Not since the Twenties has there been such a wide choice of rugs available by individual contemporary designers. "There has been a great deal more interest in the past year," says Christopher Farr, who has almost single- handedly been responsible for the contemporary rug renaissance. He began as an artist, became a dealer in Oriental rugs, then turned to designing contemporary rugs and is now a dealer in contemporary furniture, and has done much to encourage individual artists to design carpets.
"I realised that the supply of good oriental rugs was dwindling and that there was a potential demand for a more modern product," he says. Gillian Ayres, Kate Blee, Maxime de la Falaise, Josef Herman, Bill Jacklin and a couple of fashion luminaries, Romeo Gigli and Rifat Ozbek, are just a few of an impressive list of designers working with Christopher Farr. The rugs are made up by village craftswomen in Konya, central Turkey, using handspun yarns, natural dyes, and traditional techniques of hand- knotted weaving. "They are modern rugs in the old traditional style. Just because they are modern it doesn't mean the rugs are confined to contemporary interiors; they can look great with wonderful old antiques. The exciting opportunities presented by commissioning designs from living artists and designers is beginning to catch on."
The Matt Collection, by the rug designer Helen Yardley, a range of five rugs all costing less than pounds 1,000 (two of them less than pounds 500), was launched at 100% Design in October last year.
"I decided that there was a need for a more affordable range of rugs," says Helen, the bulk of whose work is one-off commissions for architects and designers. Notable for their sophisticated colour palettes, her Matt Collection rugs are widely varied in appearance, but they all show an intuitive understanding of form and shape. They would look just as goodhanging on a wall. "Designing rugs is really about how things are placed in a rectangle. I do not want things to be expected." She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, and has been influenced by Henri Matisse, Robert Motherwell, Roger Hilton and Isamu Noguchi.
British-born Christine Van Der Hurd, based in New York, is well known in America for her exuberant and often vividly coloured designs. She exhibited a collection of her rugs for the first time in Europe at 100% Design last year. Enormously diverse in style, many of her designs show the influence of her original career as a textile designer working in fashion and home furnishings for firms such as Mary Quant, BIBA, Liberty and Osborne & Little. Amongst the most elegant of her rugs is "Tra la la", which depicts a curly, snaking line framed by a wiggly border. "Day" is a black line on a cream ground; "Night" is the reverse, a cream line on a black ground. Other designs include a witty amalgam of influences from two contrasting sources, the architect and designer Gio Ponti, and the fashion designer Emilio Pucci, entitled, unsurprisingly, "Ponti-Pucci". Apart from hand- tufting, Christine Van Der Hurd uses a variety of mans of manufacture, including hand-knotting, needlepoint and over-tufted machine-made broadloom.
Another sign of the growing interest in rugs is that the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, which has an international reputation for its superb tapestries, has added rugs to its range. A group of leading contemporary artists and designers - including Elizabeth Blackadder, John Bellany, Sally Greaves- Lord, Leonard McComb and Kaffe Fassett - have created a studio collection of rugs. Prices range from pounds 1,500 to pounds 2,300. Rugs can also be designed to clients' specifications. The rugs are made using a hand-tufting gun that "shoots" the yarn through a strong cloth with the design already drawn on to it,stretched over a wooden frame. The rug is then latexed and covered with a hessian backing. Finally, a smooth finish is achieved with a shearing machine, likened by the artists to a lawnmower.
JAB, a German firm well known in this country for its furnishing fabrics, has been making modern designer rugs since 1974, but has only recently decided to sell them in the British Isles. The Design Edition is a mixture of hand-tufted and woven rugs, some intriguingly inlaid with strips of leather, or copper and silver discs.
If you are after something more traditional, Liberty's rug department always has more than 3,000 rugs in stock, at prices from pounds 25,000 to pounds 60,000. The department is awash with rugs, in piles, hanging from the wall and scattered across the floor. "I want it to look a bit wrecked, like a true Oriental bazaar's. People mustn't be put off," says Ron Stewart, the buyer. "We turn over all the stock at least once a year." Mr Stewart makes frequent buying trips to Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia. "Iran and Afghanistan are our two main areas, because they offer the biggest variety and are the most interesting in terms of old and new traditional designs," he says. "People tend to associate us with traditional designs but I believe we should be more innovative, and we hope to be introducing a new range of carpets based on Japanese textile prints later this year. We sell to a huge range of customers from students to OAPs. We can arrange for one- off commissions which can take anything between four months to a year to execute. When trying to advise customers we begin by asking a few standard preliminary questions to try to narrow down their requirements. For instance: is it going to take a real pounding? What shape is the room? And so on. My advice is always: "Buy what you like; never skimp; and buy a bigger one, because it seems cheaper."
Christopher Farr, 115 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 (0171-916 7690); also at 212 Westbourne Grove, London W11.
The Matt Collection by Helen Yardley, A-Z Studios, 3-5 Hardwidge Street, London SE1 (0171-403 7114).
Christine Van Der Hurd (0171-584 3064).
The Edinburgh Tapestry Company, Dovecot Studios, 2 Dovecot Road, Edinburgh (0131-334 4118).
Liberty, Regent Street, London W1 (0171-734 1234).
Design Edition by JAB is available from John Charles Interiors, Birmingham (0121-420 3977); Castle Curtains, Foxrock, Co Dublin (00353 1 295 5100) and James Archibald, Aberdeen (01221 596181).Reuse content