Rugs sit at a crossroads between art and design. They bring comfort and warmth to a home, but they’re not purely practical; they add a decorative touch to a room, but they’re not only for decoration. A beautiful, handcrafted rug could become an heirloom of the future and, as with a painting, its creation is the result of a focus on form and expression, with a rug’s ‘meaning’ often open to interpretation.
Esti Barnes, founder of TOPFLOOR, often refers to her rugs as ‘art for the floor’. ‘When designing a rug there are many technical considerations that must be taken into account – fibre choice, pile height, knot count, the dying process, cost… the list goes on,’ she explains. ‘To create the right rug for the right clients, all of these practicalities need to be addressed. But it’s the composition itself – its visual impact – that a client falls in love with, and this requires an artist’s touch.’
Esti studied graphic art in her native Istanbul and is a keen art collector with eclectic tastes and interests. ‘I see the world through the eyes of an artist,’ she says. ‘I find inspiration in the mundane as well as the extraordinary and have always been fascinated by colour, texture and composition.’
Wherever she goes, whether on a ‘field trip’ abroad or just out and about in London, Esti takes photos of anything that catches her attention. ‘‘The spark that ignites my creativity can come from anywhere – a flower pot, some detailing on a building or the shadow cast by a railing, for example,’ she says. ‘It can get embarrassing when I’m out with friends because I’m always stopping to take pictures! They don’t all become rug designs, of course, but they can serve as inspiration. I save many of them to Instagram, so it is now full of visual prompts that help me with my work.’
The planning of a rug takes a similar route to the planning of a painting. Once the ‘muse’ has been found, the next step is to create a pencil sketch, to which Esti will add colour and texture. Format, size, medium and technique all need to be explored in depth, too. There then follows a sampling process that can take several weeks. Only then can rug production actually begin and the vision become a reality.
Esti’s instincts as an artist are evident when we look at her designs. If the rug is the canvas, TOPFLOOR’s designs cover a wide range of artistic styles, from hand-drawn contours to bold, painterly patterns and abstract compositions.
While her rugs work on a purely decorative level, Esti’s understanding of artistic techniques such as colour shading, perspective and the role of positive and negative space add depth to her work.
Rugs have traditionally been a two-dimensional medium but Esti’s innovative 3D collection, which uses her signature surface-carving technique, has a sculptural quality. The different pile heights create a complex surface that invites the onlooker to interact with it.
Other designs show an appreciation of perspective and the clever use of light and shade. Some of Esti’s 2D designs look anything but flat – the trompe-l’oeil effect of Every Stone, for example, creates the impression that the stones are floating, casting shadows on the rug below:
And it’s tempting to try to unravel the ribbon-like tangles of Enmesh!
Another signature style ‘borrowed’ from painting is colour gradation. The ombré effect, where the colours fade from dark to light, is difficult to achieve on a handmade rug and requires great colour-blending skill.
Esti’s pencil drawing might make Esquisse look relatively straightforward, but its execution required great expertise. As can be seen from the colour tufts below, 18 different yarn shades were used to achieve its subtle fade effect.
TOPFLOOR’s ‘decoupage’ design, Ethereal, is reminiscent of the delicate, intricate work of papercut artists. The lace-like detailing is hand-cut rather than produced using lasers.
It is Esti’s understanding of design combined with her artistic vision that has resulted in her remarkable collection of rugs. Although each design has its own source of inspiration, those who view them can interpret them as they choose – art, after all, means different things to different people. ‘I want my clients to feel inspired by a rug in the same way that they would a beautiful painting. I love it when a client finds his or her own meaning in one of my designs – the best success stories are when there is a genuine emotional connection.’
If you’d like to talk to Esti about a commission, contact her on +44 (0)20 7795 3333 or email email@example.com to make an appointment at the TOPFLOOR studio at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour.