"The mother of all carpets is the Persian rug" says Hossein Rezvani with a clearly nasal, north-German lilt. The German-Iranian's family has been in the carpet trade for generations now. Then two years ago the youngest in the family founded his own label; his Persian rugs can now usually be seen in his very own showroom on the Alster River. But on January 17 the north-German carpet designer was to be found presenting his hand-woven treasures from Isfahan on a small stand at the Domotex in Hanover.
45,000 visitors and over 1,300 exhibitors passed through the doors at Domotex 2012, the leading international trade fair for floor coverings. Increasing visitor numbers are proof of a growth in interest in a sector that offers a wide range of innovative options for the flooring of the future and also combines artisanship and technology like no other. It was clearly evident in Hanover to what extent this longing for the kinds of traditions that span generations, for natural products and artisanship is growing and how the sector is responding to this, and not just at Hossein Rezvani's stand.
Persia, Tibet and Nepal
With around a million knots per square meter, it takes six to eight months to make a Persian rug by hand using wool and silk. They are then sold as one-offs across the world – apart from in the USA, where an embargo now prohibits their importation – and are often handed down from generation to generation as heirlooms. They now decorate Rezvani's stand with dazzling landscapes or abstract patterns, which although based on traditional patterns are a reinterpretation rather than imitation. In place of industrial mass production, many premium carpet labels focus on craft traditions that have been passed down the generations for centuries now, not only in Persia but in Nepal and Tibet too, and which make do with simple materials such as stinging-nettle yarn and wool. A number of European companies, such as Viennese carpet brand Vartian, even support schools and hospitals in these locations, which is their way of ensuring that the art of carpet weaving – also a Unesco-protected cultural heritage – does not die out.
The "natural" was one of the three major developments that textile designer Ulf Moritz identified in his "Floor Forum" exhibition, alongside both classic and en-vogue designs, colors and productions methods, as a trend that can also be seen in machine-made carpets. The use of felted yarns, artificial fibers woven in loops or recycled paper makes anomalies a defining characteristic of these items, which evoke the carpets' artisanal roots, but are nonetheless machine-made. Along with the increasing refinement of manufacturing methods, it is becoming much easier to produce "customized" products. Furthermore, the world of carpets and rugs has evolved a great deal and these objects are now quite far removed from their former function, unquestionably accepted here in the West, and today constitute much more than mere floor coverings. Carpets offer a place to sit as well as displaying images, creating an atmosphere in a space and sensual interiors; they can be innovative or provide a more traditional context, but either way they lend any room a unique character.
But what can we expect from the flooring of the future, what will it offer, what will we want from it? Uzin Utz from Stuttgart took her company's 100th anniversary as an occasion to contemplate such questions together with experts and universities, exhibiting the findings of their field research at Domotex. These visions brought together under the title "The Future at your Feet" are captivating in their unconventional implicitness: Why shouldn't a floor be soft or even sag in places, as though it were cushioned? In the future, will floors perhaps be able to transmit energy, like magnetic fields? What happens when the floor and ceiling collapse and can be transposed into different milieus in the form of a light, malleable material or a piece of portable architecture, like a flexible air mattress that also comes to form an item of furniture and an indoor landscape?
Digital print and the vintage look
From the point of view of wood and laminate flooring manufacturer Parador, the future of flooring has in some areas already begun. At Domotex, the company from Coesfeld presented a range of laminate products that grants its customers the freedom to create their own designs using a specially developed printing process. The range of laminates in art-print quality is called "Parador Identity" and liberates consumers from the drag of a pre-determined, one-size-fits-all selection of designs. The so-called "design library" with an array of suggestions for motifs and graphic elements provides orientation for the less experienced draftsmen among us.
A variety of vintage-look designs were provided by Swiss company Bauwerk Parkett. Here, the wooden flooring has been treated with three layers of wood stain, polished and sealed. According to designer Virginia Maissen from the creative agency Gustave, it was their passion for the discarded and the second hand, the beauty they saw in the patina clinging to weathered façades and in worn floors that inspired them to create Vintage Edition. Individually assembled, Vintage Edition parquet is subject to variation in its coloring. It can also be re-polished after several years, revealing its natural, untreated coloring.
Recycling de luxe
Souk Deluxe was the name of a special exhibition displaying hand-made carpets and rugs curated by Jan Kath. Traditional carpet-weaving techniques and modern design came together in this expansive exhibition, whose title refers to the name given to traditional Arabic markets, augmented by works by Michaela Schleypen, Jürgen Dahlmanns and other designers. A plethora of materials such as Highland wool and denim were to be seen in a colorful mix of innovative approaches to this craft. On his own stand, Jan Kath exhibited unusual patterns made using distortion techniques, with the carpets manufactured in the company's dye works, spinning mills and large weaving halls far away from its headquarters in Bochum – near Kathmandu. Old techniques meet modern motifs, distortion effects meet traditional patterns: all of these elements combine and interact with one another in Jan Kath's collections, of which there are seven in total. The sari rugs, for example, were made using recycled saris, creating a sea of bright and dazzling colors. And the large, colorful, floral patterns to be seen in the "From Russia with Love" collection take up motifs from Siberian folk art and were weaved in Tibet. The key methods in carpet weaving have remained practically unchanged for centuries now. Yet with the help of new colors, contemporary patterns, innovative materials and three-dimensional decoration these old techniques become impressive examples of modern design, which are proud of their roots.