Designed and made in Toronto, these area rugs are the result of artistic collaboration
BY JULIE GEDEON
A rug always becomes an innovative form of floor art in the minds and hands of artist Janna Watson and designer Nico Soule. “You can say we’re on a mission to have more people recognize the creative possibilities for this space in their homes and offices. A rug is such an amazing canvas,” says Janna Watson of Watson Soule, a company that specializes in contemporary Canadian-made area rugs.
In collaboration since 2012, Watson and Soule always discuss how they can push – and even redefine – the boundaries of art with their rugs. Their initial Out of Line collaboration derived from a conversation about the artist’s role.
“We decided to make a rug that reflected the hand of the art maker, and Janna drew the initial pencil strokes,” Soule recalls. “I wasn’t sure the design would translate into a rug, but it works really well.”
Soule caught Watson’s attention when she presented the work for her Industrial Design thesis at OCAD University. “Nico obviously had a strong design orientation and skill set,” Watson says.
Always a painter, Watson had been introduced to rug design and crafting by her grandfather. “He was a rug hooker in the 1960s with an incredible sense of colours and industrial design,” she recalls. “He never found a market for his work, but he taught me so much.”
Watson originally set out to make Torontonians more aware of rug art at Come Up To My Room, the Gladstone Hotel’s Annual Alternative Design Event. “I decided to create a painting that looked like a rug because I didn’t feel that rugs were sufficiently appreciated as an art form,” she says. “That actually sparked my interest in starting a rug company.”
Every rug is one of a kind. Many are experimental – inspired by their chats, an innovative computer rendering and most often one of Watson’s paintings. “I like to start out by just playing with a few colours,” she says. “Sometimes this organic approach works and sometimes I need to start over.”
Some rugs are commissioned by designers, homeowners and businesses. “A rug is usually the last thing purchased for a room when it’s often difficult to find the ideal colours or pattern,” Watson says. “We examine the colour scheme and determine the client’s preferences to come up with a unique sketch and palette that really complements the decor.”
Watson Soule can show clients 1,400 colours on wool samples that resemble miniature pom-poms. “You can see exactly how the wool absorbs each dye,” Soule says.
The duo has a power-stretcher to weave and/or tuft six-by-four-foot pieces right in their 401 Richmond studio. Larger commissioned designs are made by Weaver & Loom, a Toronto boutique that specializes in hand-made rugs. “It’s amazing how everyone there does everything possible to realize our vision,” says Watson.
The relationship has also led to some innovative creations, such as the shaggy rugs made from Himalayan tahr wool. Strands from the mane of the tahr, a goat that is native to Tibet, Nepal and northern India, are snipped and dyed in various colours and combined in a wooly wonder.
Weaver & Loom also produces Waston Soule’s Twofold collection – a series that features a unique design on each side of the same rug. “A homeowner can have the plush tuft displayed in winter and switch it over to the short weave for the summer,” Soule says. “Or one side could be ideal for a child’s room and the other, years later, for a teenager’s.”
Having a rug designed and made in Canada ensures not only uniqueness but quality. “You’re able to speak directly with the designers/makers,” Soule says.
As for any hesitation about actually putting one of these striking rugs on a floor, “they’re made for that purpose and gain authenticity with use,” Watson says.