In the latter half of February, CMI basked in the glow of international media attention for the 29 rugs it created for the refurbishment of Canada House in London. One of the most delightful comments came from Henrietta Thompson in the U.K.’s The Telegraph who wrote of the magnificent building, "But while looking up might be inevitable, looking down provides the real highlight."
Our president Carol Sebert has experienced many of these proud moments since founding the firm over 25 years ago, so we asked her to tell us more about this project.
Do you consider these rugs for the Canadian High Commission the most special project undertaken by CMI?
Not the most special as we have had so many amazing projects over the past 25 years, however to be entrusted with the task of taking on artworks and turning them into carpet designs for such an illustrious location was a tremendous honour. The concept of using contemporary Canadian art from the various regions of our country to demonstrate the vastness of our land, I think was genius.
Has CMI worked with diplomatic missions before?
We have worked on more than 30 embassies and chanceries all over the world. Some following more classic designs fitting with more classic residences (Paris for example) and others more contemporary like the dining room in the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, designed by the fabulous Canadian architect firm Moriyama & Teshima.
Which would you say was the most complex of the carpet designs?
The Yukon Room rug was certainly one of the most complex as it had such an intricate design, so many colours (29), and necessitated so many blends of colours (31) to achieve the painterly effect.
Which designs did you work on yourself?
I had a hand in all the designs in that I approved the colours and the combinations, the qualities and the textures for each rug. However, the one rug that I had to go over in meticulous detail was the one for the Larkin Room. My talented team masterminded the others – pouring over every millimeter of every design to ensure it matched our expectations.
In your opinion, which rug harmonized most perfectly with its room setting?
The British Columbia Room – which The Telegraph chose as their main photo - was spectacular in its boldness (black and cream) but interesting in its quietness of pattern. The curved furniture that followed the round rug and the colour tones of cream blending with the blond wood were peaceful yet striking. Each room was to be evocative of its own province (or territory) and I think this one really achieved the grandeur of British Columbia.
All the rugs were handtufted in 100% wool. How was that decision made?
Wool is one of the most resilient fibres for carpet, it repels dirt and soil due to the lanolin that is naturally occurring in the wool, and is easy to clean. Handtufted carpets are particularly durable as the density of wool can be very high. For Canada House we specified the super durable quality we use for hotels. For some of the rugs with roller office chairs, we specified loop pile as it is extra durable and chairs roll nicely on that surface.
Was the treatment of the pile also consistent across all 29 rugs?
No, some rugs were cut pile, some loop, and some a combination.
We know you don’t want to pick out any favourites but …
The MacDonald Room with its full-on burst of exuberant colour was like walking through a painting it was so large - somewhat like that scene in Mary Poppins where they jump into the chalk drawing.
What other artwork did you see at Canada House that you particularly liked?
The Bocci light installation in the entrance is remarkable, truly a show-stopper because it is so modern in the very classic Greek revival style entrance. That choice was a particularly bold move, reflecting Canada itself - modern and classic all together.
Has CMI created carpet designs from paintings before?
Yes we have, but it is rare. One memorable rug was for well-known artist Tim Whiten, shown in an exhibition coming PASSAGE going in 2011 at the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto. He approached us with one of his watercolour artworks that he wanted enlarged into a rug. The challenge, like some of the Canada House pieces, was to turn a 24” x 30” painting into a 8’ x 10’ rug, translating the brushstrokes and graphic pencil lines into knots. In this case I recommended a wool and silk handknotted rug in Nepal.
If an interior designer is contemplating using a painting as the basis of a carpet design, what recommendations do you have?
We generally would only use a painting as inspiration for a carpet design rather than close replication required for Canada House. And of course, one would need to get the approval from the artist to copy the work, which would involve paying a royalty fee.
The night before the grand reopening by the Queen, we understand you were unexpectedly called upon to help with the red carpet – what was that all about?
I was walking by the building at 10:00 p.m. to look at the great window displays of Canadian inventions (the paint roller, the Blackberry, etc.). As I walked past the front door, I spied some of the interiors team standing around a roll of red broadloom. I knocked on the window and waved, and they came rushing to the door to let me in! They needed help to tidy up the edge of the broadloom that the Queen was to walk on to enter the building and they were concerned that it was a little rough. I proceeded to show them how - with a pair of scissors - they could trim the edge and that it would be just fine for her Majesty and the Duke. It was so funny that my timing was so perfect - they needed a carpet pro at just that moment! We all had quite a few laughs about it.
Read the article about Canada House in The Telegraph here