Rug designer produces fun for the floor
It started off innocently enough as a hobby, a diversion during the few quiet moments while her newborn daughter, Thea, slept. Creating patterns on her computer while on maternity leave, Lichton, Conn.-based Emma Gardner ending up turning her pastime into a self-made empire when she decided to turn her initial interest in rug design one step further.
Armed with just a few sketches and only one sample to show for her efforts, she took a risk when she strolled into a Boston store to talk about her dream of creating high-end, fashionable rugs.
"All I had were computer printouts!" said Gardner.
The designs were immediately accepted, much to the delight and fright of Gardner and her husband, Patrick, as the task of finding time to physically create the new designs began.
For Gardner, who had spent four years as editor-in-chief for Condé Nast's Phys.com
and a year heading her own e-zine, Smarty-Pants, it meant leaving the world of online journalism to tackle a new career.
Gardner hasn't looked back since launching Emma Gardner Design in 2002, entering the world of rug design with her whimsical hand-tufted and hand-knotted rugs.
The timing couldn't have been any better. Just as her maternity leave was ending, the Condé Nast Web site shut down briefly; it reopened just as the couple was moving from New York to Connecticut.
"It was so hard to turn it down," said Gardner. The move paid off. Since then, Gardner has been covered in design and fashion magazines such as House Beautiful, Country Living, Elle, In Style and Glamour.
Her designs cover a range of patterns from pop art to florals. Influences are taken from nature, Asian art and geometric shapes. The self-trained artist has also created book jackets and illustrations for publishing houses such as Random House and Scholastic Inc.
Gardner's hand-knotted rugs are made in Tibet, and hand-tufted rugs are created in India using 100 percent New Zealand wool. The company is a member of the Rugmark Foundation, the global nonprofit agency that works to end illegal child labor in the rug industry.
GARDNER INTRODUCES new designs twice a year. Over the years, 24 showrooms in the United States, Toronto and Tokyo have arranged to carry Gardner's line of wool/silk combinations and 100 percent wool rugs and throws. Add Ward Avenue's Pacific Home to the list, too. The 1-year-old retail store picked Gardner's designs because "she is an up-and-coming designer," said co-owner Jennifer Johnson. "She does heirloom-quality rugs with a contemporary design."
At Pacific Home, Gardner's rugs can be customized according to a client's wishes. Choices abound in colors and type of process -- knotted or tufted. Prices range between $40 to $150 per square foot.
Emma Gardner Design made its official debut at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York in 2003. The couple also took a six-week, cross-country trip to introduce Gardner's products to Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and New York.
"The cross-country trip was really kind of pivotal," said Gardner. "Before that, I was trying to meet one client/architect at a time. ... When we first started we were working out of our home. Now Patrick and I have grown a lot in terms of recognition in our category."