Earlier this year, two similarly minded companies decided to combine forces and open a joint 7,000-square-foot showroom on the 26th floor of the New York Design Center. Merida, a textile design house and rug maker, now shares an incredibly gorgeous space with FAIR by Brad Ford. We sat down with Merida’s CEO, Catherine Connolly, to discuss all aspects of the design decision, the space, and what’s new at Merida. We left with some serious decor envy and a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and attention to details espoused by both companies.
Catherine Connolly: I totally agree with you about FAIR—we love it too. Brad and I met through a mutual friend several years ago and we connected over our love of makers and the idea of re-imagining craftsmanship in America. We also share Southern roots which is a connector. When Jim Druckman approached Brad about taking on a larger space, he talked to me about combining our companies in a joint showroom. Our idea is to create a different experience for designers by letting the space showcase the craftsmanship and invite designers to slow down and discover the amazing but often subtle details inherent in our products.
Downtown: What has the process been like? Can you describe the showroom to our readers?
CC: I have remarked to so many people about how simple the process of combining our teams and the space has been. So often in life things seem harder than they have to be, but in this case it has been much simpler than I could have imagine. We had a tight deadline and Brad really had a vision for clearing out the old space and creating a minimalist shell for the new space that would allow the magnificent natural light to fill the showroom and our products to tell their story.
Downtown: What do you think your rugs add to the space?
CC: I think textiles are the heart and soul of spaces. They add texture, color, and sometimes pattern, they absorb noise, invite conversation, and add warmth. In our space, they add dimension and depth to the incredible furniture that Brad has so brilliantly curated. We actually had our rugs in the former FAIR Showroom, but now we are also able to showcase our rugs in a way that enables the designer to appreciate the artistry, design, and integrity as much as the depth, quality, and feel of the rugs.
Downtown: In terms of designers enjoying the space, do you find it gives them more context to see what various designs can bring out of each rug?
CC: Our hope is that designers will come and linger in the space. We hope that designers and their clients will come and enjoy the space by sitting down, seeing how the light interacts with the rugs and the furniture, and more importantly, to experience how they feel in the space. We have already received a tremendous amount of feedback about how great it is for designers to see our rugs in the showroom in combination with the furniture. We are also seeing more and more designers bringing their clients in to the showroom which is fantastic.
Downtown: Where are all your rugs sourced or made?
CC: There are three main aspects of Merida’s design point of view: the first is a relentless commitment to natural ingredients. All our rugs are made from rapidly replenishable materials such as plant fibers (like sisal and jute) and animal fibers (wool, alpaca merino) The second is that we care deeply about the makers—the integrity and the spirit of the rug depends greatly on the talented people weaving the rugs, so we invest in them deeply. The third is that our products are innovative—we are creating things that are original, whether it is the way in which the sisal is blended before it is woven, or an entirely new way of weaving and tufting rugs.
We have a 30-year-long relationship with our partner in Belgium where we get all of our woven sisal products. We have a similar relationship with our partner in India where develop all of our jute products, and a third partnership is in the Philippines for all of our abaca rugs. The vast majority of these rugs are made to order in our Fall River workshop where our craftsmen cut and finish the rugs to the designers’ specifications.
The other component of our business are the rugs that we make from scratch in Fall River, MA. All of our wool, alpaca merino, mohair, and linen rugs are designed, woven or tufted and finished in Fall River with our team of designers and craftsmen.
Downtown: Do FAIR and Merida share similar ideas of how things should be made?
CC: In the first conversation Brad and I had, we realized that we had very similar views about makers and how important craftsmanship is to our industry. We both love the idea of things that are well made from concept through to fruition. Craftsmanship takes time, it is not cheap, it is not fast, and it is absolutely not disposable. This philosophy is nothing short of counter cultural right now, but I think people are increasingly yearning for something different from their products, taking the time to understand how things are made, and are appreciating the details that distinguish amazing work from mediocre work. That is rewarding in and of itself. The discovery and the knowledge are as satisfying as the purchase ultimately.
Downtown: What are some of the rugs you currently have on display in the showroom and what drew you to carrying them?
CC: Right. Now we are really showcasing two different collections in the showroom. The first are products that we developed over three years with our partner in Belgium. They are part of our Wander collection and they are incredibly innovative and showcase a modern take on sisal and wool rugs. We had to develop special yarns, and we had to retrofit the loom in Belgium to create these rugs. Our team had to develop an entirely new way to finish the rugs, and they are spectacular.
CC: The second collection we are showcasing both on the floor and hanging on the walls are from our Atelier 18 collection. Sylvie Johnson joined Merida as our Artistic director in late 2017 and traveled back and forth from Paris (where she resides) to Fall River to develop this first collection. Sylvie is one of the most talented weavers in the world, and she brought her vision and talent to our team in Fall River. Together they created an extraordinary collection that started in Fall River with the use of entirely new yarns that were blends of mohair, wool, alpaca and even leather and sisal in some of the collections. These yarns are then woven or tufted in combined looms and machines with intricate handwork.
Downtown: We love that they are displayed as large art pieces in some cases. What inspired this?
CC: For our new Atelier 18 collection, Sylvie set out to create textiles that were totally unique starting with the yarns, and carried through to the weaving and finishing. As with so many things, the beauty is really in all the details and the extensive development process that refined the rugs tremendously from start to finish. When we finalized the Atelier collection we thought of them as works of art and we felt one of the best ways to showcase these details was to hang them as art. We had an exhibition in January in Paris during Deco Off at Galerie Alain Le Gaillard. It made us realize how impactful it was for everyone to really see the intricacy and sophistication of the weaving for this collection and we decided that we should do that in New York as well.
Downtown: What do you most love about sharing the space with FAIR? What kind of collaborations do you foresee occurring?
CC: We love sharing the space with Brad and his super talented team because we are able to combine ideas and collaborate at a much more in-depth level. The two teams merged almost seamlessly which is still incredible to me, and we love the diversity we both bring to the table. We recently had our opening party for the showroom and the overlap on our invite lists was less than 20%!
Downtown: What has the reaction to the space been like?
CC: We have been overwhelmed by the positive reaction our new showroom has received. The comment we heard over and over again at our opening event was this “marriage” makes sense.
Downtown: If you could pick any FAIR piece and any one of Merida’s rug designs to take home, which would they be and why?
CC: Quite frankly, I think I would take any piece in that showroom with any one of our rugs but there are two that I love in particular. Right now, the Sylva Daybed by Coil + Drift of Brooklyn is sitting on our Saga Midnight Flax rug from our Atelier collection which I adore. The second is a stunning circular couch, the Dandy Sofa by MassProductions of Stockholm Sweden that is on a Dash rug from our Wander collection—I would love to have both of those.