In April, 2020, Rashelle Campbell, a freelance photographer whose work had dried up amid the pandemic, decided to spruce up her space. “With all of us having to spend time at home 24/7, I thought, why not put energy into filling my own space with joyful pieces so that I can at least surround myself with home decor that makes me happy,” she says.
She first searched online for a rug, something colorful and asymmetrical that would add personality. All Campbell could find, however, were the kinds of minimalist, contemporary square and circle pieces that populate the digital storefronts of West Elm and CB2. So, she bought a tufting gun, and designed her first “groovy, curvy” rug that better suited her vibrant aesthetic.
After six months, during which she developed an impressive Instagram following, Campbell created a website to showcase her first full collection of 12 rugs, which evoke what she calls “instant nostalgia” of the early aughts culture that inspires her designs, such as the parodic grooviness of Austin Powers or color-saturated world of Lizzie McGuire. The collection sold out within a day.
“It all started rolling from then on,” she says of her eponymous brand’s organic growth. “I knew this was something I could actually do as a career.” Two years later, global e-tailers in five countries, including Ssense and HBX, carry Campbell’s rugs, which range from $ 250 to $ 500.
Two years ago, tufting, a textile weaving technique that involves needle punching yarn against a backing fabric on a stencilled design, was not popular. At the time, Campbell could not even find a tufter to make her a rug. But like other home-based crafts, from knitting to quilting, tufting took off. Today, Campbell is part of a wave of hobbyists who have turned their hand-tufted rugs into burgeoning businesses, from multidisciplinary creative Sean Brown’s CD-shaped rugs featuring 1990s hip-hop album art, to the retro-futuristic, otherworldly rugs of Mush Studios , a Brooklyn-based brand founded by pandemic tufters in 2020. Ultimately, these designers’ overnight successes signal a broader shift in interior design: the rise of the experimental rug.
Campbell inspired her close friend Taylor Maki to take up tufting during the pandemic. And last February, under Maki Rugs, she launched her first shape, the Orbit, a striking runner of three conjoined circles. “I just have always really liked sixties mid-century modern [design], ”Maki says. “And then I started looking online and finding all these crazy, bright, geometric patterns. The really warm colors and neutrals just really go well with the texture of a rug. ” Maki, who is based in Montreal, has since sold around 40 rugs, which retail between $ 200 and $ 500, and is now fulfilling wholesale orders and taking commissions on the side
Designers are also outfitting luxury homes and hotels with outdoor carpeting. “I think that in furniture, people are looking for less attitude or styling in their sofas and chairs and more comfort,” says Glenn Pushelberg, co-founder of design firm Yabu Pushelberg. “But then how do you give a real point of view? Well, it falls to the lamps, it falls to the carpets. ” He says people are now looking for “livable, breathable” furniture. An accent rug from Atelier Février, a collection of hand-knotted rugs in artful shapes and patterns, or the contemporary carpet brand CC-Tapis, expresses warmth, personality and attitude, particularly in small spaces. “I noticed that lot of these carpet startups are [making] shaped carpets that are not just in a square format, ”says George Yabu, Pushelberg’s partner. “What that does is it gives [the room] a little bit more negative space. ”
An accent rug is also a playful departure from the stark minimalism that has dominated interior trends for so long. “The idea of a rug as an art object in your house is definitely something that people are talking about more and more,” says Miriam Zittell, who co-owns Mellah, a shop in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighborhood that specializes in handmade Moroccan rugs, with her husband, John Honeyman. “[People are] using a rug as a showpiece or a centrepiece rather than just blending into the floor and disappearing. ” Zittell has found people have gravitated towards rugs that feel warm and textural, less clean and minimal – and particularly ones with evidence of work by hand. “Not that people did not appreciate or were not interested in [who made their furniture] before, but I think that is sort of hitting in a new way or resonating in a new way with a lot of customers, ”Zittell says.
The pandemic has certainly ushered in an era of unfettered personal expression, from home decor to fashion. But the prevalence of rugs inspired by pop culture and contemporary art is less about the pendulum swing of design trends and more about embracing a new ethos: Do not be too precious with your things and embrace imperfection.
“Having pieces in your home that you are not afraid to touch and be playful with is something I wanted to showcase within my designs, to stray away from contemporary designs and focus on the beauty of curves and lopsided shapes,” Campbell says. “It’s been a challenging few years and it’s important to me to create products that could bring joy into people’s homes.”