Rug and wall hanging designer, Sussy Cazalet, imagines «you want to be able to walk into and just roll onto the rug»
Hailing from a family of artists – «my mother’s a painter, my sister’s a painter, my brother’s a poet» – Sussy Cazalet has spent the last two years translating watercolor paintings into bespoke rugs and wall hangings. With formal training in both Printed Textiles and Interior Architecture, Cazalet had an eclectic career spanning design industries before setting up her own design studio in 2014. She describes how «this led to designing furniture and realizing I was interested in product».
Cazalet speaks of setting up a production line «so that in ten years time, I’m not producing hundreds of plastic rugs every day that get thrown away». On prioritizing the creation of long-lasting pieces made from natural materials, without shying away from the current environmental limitations of importing silk from China and wool from New Zealand to India, where production is based, Cazalet says «I’m beginning to work with nettle fabrics and pushing the artisans I work with to use organic dyes». What the artist-designer can assert is a production process with a deep interest in people and origin. «It was important for me to go to India to meet the artisans and not just be a third party producer», she recalls of spending two months in villages outside Jaipur, meeting with makers and getting in touch with foundations that help women. The provenance of her pieces is such that she can ensure they are made by artisans she’s met, places she’s been, and by setups that help local communities. Sussy’s relationship with the female artisans who make her pieces is mirrored by the close relationship she has with her clients and she tends to attract commissions from people «who understand this and want the process».
«When people ask me to design a rug, I say this rug has got to be something that you want to keep for the rest of your life». In this way, Cazalet challenges her clients to commit to making conscious consumer decisions, whilst providing an alternative to buying vintage that supports the design industry and still engages in a form of mindful consumption. Though her future plans include the design of smaller, more buyable pieces, her large, bespoke rugs and wall hangings, by their very nature, require involvement from clients that encourages the commission of pieces of longevity.
The design process «starts off with photographs, travels, sitting down and watercoloring». With earlier works, including a five-piece ‘Kyoto’ range that launched in 2019, inspired by Isamu Noguchi, George Nakashima, and concepts from Japanese and Brazilian design, Cazalet refers to California and Fifties, Sixties and Seventies modernism as a point of enduring inspiration with her ideal client space being «an L.A. Schindler or Lautner stye pad». Characteristic of post-war mid-century modern residential architecture and the Case Study Houses of Los Angeles, spaces designed by architects such as Rudolf Schindler and John Lautner employ the rigorous application of industrial construction methods and materials in domestic settings whilst balancing the use of concrete, steel, and extensive glass walls with informal layouts that integrate indoor and outdoor space, providing the opportunity for a large area or room-sized rug to define flexible floor plans. Cazalet notes, «I have actually just designed an eight meter rug for an incredible house in California which is based around a garden and a pool». Having spent time in Los Angeles, Sussy also makes reference to the Eames House which, having been designed by Ray and Charles Eames as part of the Case Study House Programme commissioned by John Entenza for Arts and Architecture, is an example of a space that uses rugs to characterize multifunctional areas.
Cazalet’s current pieces are further influenced by the abstract shapes found in cubist and expressionist artworks, an amalgamation of styles she describes as «Rothko-meets-Mondrian-meets-Klimt». On designing such large rugs and wall hangings she explains, «I think of big canvases and I think of Rothko’s», referencing Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals which, although commissioned in the late Fifties for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, were later gifted to the Tate and displayed as part of a permanent gallery at the Tate Modern. Though Cazalet’s larger pieces out-scale even Rothko’s murals, his work offers an insight into the way in which large artworks, rugs, or wall hangings, can be used as an architectural tool to define and transform space and «can sit within Architecture and be peaceful».
From conception to completion, Sussy’s design process is a rejection of computer-aided design and technology and, upon receiving a commission, she progresses with two or three meetings with the client, a visit of the space, and a point of reference, something of hers that they like. In between meetings she hand draws designs and recalls «turning up to meetings with these big hand-drawn watercolors». When she gets a really large commission – «my biggest commission was about eight and a half meters» – Cazalet unrolls canvas in the garden on rolls of brown paper, and draws her designs to scale with a marker or paintbrush to make sure the shapes are working with one another. As of January, she has moved her studio to an old barn in Norfolk where she can start hanging canvases to size and inviting clients to see them in one to one. After her designs are assigned with color, they are sent to India where they are drawn up in CAD for the first time. The transition to the digital image can take up to ten days to finalize before CAD drawings are signed off and sent to the makers where they sit at their looms. The silk and wool dyeing process then takes one to two weeks depending on how many colors there are, made complex by Cazalet’s preference for a technique known as Gabbeh dyeing whereby each color is made up of a range of tones that are twisted to form yarn. «There’s never one color in one area. If there’s a green, it might have five greens in it» giving the final piece «wonderful movement of color». The looms are then prepared and, depending on whether the design is for a flat or hand-knotted weave, this can take between six to twelve weeks. It is only at this point that weaving can begin. «If it’s bespoke I also tend to get a sample made so that clients can see it in the space beforehand», adding an additional four weeks to the process.
When the finished rugs or wall hangings are rolled out or hung in the client’s space, Cazalet describes how «you are going to feel more than if you just go to a shop, buy something and don’t know who’s designed it». Whilst the original function of the knotted rug – as told by art historian and carpet specialist Enza Milanesi in her book The Carpet – was to serve as a floor covering to protect nomadic populations from direct contact with the cool earth as they slept, for Cazalet the desire to lie down on one of her rugs is the intended outcome of a client experience that occurs by virtue of the way in which she works. Today, although Architecture has progressed past a survivalist need for rugs, whether designed to be laid atop poured concrete, tiled, marble, stone, or wood flooring, Cazalet imagines «you want to be able to walk into and just roll onto the rug».
Sussy Cazalet set up her studio in 2014, designing interiors & objects before launching a rug and wall hanging collection. Trained as a classical musician, she pursued a BA in interior architecture at Parsons School of Design NYC.