I love rugs – a room simply isn’t dressed without one. I didn’t think I could champion rugs any more than I already do until I spoke with Luke Irwin, who has been selling his eponymous brand since 2003 and recently moved to larger premises on Pimlico Road.
Here, his richly textured creations are hung on the walls and spread on the floor, and customers come in to commission the perfect rug to kick off their interior design project.
With the launch of his evocative, vibrant Botanical Collection, Irwin has a great story to tell of why it came about. And I wanted to see for myself how Irwin has been experimenting alongside the skilled artisan weavers of Rajasthan to dye his wool or silk rugs using only organic vegetable dyes, such as turmeric, indigo, cayenne, chilli, rhubarb and henna.
The washing and finishing process for the rugs is also organic “using substances like fermented wheat or urine to create a chemical reaction,” Irwin says. “We are doing what would have been done in, say, 1900, it’s just that the 20th century got in the way.”
‘Like visiting a gallery’
As buyers, we are used to beautiful things with eco credentials costing twice the price of polluting or mass-produced products. But the ingredients of a Botanical rug are actually less expensive than chemical dyes.
“I love the idea that you can make something in a sustainable, pure and good way, and charge your customer less for it,” Irwin says.
I was smitten with the richness and abstract complexity of the Botanical Turmeric & Indigo design (from £2,068) on the showroom wall. On the website it appears as a smudgy pattern, attractive but flat, whereas in reality it is a stunning, earthy and mossy green, where rich complex colours play and interplay, as if I were deep in a hyper-real vision of nature.
It’s an example of when going into a store to touch, scrutinise and dream becomes like visiting a gallery, except it’s even more interactive and rewarding. No website can do justice to the humanity you find in a handwoven textile. “Flaws express the very opposite of mass-produced goods,” Irwin says.
Irwin also has the Deverill rug on show from his previous Mosaic Collection, which, although totally different (“technical, structured, complex”) from the Botanical collection (“loose, free, organic”), is equally entrancing – intricately and precisely made to remind the viewer of the mosaic tiles of a Roman villa. Which indeed the collection was inspired by. Irwin the storyteller has another, incredible yarn to spin on the subject of how Deverill came about.
“I was having builders install some electrics into a barn 20 yards from my house, and I was there as they dug the trench and found this mosaic,” he remembers. “The subsequent archaeological dig found two big bath complexes, thought to be the biggest Roman palace in Britain,” he adds (although archaeologists of the future will have to afford the full excavations).
Hence, the artistry of the Romans in Wiltshire has inspired a 21st-century rug-maker to push the boundaries of his art. And if those ancients spent months on perfecting their patterns, then today’s weavers might hand-tie a million knots in one of Irwin’s rugs. It’s worth the wait.
Visit the store or shop online at Luke Irwin, 46 Pimlico Road, London SW1 (lukeirwin.com). Rugs are custom-made to order, taking a few months. Rugs in the sale now on can be delivered within days, with up to 50 per cent off