Craft, Design, Designer, Interviews with creatives | 10 March 2021
Sonya Winner — contemporary rug designer.
We meet rug designer Sonya Winner and find out how a rug design competition changed her life.
We journey to Nepal and India where Sonya met some of the world’s most highly skilled weavers, and discover how she designs for joy and finds inspiration in nature.
Sonya Winner, Sonya Winner Rug Studio
+44 (0)20 3283 8776
Sonya Winner designs award winning, contemporary rugs. She was named “Contemporary rug designer” 2020 and 2021 by Luxe Living Magazine for her vibrant style. Sonya’s designs begin as collages that are translated into ethically handmade rugs. They are produced by artisanal weavers who bring her striking designs to life and are sold online to over 30 countries. We love the bold, geometric patterns that form her signature style and wanted to find out more about her work.
When did you first realise that this was your path?
In 2007 a friend who owned a modern furniture shop asked 40 designers to design a rug to celebrate their 40th year of being in business. I was one of the 40 designers selected. I struggled to design my first rug, only finishing it an hour before the submission deadline. A year later, the 40 rugs were launched at an exhibition and to my surprise my rug received a huge amount of press coverage and an Elle Decoration Award!
I had always been a designer, having studied graphic design in the UK and the USA. Soon after graduating, I established my own graphic design consultancy and did that for 12 years, while my kids were young. Later I moved into book design and became a portrait photographer. During my years in design, I’d always wanted to produce my own finished products. The publicity generated from my first rug, led to requests to design more and I realised that rug design was the perfect way to realise my dream.
Working directly with makers to produce art rugs and selling them through our website, (later opening a design studio / showroom) meant there was no need for a distribution network and we could remain small, niche and unique. I wanted to offer the highest quality product and develop close-knit relationships with clients to provide a personal service. I’d always aspired to create this type of business and was delighted that with the internet and modern communication tools it was achievable!
How did you get started?
Initially it was almost impossible to get weavers to make my rug designs because I design unusual shapes with many colours and varying pile heights. These designs are complicated to weave, and initially they were not willing to invest the time to learn how to weave them. I realised the only way to move forward was to make a trip to India and Nepal. I was able to meet the artisanal weavers personally to explain them how I wanted my designs translated into rugs. I had never been to Asia but I booked a trip and went to visit the Kathmandu Valley and the villages outside Varanasai where weaving communities work together to produce stunning work.
How do you approach sustainability in your work?
“There are many processes involved in making a rug and sustainability runs through all of them.”
There are many processes involved in making a rug and sustainability runs through all of them. The wool is sheared from the animal in a humane way, it is dyed carefully in small batches (pot dyed), checking the quality of the wool in controlled facilities to ensure there is no damage to the environment. Weaving is done by hand by highly trained weavers, their skills are passed down generation to generation.
I’m proud that we play a small part in keeping the 2,000 year old hand weaving traditions alive in these regions of Nepal and India by producing my designs there. The exceptional work the weavers do to create our rugs, in turn, provides sustainable employment to a large number of people. We are also proud members of the not for-profit organisation GoodWeave. The GoodWeave label provides assurance that no child is employed in the making of the rug, and a percentage of the cost of each labelled rug goes to support grassroots social programmes in India and Nepal.
How has the global pandemic affected your creative practice?
I’m fortunate that since the outbreak of Covid 19, my studio has continued to receive lots of enquiries so we’ve continued to create new designs. People have spent so much more time at home during lockdown and have been looking for ways to make their home uplifting and cosy. Using a colourful rug is a great way to do this and can transform a room. Our team is small and we’ve been able to continue to work from the studio, while practising social distancing. We’ve also managed to keep shipping without issues too!
What item in your home speaks to you of great design and why?
My favourite item in my home is a geometric rug from my collection called, “The Rothko Deep.” The colours in the rug bring together the different elements of my room and give it a really bold edge. It’s rich and warm and sits in front of the fireplace, reflecting the colours of the flames and also mirrors the deep colours of our sofas. It’s a thick pile rug with lots of long fibres that make it deep and luxurious underfoot. It also has the benefit of improving the rooms acoustics and soaking up noise.
