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Everything Begins

Designer Spotlight - Sonya Winner

Everything Begins somewhere.  Tell us a bit about your background – what led you to rug art and the design and creation of such stunning, contemporary rugs?

I trained as a graphic designer, and ran a small graphic design consultancy for 12 years creating branding, literature, packaging and corporate identities – but always dreamed about creating my own brand and selling something that I had created myself. I then moved into a portrait photography which was a lot of fun – I still do some portrait photography from time to time. 

Six years ago I was invited to design a rug for the Aram as part of the AD40  show –  When I saw my small paper design translated into a 3D wool rug I realised, for the first time, how a rug can totally transform a room creating warmth, interest, lightening the mood and also dramatically changing acoustics especially where wood and stone floors have been used. I was immediately bitten by the ‘rug bug’ – and wanted to create more designs in this wonderful media. 

This first rug “Kaleidoscope” caught the attention of the press and was featured in a number of newspapers and magazines and to my surprise was shortlisted for an Elle Deco award. To my delight people started asking me to design rugs for them and a new business was born! 


Your rugs are made entirely by hand in the foothills of Kathmandu and Northern India.  You headed over there recently to meet with the artisans, what can you tell us about your trip?

I went to the Kathmandu Valley to supervise the finishing of the first pieces of two new limited editions: 

The “Pure Silk Tree Trunk” (Edition of 15) and “After Matisse Silk Pure silk” (edition of 15). 

Both pieces were for SuperDesign an important exhibition that has just finished in London as part of the Art Festival which draws International Art collectors. As these were the first pieces of these editions I needed to work with the craftsmen and women to show them exactly how I would like the pieces finished – the final touches are very important. 

Kathmandu city is a place of great contrasts – full of colour, energy, stunning temples as well as poverty, dirt, stray animals, noise and a challenging political landscape. Further into the countryside in the foothills on the Himalayas the air is pure and the vibrant green of lush rice fields are punctuated by dwellings decorated with intricate patterns and bright colours –  the stillness of the countryside is incredibly tranquil. The Neaplese people I have met have always been very gentle, kind and calm. They are incredibly enterprising and educated – and have brought the ancient traditional of weaving into the 21st century without compromising quality. Everything is still handmade but they are developing cutting edge computer technology to translate modern designs onto the loom. This technology can be seen on my new website in my “Colour Section Collection”. It is very exciting and humbling to work with these wonderful people.

From Nepal I moved on to Varanasi (also known as Benares) on the Ganges – thought to be the oldest city in the world and  a holy city to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains where some of my other designs are made. There is a different energy here – everything moves more quickly – the streets are crowded and driving or being driven is a hair-raising experience! There seems to be people everywhere and the noise is a constant hum in the background. In a village outside Varansi  I worked with the local craftsmen on the first large stock order of the New Zealand wool After Matisse rugs which will be available to the EveryThing begins customers. 

I also started work on a prototype of a new design to be launched in 2012. It was very exciting to move from a sketch directly into selecting wool and then immediately into tufting sample sections to see how the design would look within an hour. 

Even though the trip was only 8 days – as I needed to get back to exhibit at Tent London – I returned inspired by the people, energy, colours and full of ideas for new designs. I can't wait to return in the first few weeks of January.

What do you think influences a rug to become an art object?

I think its the original idea, working and reworking of this idea whilst in a 'creative zone' . For me this is a place in my imagination that allows ideas to flow, mistakes to happen, playfulness to seep in......... a space where you're free for magic to happen. Then comes the reworking, the detailing - the understanding of what you have created - the perfecting of the design until there is nothing more to add or take away.

This creation made on paper is then translated by highly skilled craftsmen and women with generations of knowledge, using the finest quality materials into a piece that is a combination of artistry, design and craftsmanship - an alchemy - an intangable that elevates an object from a design to art. But it's only the audience to decide if it can be considered as this.

You tend to follow graphics but not patterns in your rug designs, why is this?

I was trained as a graphic designer and it's from this way of looking and understanding that I create my rug designs as complete art pieces rather than repeating patterns. The shape of the whole, the shapes within and the overall proportions are what makes my work unique. To my eye repeated patterns do not have the same completeness as a single graphic piece.

