We had the great pleasure of interviewing Emma Gardner earlier this year. She’s a talented artist and designer who has an amazing rug line under the name Emma Gardner Design, but most recently had launched a fabulous line of home decor items under Emma at Home. We thought it’d be fun to rerun our interview with her, which she talks about Emma at Home!
Hailing from a creative background, Emma Gardner’s talent is apparent from the get-go. Her company hasn’t just been around for almost a decade, it’s been wildly successful for nearly that long. Emma credits her success to some smart business moves and lots of press love, and while both those are no doubt true, we credit her success in this creative field due to her eye for how to create home textiles that will be enjoyed and loved by a large number of people.
Though Emma Gardner Design has furnished high-end goods for a number of years, recently they’ve been incorporating products that can be enjoyed by a larger market. We grilled Emma in this interview about her prolific creative background, her inspirations and what’s coming up next for Emma at Home!
Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use
under Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
2M: We are so excited to be talking with Emma Gardner today. She is the principal behind Emma Gardner Design, a design and development company that makes handmade rugs, throws, pillows and more. Thanks for talking with us today.
EG: Thanks for having me.
2M: So it sounds like Emma Gardner Design produces a lot of products and for many different markets. Tell us a little bit about your company.
EG: We started with rugs, and primarily high-end rugs, the Tibetan, hand-knotted wool and silk rugs. And then over the years we’ve added more sort of mainstream products. The bulk of those have been added and will be added in the past year or two and going forward. So we also have hand-tufted rugs, which have a much lower price point than the hand-knotted rugs. The hand-knotted rugs are mostly done through trade; we have showrooms and retailers around the country and those are made to order. There’s customization involved. I don’t consider myself a rug designer perse, even though I love rugs and have adored that part of the business; I’m really eager to branch out into other surfaces like pillows and throw blankets.
2M: Your bio on your website is dizzying, could you give a little bit of a highlight of your background?
EG: Sure. Well for eight years I did classical South Indian dance. That was a very creative, sort of cerebral, but also beautiful dance form. And then I always had visual arts somewhere in my background, even though in school my major was in the humanities. So I’ve done things like websites—I had my own website called Smarty Pants, which I edited and did the graphics for and it was contributed to by a lot of different writers and artists and things like that. But then, about 10 years ago when I was pregnant when my daughter, our first child, I decided I wanted to make my creative efforts my primary focus—my primary career. So that’s how I came up with rugs, because I always had a pretty graphic and colorful style, that’s the kind of design I like to do and it seemed like something I’d be able to do independently.
2M: Where does your inspiration come from? I mean it probably comes from a lot of different sources, but kind of go into your inspiration for your designs.
EG: It definitely is from a lot of different sources. I’ve always loved Japanese aesthetic because I love Japanese textiles but also pottery and ceramics and product design–you know like Japanese product design has always been highly appealing to me. I was born in Japan, and though we left we before I was two years old, I think my parents always had a lot of objects around the house, a lot of art, and I always wonder if it made an impression on my aesthetic mind. But I also love nature. I’m inspired by flowers and sometimes—I love color so much that sometimes if I see a particular color combination, I’ll start with that, and decide I want to do something with that, and kind of let the colors form themselves into whatever kind of design I feel will best represent the balance of colors I want to show.
2M: And what about physically creating your designs…do you do a lot of sketches? Do you work with computer programs? How has technology changed the world of textile design?
EG: Even if I start something as a sketch, as I often do, it never doesn’t end up in the computer. I do some designs in the computer, usually in Illustrator if at all possible, unless there’s scanning involved, and even then it gets imported into Illustrator. But I think the world has completely changed in 10 or 20 years, since I’ve been doing this. I’ve always been using computer design. It’s tremendous because of the possibilities of color. You can work so much faster in color on a computer than you could ever hope to if you were matching paint colors.
2M: What other designers, past or present, inspire you? Do you pay attention to what other people are doing in the design world?
EG: Oh I definitely do. I pay attention in a kind of general way. I read a lot of shelter magazines, and when I say I read, I kind of imbibe—I don’t read every word. But I read a lot of shelter magazines and I kind of keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on but try not to let it influence me too much. There comes a point where I deliberately push all that out of my mind because I think the only way one can be unique as a designer—of course everyone gets inspiration from everyone else and there’s nothing really new under the sun–but the way you express yourself in a unique or personal way is to stay to true to whatever your personal inspiration is and never try to second guess design trends even or what other people are doing.
2M: Speaking of well established companies…your company is extraordinarily successful and has been around for awhile. What are some of the steps that you did to get your business running so successfully?
EG: We started with a strong base of distribution–that was our first strategy. We didn’t start doing trade shows and then hope to get distribution. We sort of set up our first run of showrooms and then went to trade shows. We kind of deliberately built a fairly strong foundation. But I think the other thing is we’ve been very fortunate in the press we’ve gotten. Our first trade show was in 2003, and that’s kind of when we date the sort of official start of the company. Since then, we’ve really had good press year round, with special bursts when new lines come out. So that’s been good. And I think, too, we’re pretty good about trusting our instincts about who we get into business with. We really support our partners and in turn are really supported by them. We make sure to visit different showrooms, and get into business with people with whom we have a good rapport and have a similar work ethic to us.
2M: Let’s talk a little bit about Emma at Home. You want to create products that can be enjoyed by a wide range of homes and home owners. What kind of prompted you to start moving into that side of things?
EG: Emma at Home is the retail division of our company. In the beginning our goal was to establish ourselves in the high-end, but we always wanted to move more mainstream and more accessible and get out to a broader audience. And as I’ve developed these products we’ve moved on from just rugs. As I was saying there are so many exciting things to design or apply design to. So Emma at Home, under that banner right now, we have a line of hand-tufted rugs—I think there are 12 or 13 designs in multiple colorways—and those are all available online. We also have these baby alpaca throw blankets those are Emma at Home. And now we’re about to launch a whole bunch of beautifully-embroidered pillows on linen. So those, too, will be Emma at Home. And then the big kind of news for us is we have recently moved to California from Connecticut (where we’ve been for 8 or 9 years) and we’re opening a retail store called Emma at Home in Petaluma, California. All the things you can also get online, will be at our store. And what we’re looking forward to is it almost being a kind of laboratory to see what people react to. To try things in limited runs, to see what people like and really engage with the public and our potential customers in ways we’ve just never done that directly before. So I’m very excited about that. And who knows what else we’ll come up with? Maybe porcelain or other pillows—there are just so many things.
2M: Well thanks for talking with us today.
EG: Oh thank you.
2M: Be sure to visit emmagardnerdesign.com for more information. You’ve been listening to a 2Modern designer interview. For more fun podcasts, inspiring design posts and design advice check out the blog at 2Modern.com. Be sure to also check out the new giclees of Emma’s paintings that she creates!