During the month of August DWR is celebrating women in design. Sandy Chilewich is one of our favorites. Her company, Chilewich, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Sandy recently chatted with me about her brand, her new designs and the female designers she most admires.
We’ve launched your new woodgrain lines and they’re really beautiful. How did they come about and what is different about this manufacturing process?
Woodgrain was more of an experiment to see how far we could push the envelope weaving with unique and challenging vinyl yarns. I wanted to see if we could create the shading and dimension of a woodgrain with a simple jacquard.
Are there other natural patterns that you’d like to replicate using manmade materials?
Yes, the success of the woodgrain from both a design perspective and from the great response we have had, has led to much experimentation. Not just wood, but it’s a secret.
When we met you spoke about a few collaborations you’re currently involved in. Can you share with our readers these stories?
I am working with Luisa Cevese, an Italian designer, who is known for her proprietary process of encasing textile remnants in polyurethane. It is absolutely gorgeous. She is now incorporating some of our “waste,” the selvage (the irregular edges that are cut off) from our spun vinyl products. Her process, which requires heat, melts our material in different degrees and it looks very different than the other materials she has used. She will be making table mats and bags. I am also intrigued with introducing wire into our products and have been working with a British designer who is an expert in weaving with metal. This is already very challenging but still promising.
Design Within Reach is celebrating women designers in the month of August and you’re definitely one of our favorites. What women designers have inspired you in the past?
My all time favorite female designer is Lucienne Day, who I imagine will forever continue to inspire me. She just has it all — such a tremendous graphic range and not a “one note” designer who’s imagery or some version of it is repeated over and over. She was constantly exploring, but her work is unified by a consistent personal aesthetic.
Design Within Reach customers may only be familiar with our floor coverings, but Chilewich also makes an extensive collection of bags and table top items. What products came first and are there new categories you intend to launch?
In 1997 when I launched the Raybowls™ they were my first foray into the home accessories market and, happily, they met with success. They had a simple and inventive mechanism for making fabric concave, with covers made from stretch netting usually found in lingerie. In a quest to source other suitable fabrics to incorporate into the Raybowl, I discovered woven vinyl. It didn’t work for the bowls, but where others saw an industrial material, I saw placemats, flooring, bags and more. The durability of the yarn, its tremendous design versatility and the fact that it is washable continues to inspire me.
Your products are all made in the United States. Do you do this intentionally?
It is great to be manufacturing in the States for many reasons. Most important is the ability to hop on a plane to do some R&D or solve a problem at the mills. Working on my home turf and speaking the same language (however I am not sure if our southern suppliers would say we speak the same language) just makes the design process, sampling, lead times, etc., easier. It is also very gratifying that I am supporting American production.
Chilewich’s color palette is very sophisticated. Have you or will you ever experiment with floor coverings or table tops in brighter colors?
I don’t know why people assume that bright colors are less sophisticated. It’s the particular tone which is decided upon from an infinite number of possibilities as well as the relationship to the other colors surrounding it. That determines sophistication. It’s true that I have focused on grays and browns in the past but this fall you will see indigo and next spring lemon and coral. I think they are thoughtful colors, which is for me what makes things sophisticated. It takes hours and hours of work to attain a color and palette that satisfies one’s imagination.
You’ve designed jewelry, launched a hosiery brand and now Chilewich. Any plans to venture into uncharted professional/design territories?
We are launching window treatments with the Shade Store shortly. This is our first licensing arrangement. I will be introducing napkins next season – my first venture with natural fibers, which is funny. There is much on the horizon that I am contemplating, but it takes a lot just to keep up with the growth of the business that I am in now.