We absolutely love the colours in your rugs, they are so brilliant, so vibrant.  What impressions do you set out to create with colours? 

Colour is key - it transforms an environment, changes mood, creates excitement, ambience, interest and simply makes you happy. My aim is to add vibrancy, warmth and positivity into a room - this is where my passion for creating rugs stems from. My first rug was a revelation I was overwhelmed at how it changed a room - when i saw it woven for the first time I realised that carefully choosing colours and their' interaction to one another speaks out to everyone- it's a universal language. This emotional response to colour and shape was something i want to use to evoke positive emotions to everyone who looks at my work.

Tell us about your Limited Edition Tree trunk and Bespoke Collection. 

The Limited Edition Tree Trunk is something that was in my head for over a year before I started working on the detail of this piece.

I have always loved to gaze at the irregularities of the life story revealed in the rings of a tree's trunk. I also had a desire to create a rug that is irregular.  I didn't understand why all the rugs I saw had to be rectangles or circles. Initially trying to find someone to make this piece was very difficult as there is so much work involved in making these as one off pieces. Most weavers wanted to work within the constraints or regular shapes. 

Eventually I found weavers willing to take up the challenge so the detailing of the piece was specified and a sample section was ordered. It took 12 weeks for this first section to be made but when it arrived it didn't seem right so another sample with different specifications was ordered. In fact 4 sample sections were made taking over a year all of which were not right. 

There was a point at which the Tree Trunk was almost abandoned but somehow it became a challenge that could not be ignored. Eventually on the 5th sample the colours and tuft height felt right and at this point a client fell in love with this small sample section so the first piece was commissioned. When it arrived the client was delighted - the piece was photographed and another client requested to see an image of the Tree Trunk. Even though he could only see a photo (he is based in the USA) he immediately wanted to have one. This time it was specified in Tibetan Abrash wool (80%) and silk. The Tibetan wool completed the design. This wool has a variable amount of natural oil from the mouton sheep dispersed through it so that the colour dye takes to the wool in a variable manner creating many more colours than when dying with New Zealand wool. Again the client was delighted with the result. The limited Edition Tree Trunk was then requested to be the Focal Point of the Decorex exhibition, part of Prince Charles's Sustainable House, and exhibited at The Aram Gallery in Covent Garden and Themes and Variations Gallery in Notting Hill. The Edition continues to be very popular with art/ deign collectors and will run to 25 pieces - the last 5 pieces will command a 20% higher price. A new 100% silk Edition of Tree Trunk was launched at SuperDesign in October 2011 a satellite event to The Frieze Art Fair London.

The Bespoke Collection is a collection of my earlier designs that can be adapted to suit the colours of your room. If you send us a photograph or give us fabric references we will advise you of the best colour combinations to use in the rug design to work with your colour scheme. Designs such as Rivulets, 70's Circles, Razor, Rectangle of Circles, Circle of Circles, Out of Africa are part of the bespoke collection.

What challenges have you faced since starting out as a designer and on the flip side what has been your biggest triumph?

Finding the right people to work with to produce my designs has been a huge challenge. Most of my designs are not standard shapes and have a lot of detailed unusual finishing initially many people did not want to make them. However now I have a number of fantastic suppliers which I am very happy with and now have manufacturers asking to make my work for me. I think the biggest triumph has been the positive reaction I have had to my work this year.  I did not want to publisice my work until now as I felt it was important to have all the systems set up properly before going out to the general public. In the last few years I have only been working through recommendation slowly building up the portfolio of designs and systems behind production – it is really wonderful to have customers from all over the world buying my rugs and having so much attention in the international press.

How would you describe your work & what would you say is the most special thing about your work?

Vibrant and Contemporary – What is unique about my rug is the use of colour and form. I spend a huge amount of time picking out the right shades and working with the shapes and three dimensionality of each design

What are you most proud of in your work?

“I feel happiest about designing when I get genuine positive feedback. When a client loves one of my designs that they understand what I was trying to create. One of my clients recently sent me an sms when she received her rug saying: “Love it love it love it – the room is alive” that did make me feel good!”

