertising images I can remember. I’m thrilled to be working with Brintons and I hope you are interested to know more about them.