A new dimension for floors

Jan Kath designs and produces extravagant hand-knotted and hand-tufted carpets. Jasmin Jouhar spoke to him about his floor work.
by Jasmin Jouhar | 1/22/2018

Jasmin Jouhar: Mr. Kath, you produce several new collections and updates of older ones every year. Where do you get your ideas from?

Jan Kath: I have been doing this for around 20 years now, and during that time I have built up a large portfolio. This draws on traditional themes used in the world of carpets, which form the basis of my work. But at the same time I pay attention to the art of tomorrow. The idea is to bring both of these worlds into the here and now. And from this viewpoint to create products that are both contemporary and timeless. In addition, I draw inspiration from my portfolio. Themes are merged, and they build on one another. As a fan of Goethe’s works I like the notion of metamorphosis, things that develop out of themselves. You can see this in many of my carpets. But I actually tend to have too many ideas. I have to contain myself at times in order not to overwhelm my clients, or work too quickly.

So many ideas in the new collection are not entirely new?

Jan Kath: Of course an injection of something new and fresh is needed at least once a year. If the idea works it is set up on a broad base. Many people don’t notice this, but there are design elements that appear in similar forms in various collections simultaneously. I think in levels, and these visual levels can be superimposed and interpreted in various ways.

Are there any classics in your oeuvre that you don’t rework anymore?

Jan Kath: Yes, some of the designs have turned out to be virtually iconic. For example the design “Boro10,” which I created around 15 years ago. That still sells as well as when it first came out. It’s a sure seller, maybe also because of its color scheme. Or the “Vendetta” theme, which keeps returning in a range of ways. And the concept of layering itself is now a classic.

Are cultural differences an important factor in your design decisions – the fact that products function differently in different markets?

Jan Kath: Absolutely! A Chinese customer, for instance, will see things entirely differently to a European one, for example because the former may be brand-oriented and want to follow the DNA of a brand. This is why we offer different solutions in different countries. I have long since been active in the Arab region; I feel at home there. We work with the established “Erased-Heritage” concept there, but we have also tried out Arabic calligraphy, for example. It’ll be the same carpet but in a local version.

Carpet and space: Many people don’t even look down. They see the walls and the furniture, but don’t pay attention to the floor. Is that a mistake?

Jan Kath: The floor is the largest dimension in the space. The way it is treated has a strong influence on the temperature of a space, meaning the mood it will exude. You would notice this if you had lived with a carpet and then took it away. The room suddenly seems naked. You can also decisively change a room in terms of color through carpets.

Do you consider the effect on a room when you are designing?

Jan Kath: Most often yes, I do. But there are certain situations in which I try to understand a carpet as an object, a sculpture and an artwork – for example the “Spacecrafted” collection based on photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope: It isn’t really made for any specific interior situation. Customers need to be a bit more daring to incorporate pieces from this series into their space. But we are also able to restrain ourselves more, for example in our work for the French fashion industry. We offer labels individual solutions for their showrooms. In order to provide these, we have to understand their mentality and what they need.

How does that work?

Jan Kath: Every label has its own department for planning its showrooms and a head designer, who may be an external designer. When it comes to an assignment like this we start off by bouncing ideas back and forth for six months in order to develop a shared language and see what is technically possible. We have to be certain that everything fits before we go into production. The planning phases are very short, so there’s no room for mistakes.

How do your designs for fashion stores come about?

Jan Kath: It tends to again be through metamorphosis. The designs are often further developments of things the planners have seen in our collections. They might start off by showing me an image of how the shop façades will look in the next ten to 15 years. And then I interpret that.

What matters most to fashion industry clients?

Jan Kath: Well, the design and the quality for one. But reliability when it comes to organization and logistics are also very important! We have a large section that solely looks after the fashion industry. We are on call 18 hours a day, because we speak to both the American East and West Coast, China and Europe. How do you handle crisis situations? How service-oriented are you? I also had to sign agreements with fashion labels regarding the working conditions in my production. They have the explicit right walk into my workshops at any given time and look in every last corner.