What kind of material do you think has great possibilities?

I’m fascinated by exploring the design possibilities of knotting and tufting with wool. There are so many ways to create original pieces working with texture, pile height, weaving techniques, wool quality and shape - it’s very exciting.

Which product would you redesign if you could?

“I would like to redesign the fabric for the seats of the Mini using my signature colour palette. I feel the upholstery does not do justice to the Mini’ s gorgeous shape and retro detailing. It would also be fantastic to use an array of colours on the outside too.”

We've been in touch for quite some time in the lead up to the launch of Everything Begins and we know just how busy you are, on Skype at all hours of the day.  What does a typical day at work look like for you? 

Typically I get up at around 6.00am and check and respond to emails from abroad over night. I then like to go for a swim – often with my 15 year old daughter – it’s the perfect way to start the day. We then power up with a big bowl of porridge and fresh fruit and set off on the school run with Sparkle the cocker spaniel in tow. After dropping my daughter to school a quick walk on Hampstead Heath with Sparkle and then I am back at my desk. The day is then filled with meetings, telephone calls and responding to enquires working on new designs, dealing with the press and most recently preparing for exhibitions and working to produce our new website.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

I would like to work on a boutique hotel with an inspirational architect and interior designers.

What inspires you?

My starting point is colour – particularly colours found in natural, tropical environments.  I love the effect of juxtaposing colour and shape and am fascinated by the effect that colours have on mood.  I think of my rugs as art pieces – full of emotion and meaning. 

When I am designing I like to be playful and spontaneous and not restricted by convention – this playfulness brings ideals and inspiration.

I am inspired by many artists and designers but particularly love Matisse, Henri Moore, Picasso,Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, Karim Rashid. Maija Isola and her Marimekko fabrics, Bridget Reilly, Renzo Piano, Thomas Heatherwick and Ron Arad.  I’m member of the Contemporary Arts Society and enjoy their talks and tours that take you to lesser known galleries and art spaces throughout London to meet artisits/makers and curiators.  As a child my parents took me on their tours and I still enjoy them as much now. 

I have a library of inspiration that I love adding to. I keep a camera and sketch-book close to hand adding postcards, bits and pieces from magazines and notes and scribbles of things I find inspiring around me.

What do you get up to when not being a cutting edge designer?  What does a perfect day off look like?

A perfect day off would involve cycling, visiting art and design exhibitions, listening to street music and Broads Street market buying delicious produce and then cooking it up and inviting friends over to enjoy it and collapsing into bed with for a long nights sleep.

You live & work in London, a place dear to our hearts and one of our favourite cities.  Fill us in on your top picks of all this city has to offer. 

The Tate Modern, Broad Street Market – round the corner from London Fields, Hampstead Heath, The Fromagerie Marylebone High Street, ditching the car/ public transport and cycling everywhere, Heals for house and home-ware, Gelato Mio, Pamela Shiffer in Primrose Hill for great clothes at a reasonable prices and lovely helpful staff and Primrose Hill for dog lovers, views and the outdoor gym.

We're suckers for great food.  What/where was the last amazing meal you ate?

I love Moro in Exmouth Market and its little sister Morito.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I like to get up and have my swim – at 8am before the rest of the house is awake then get my daughters to join me in Sparkle our gorgeous cocker spaniel’s morning walk (she is featured lying on my Rainbow runner on the website) . We like to stop for a chat and brunch at our local  Deli (David’s ) for a chat and with Eli the owner.  If possible once Sparkle has exercised I will get on my bike and ride into town visit some galleries, markets or check out the small independent boutiques- and meet friends for lunch in Marylebone, Primrose Hill, Portabello or Broad Street market. 

What is London’s best kept secret?

Cornercopia in Brixton - Anne Fairbrother and chef Ian Riley established this wonderful restaurant through the Spacemakers empty shops initiative – the cooking is fabulous and their prices are reasonable enough to be affordable to everyone. The space is very basic but the food more than makes up for this! 

And finally, let us in on a little secret? 

“Everyone has the power to make miracles….”

We couldn't agree more!