What are the rhythms of your working day?
“The evenings for me are when the magic happens”
I wake up with the rhythms of the day, waking earlier when the daylight comes early and later when the days are short. When I wake I like to exercise, although my brain wants to stay in bed. I know that if I exercise I will reap the benefits throughout the day. After that, I always take Sparkle our cocker spaniel for a walk before starting work.
In the mornings, I contact our weavers in Asia to find out how work is progressing, while my team deal with enquires and ship rugs out to customers. During the afternoons, we work on bespoke projects and new designs and our clients in the USA start getting in contact as their days begin. Towards the end of the day rugs begin their journeys to their final homes with our friendly FedEx and DHL drivers.
After the team leave in the early evening, I continue working alone, it’s quiet then and I can get into the creative work. The evenings for me are when the magic happens with the daytime dedicated to the day-to-day workings of the business.
Where do you have to be to create your best work?
“I see designing as solving a puzzle, a journey when you don’t know where the destination will be until you get there.”
I’m naturally quite a messy person, but to design I have to be in a well-ordered space with all my design tools, design books, pens, scissors, coloured papers, lightbox and sketchbooks around me. I like to have a large white desktop to lay out my tools and my thoughts. I enjoy switching my thought process from one medium to another, so all my tools must be close to hand. I play music to get into the mood and relax my brain into design mode.
I see designing as solving a puzzle, a journey when you don’t know where the destination will be until you get there. It is a bit like being in a maze, it takes a while to find your way out to your final destination, but when you get there you find a great deal of relief and satisfaction!
What are the three main things in your life that give you creative energy and why are they important to you?
“Looking at and understanding colour fills me with energy.”
Colour: Looking at and understanding colour fills me with energy. We have boxes and boxes of coloured wool samples and whenever I see these, I feel inspired and itching to design.
Music: This calms me down to a different wavelength so I can let my ideas flow and allow mistakes to happen. Finding that part of the brain can take some time, so I have to be patient!
Nature: Sunlight makes me feel happy, inspired and energised. The British winters are difficult as they are so dark and grey, that’s why it’s so important to get out into nature every day.
How do you generate your creative ideas and find your inspiration?
“Nature inspires me, I photograph and screenshot everything and anything I see that is interesting.”
I love travelling, visiting galleries and seeing new and familiar things in contemporary and modern art and craft. Nature inspires me, I photograph, and screenshot everything and anything I see that is interesting and I refer back to this visual notebook when I’m ready to design. I create mood boards from these images and start sketching around them.
At Kiss House we believe our home is our sanctuary, where do you find your sanctuary?
My real sanctuary is the sea. Looking out to the sea, swimming in the sea, being on a boat, or diving and discovering the other world within the sea. For me being at one with nature is the most wonderful feeling.
What does quality mean to you?
“Having something that is beautifully made from really high quality materials is what I love.”
Quality is of utmost importance. Having something that is beautifully made from really high quality materials is what I love. As you get older, you realise it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. For me, seeing my hand-crafted designs on paper being transformed into beautiful quality products is wonderful. Then, to hear from a customer that the rug brings them joy and makes a difference to their life is the ultimate satisfaction for me.
What's your approach to materials?
I really enjoy natural products made from natural materials; they have a special quality that is totally different to anything made from synthetic material. I don’t like to wear anything next to my skin that is synthetic, and I also avoid synthetic materials as much as possible in my home. We also like to use sustainable natural materials such as wool and silk in the studio whenever possible. We are looking at using recycled waste products as weaving yarn in the near future…
How do you design for joy?
“My work is all about joy.”
My work is all about joy. I work with colour in a meticulous way to ensure the colour combinations and shapes created by colour create tension and balance to stimulate the brain and make you feel uplifted and joyful. Ultimately this is the raison d’etre of my work.