By Barbara Ballinger / Chicago Tribune
TWO cousins, almost 10 years apart in years and with very different skill sets, have become the third generation to help run the venerable Stark family carpet and design business, started in 1938 by their grandparents, Arthur and Nadia Stark.
With inspiration from the older duo, the younger pair are relying on teamwork, quality, technology and global panache to point Stark toward a fresher, more modern take on rugs. We recently talked by phone with Ashley Stark Kenner and Chad Stark, from their New York office, about carpets, style and their recently published book, Decorating With Carpets: A Fine Foundation (The Vendome Press).
How did you both wind up in the family business?
Ashley Stark Kenner: I never wanted to work any place other than my family’s company. From the age of 12, I was always redecorating my room with fabrics and carpeting. Design was my passion, and the business was deeply rooted in my blood. After graduating from Brown (University), I joined the company’s New York office 12 years ago and first worked my way through various areas for two years. I’m the creative director and in charge of product development, strategy, advertising and branding.
Chad Stark: I had interned at Stark throughout my high school years. But my passion is technology and business. After I graduated from the University of Michigan, I joined, with my father’s encouragement, once he said I could use those skills at the company. My condition was that he had to let me build a new web site. I did, after I joined four years ago. I offer more of the support through being in charge of operations, customer service, technology and day-to-day running of the company. Ashley projects more into the future. But we meet every day. Our fathers, John and Steve, are also both running the company day-to-day and have shared an office for 25 years.
What inspires new designs?
Ashley: Our travels and fashion, maybe an artwork, a color that becomes popular, and we make changes. There was nothing lavender in our line, and we thought, where is that purple that’s the hottest selling color? Designs are cyclical. And then there are changes, such as more choices in outdoor rugs, which can be left outdoors.
There are so many choices in wall-to-wall and area rugs—different textures, colors, patterns and pile heights. Where does a homeowner begin?
Ashley: I think you start by finding a design aesthetic that appeals—whether it’s modern, traditional, casual or fancy. Once you have a clear idea, you can home in on specifics. These choices are so personal. We don’t try to tell our customers (what to choose) but let our design partners—interior designers—help them find their aesthetic preferences.
You write in the book that “a splendid rug can sustain a living room, while furnishings join it as the budget allows.”
Ashley: If you fall in love with a rug, I think you start there and work the design around it by finding paint chips, wall coverings and fabrics that work together with the rug. A rug can be a great starting point, often an anchor in a living or dining room.
Chad: It’s in the bedroom that many like using wall-to-wall and making the bed the anchor.
You also write that “the greatest furniture is cheapened by a bad rug.” Can you explain?
Ashley: You can have gorgeous furniture, but then have a rug that’s not of the highest quality, and you’re constantly walking on top of it, it becomes tattered and torn, and it brings the rest of the room down since it doesn’t hold the room together visually.
Chad: The fibers, yarns, dyeing process all weren’t quality, and it doesn’t hold up well. That doesn’t mean your rug has to break the bank but it should wear well.
Wallpaper has come back in vogue. How is that affecting rug choices?
Ashley: Wallpaper can add an extra layer to make a room look more interesting. It should complement a rug. You don’t want too many patterns and textures in any given space that might compete. Designer Kelly Wearstler is great at picking a bold carpet and adding wallpaper patterns and some neutral fabrics to make it all look tailored and put together.
Is there a need for carpets in different rooms to relate in color, pattern, weave and scale, or can they be wildly different?
Chad: Design is so subjective, and you also have to cater to someone’s lifestyle and what emotions they feel as they move from one room to the next. If you want a soothing environment, you might keep the same color palette.
Ashley: In my own home, my dining room has silvers, and the living room is a warmer beige and gold combination with tonal textures. There are doors between, but they’re never closed. Some people say never mix cold and warm, but I think they complement one another. There’s also something similar in each of my rooms—there aren’t heavy patterns—just softness and textures.
How about choices that work better in certain rooms than others?
Chad: Again, I think wall-to-wall is great for bedrooms and provides comfort for bare feet; in an entertaining space, you may want something very durable; in a dining room, you want the rug protected from food and drink and maybe to muffle sound and cushion the furniture. If a room is oversized, you might want to anchor it with one rug or use two atop sisal, which works well for two conversation groupings. There’s no right answer.
Any advice about care or restyling rugs you’ve had for years?
Ashley: That’s so hard since it depends on what you’re inheriting. I’ve seen contemporary furniture work well with traditional carpets.
You can have borders or fringe removed or rugs cut down. Use an experienced company to make changes, and also to remove stains if you can’t do it on your own.