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A Photographer Gets Underfoot

A Photographer Gets Underfoot

Douglas Friedman Turns To Rug Design As His New Artistic Outlet

Flipping through top design publications, you’ve likely been transported by the images shot by Douglas Friedman. The architecture and interiors photographer, who’s also famed for his highly conceptualized portraiture (think: model in ball gown flipping eggs), has brought countless homes to life through his lens on the pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar, and more.

While he’s perfected the art of interiors photography in his own distinctive way, Friedman has another passion as of late—rug design. He’s joined forces with Kyle Bunting, who’s known for his decorative, handcrafted hide rugs made in Austin, Texas, on a new line of rugs called Atlas, which launched in January 2020. He spoke with us from the his Marfa, Texas, home—chicken coop and all.

How does a photographer become a rug designer almost overnight?
Rug design was never on my radar. I got a call, out of the blue, from Kyle Bunting, who told me he was a fan of my work, and particularly, the design of my Marfa home, and wanted to know if there was a possibility we could collaborate on a rug collection. So, we met, and I was kind of like, “are you sure? I’ve never really designed anything before.” And he was like, “you know, I’m sure I really want to do this with you.” Kyle saw something that I didn’t see.

Douglas Friedman, has turned his attention from photography to rug design with Kyle Bunting
Douglas Friedman, has turned his attention from photography to rug design with Kyle Bunting.

How did you come up with the designs for the collection?
Kyle was so, so patient with me, because I felt like I had a creative block for eight months. I was really struggling to come up with an idea, a pattern for design, a concept, a story, a narrative, and how it would represent me. Nothing ever felt right, and I was starting to doubt myself. And then, while on an airplane, all of a sudden, in like 10 minutes, I sketched out the design. And it was like, “wow, that’s it.” It was so simple. Kyle’s office kept coming back with alternative versions and I always went back to this original sketch—it’s the design for the rugs that we have now.

How would you describe the design?
It’s kind of based on a sense of nostalgia, or what I think a rug should look like. I ended up thinking about all the rugs that my parents had, the rugs that I grew up with, or the rugs that I’ve seen and liked, so it’s really classic in design—like a traditional rug with a little bit of Art Deco influence running through it. If you were to take a really good, classic Persian rug and eliminate the tiny little patterns within it and just made it about the broad shapes, I think you could kind of start to see where there could be some similarities. It’s deconstructed and both modern and nostalgic at the same time. Furniture looks good on these rugs because it can line up on them and feel very ordered. The design is very symmetrical.

How are they made?
Kyle is a genius. He works with this incredible Italian cowhide. It’s not the kind of hide that’s shorn; it’s a much finer material that feels as soft as fur. The rugs are constructed like mosaic tiles. Small pieces are cut by a laser and bonded to a base by hand. It’s painstaking and time consuming because the seams are important. They have to be super tight. And the nature of the hide makes them easily livable.

The same DNA of the original pattern is in all of the rugs. I was so satisfied with the look, I wanted to keep the designs the same. For me, they’re absolutely the ideal expression of what rugs should be. It’s more about customizing the sizes and dimensions for clients and using different color schemes.

The first colorways are based on what I see out of my window from my Marfa home—the colors in the landscape and the environment, in the sky, and the sunsets and the sunrises. My living room rugs are so similar to what’s right outside the window, there’s no distraction. I wanted the view to be seen first, and once you grapple with the insane beauty of what’s outside the windows, then you rest your eyes on the inside, and there’s this similarity.

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