Classic Rug Collection x Frank Lloyd Wright: Q&A with Founder Barbara Barran
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Dec 18, 2019
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has recently collaborated with Classic Rug Collection Inc., a company that creates unique rugs, hand-loomed cotton flat weaves, and vinyl floor cloths. Founder and President of Classic Rug Collection Inc., Barbara Barran, has a deep connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, and was able to interpret his designs to create stylish, colorful rugs for the modern home. We spoke with Barbara to learn more about what went into creating these rugs.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My interest in design and interiors began when I was a child growing up in Washington, Pennsylvania, where my father owned a furniture and carpet store. After spending six years as a rep with Sunar-Hauserman and Knoll, two office furniture manufacturers, I left sales to begin teaching at the New York School of Interior Design. This also gave me an opportunity to start my own business, designing and painting quilt-patterned floor cloths. The Whitney Museum, the Smithsonian, Old Sturbridge Village, and other museum stores carried my work.
In 1999, I started Classic Rug Collection, Inc. Drawing upon my interest in historical sources and using my research skills, I have designed rugs based on the designs of American primitive designs, the Gee’s Bend Quilt patterns, Art Deco motifs, and classic Eastern geometrics. I also create rugs using my own experiences and my imagination. Today, I select from the finest rug manufacturers in the world to bring my designs to life.
I commission hand-knotted New Zealand wool, pashmina, hemp, nettle, linen, banana, and silk rugs from Nepal; hand-tufted wool and silk rugs from Thailand and India; and flat-woven rugs from Portugal and India. In this way, I can find the technique—and the price point—that best suits my clients.
What inspired you to create these Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired rugs? Do you have a connection to Wright and his work?
My mother worked for the Kaufmann department store when she was very young. The company used to take its employees out to Bear Run, before Fallingwater was built. My mother had very fond memories of working for the Kaufmanns, and my older sister wanted to be an architect, so throughout my childhood, my family and I visited Fallingwater. My sister and I became passionate Frank Lloyd Wright fans, and we read all that we could about him and visited his buildings. I have been designing high-end custom rugs for 21 years, and for the last 15, I have translated the work of other artists. It’s interesting to work with other people’s designs and to produce them in a new medium.
What did the process look like for creating these rugs?
First, I spent hours at Avery Library at Columbia University looking at their Frank Lloyd Wright archive and getting a sense of the material that was available. I also toured the vaults and library at Taliesin West, and looked through my personal collection of Wright books. Then I started making some choices for designs for different types of products. I decided to make two collections: the Frank Lloyd Wright Signature Series of fine hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Collection of more affordable hand-woven cotton flat weaves and printed floor cloths. I then had to decide which patterns within each grouping looked good together, so that the products would present well in a retail environment.
The biggest issue was color: should I stay with the colors that Wright used, or update them? I struggled with this issue for several months, and then decided that the pieces had to fit into today’s homes; they aren’t museum pieces. I did, however, choose colors that I felt were in keeping with the Wright aesthetic.
I have worked with my manufacturer of hand-knotted rugs in Nepal for almost 20 years, so that choice was easy; similarly, I have an excellent relationship with a hand-tufting manufacturer in Thailand. Both of these suppliers know the quality level that I expect, and both are familiar with my way of working. I was delighted to find a United States floor cloth producer, as domestic production is always my first choice, if that is possible.
I then produced a series of drawings showing the designs to scale, the placement of the colors, the pile height, the fiber, etc. Most of these were done by hand. To make sure that my suppliers and printers knew exactly what I wanted, I purchased Pantone color chips for everyone; that way, I knew that we were all looking at the same colors.
You were able to visit Taliesin West while you were creating the rugs. What was this experience like and how did it influence your designs?
Naturally, I took my sister, Marcia, with me to Taliesin West, and when we arrived we were overwhelmed with emotion. We couldn’t believe that we were permitted to stay there. Every morning we would say to each other, “We’re eating breakfast, and we’re sitting on a Frank Lloyd Wright stool!” It was something that we never even dreamed of because we never thought that it was possible. I had the same feeling of awe when I was going through the archives, seeing the work products of Wright and his apprentices. Finally, I was thrilled to be able to meet and talk to people who had known and worked with Wright.
The campus itself was a design inspiration; it is impossible to walk around Taliesin West without being made aware of Wright’s genius. Even the smallest detail, such as the design of an entry gate, was executed with style and precision. I took countless photos, and they have become part of my reference library for choosing Wright designs.
What was your favorite part in the process?
My favorite part was when the products arrived. When I had the product launch in NYC at the end of October, and I walked through the space and looked at my work, I felt a great sense of achievement. The products are beautiful, and they are made with care and integrity. That’s what makes me happy.
I’m so fortunate that in my career to have been able to work with artists of the caliber of the Gee’s Bend Quilters and Frank Lloyd Wright. I love creating my own designs, but I also enjoy the challenge of being able to create something new from existing art. For example, my Saguaro rug is totally different in color and shape from Wright’s original drawing, but one look at the piece tells you the design inspiration. I hope that my work will acquaint a new generation with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.