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Spanish designers cut a rug above the rest

A new breed of Spanish designers is taking the country’s tradition of rug-making in fresh and inspiring directions, as Miette Johnson discovers

Miette Johnson,

Spain’s tradition of artisanship is no surprise, given its rich and varied history. The intricate weaving techniques brought by the Moors in the eighth century met the craft traditions of the peninsula’s Christian and Jewish populations to create a unique culture. A lavish decorative joie de vivre became Spain’s interior-design hallmark, from 17th-century frescoes to the Gaudí influence so prevalent in Barcelona.

The country has acted as a cauldron for creative crafting, but what’s remarkable is how steadfastly the weaving of rugs has maintained a hold on Spanish design to this day. The humble rug, in the hands of Spanish artisans, is an art form in itself.

In 21st-century Barcelona, this expertise finds a home at Nanimarquina. Founded in 1987, last year it celebrated 25 years of accolades, high-profile commissions and exciting collaborations. Behind the brand is its eponymous founder Nani Marquina, a woman with a reputation for passion, innovation and generosity, a champion of Spanish design and fiercely committed to quality.

Featuring candy-pastel hues coupled with innovative textures, inspired by the offbeat and quirky, Nanimarquina’s rugs are works of art; the brand mission statement is to make the rug the focal point of the room.

A visit to the flagship in the Catalan capital is to step into a veritable Aladdin’s cave of innovation. This past year, for instance, in a celebration of both Marquina’s roots and the artist Eduardo Chillida’s enormous influence on her understanding of space, she conceived the Chillida Collection, an elegant and sympathetic interpretation of the Spanish master’s works.

Taking inspiration from Chillida’s sketches, engravings and collages, it combines wool, silk and mohair using a variety of traditional methods to achieve a result loyal to the sculptural nature of his work.

The collection is quietly luxurious, a bridge between stealth-wealth aesthetics and crafted design. It’s with this level of care that every collection is approached; from the celebrated Digit series, a pixelated feast designed by graphic artist Cristian Zuzunaga, to that of Losanges, an inspired update of classic Persian designs as interpreted by French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

The Dolce collection, an explosion of hand-loomed texture in deep red, pewter and ivory, nods to Italian rococo glamour. If there’s one thing Nanimarquina does well, it’s creating a sense of fantasy, bringing a wildly artistic element to everyday life.

If there were a cousin to Barcelona’s doyenne of tactile cool, on a much larger scale, it would have to be Gan, an offshoot of the hugely popular Gandia Blasco. It’s best known for the clean lines and architectural sensibility of the furniture it produces, but it’s precisely this understanding of contemporary living that makes its foray into textiles so successful.

Take, for instance, the outstanding all-natural, knitted designs of Patricia Urquiola, a former winner of a coveted Red Dot Design Award. Somewhere between satisfying clients such as the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona and Gianvito Rossi in London, or being named Designer of the Year by Wallpaper*, Urquiola has created the celebrated Mangas collection, a playful and whimsical series of woollen rugs, deliberately designed with a rough, child-like aesthetic.

Lines are deliberately not in absolute unison, colours are seemingly randomly placed together and the shapes don’t adhere to a simple square design – curved and circular sections within the rug add an individual aesthetic. One

USP is that the rugs, in order to showcase their artistic credentials, are designed to continue from the floor up the wall, going seamlessly from flooring accessory to wall hanging.  

Another master of intricate rug design in Barcelona is the eclectic homeware emporium of Luzio on Carrer de Ferran Agulló; its edit of quirky, curious, offbeat interior design runs the gamut from fine china to chandeliers, but also includes a handsome selection of rugs, from vintage-inspired Persian pieces to bold, colour-block designs from both Spanish and international names.

If you find yourself feeling adventurous in Madrid, ramble through the timeless El Rastro market and find a vintage treasure. Regardless of taste, style or where you’ll put it, these Spanish icons have at least one common thread – a sense of history married with modern design. And that’s worth bringing home.



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