Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
A Manhattan building that housed Andy Warhol's avant-garde art studio for a time has become home to a different kind of commerce-driven art—fine carpets. And like the late artist, manufacturer Tai Ping sees itself as a groundbreaker, mixing traditional craft with advanced technology, and centuries-old principles with contemporary styles. Matthew Baird Design created a showroom that conveys both the company's ancient Chinese roots and its fresh ideas.
In fact, the client asked Baird to reinvent the very idea of the carpet showroom to coincide with their launch of the brand in the U.S. "They all look, feel, and smell alike," says Tai Ping CEO Jim Kaplan. He wanted visitors to walk in and smell jasmine tea, not rolls of carpet. The space needed an authentically Chinese air.
The architect responded by turning to drawings of traditional Beijing courtyard houses, and the ceremony that's associated with slow entry experiences. Out in the lobby, he placed tall glass panels covered with a milky frit film between reception and a small tea room, where salespeople offer beverages to their clients. Another set of panels screens the lobby from the showroom itself to "delay the view," in Baird's words, of products beyond the wall. Just inside the lobby door, a white-painted recess in the wall holds a solitary second-century A.D. terra-cotta brick. Limestone clads the floor.
In creating more points of interest that could pleasantly lengthen the entry experience, Baird showcased antique tea canisters in the tea room on floating glass shelves. White ceramic Chinese garden stools make for unusual chairs; these flank a black matte-lacquered ebonized oak table.
Turn left at the reception desk, and double doors, also ebonized oak, announce the entrance to the 4,000-square-foot showroom. Two semi-circular push plates recalling the moon hardware on Ming dynasty chests heighten their dramatic appearance. "It's not until you open those beautiful doors," Kaplan says, "that you really know who we are and what we do."
Across the threshold, the mood is pure business. Rolling acrylic storage units dominate the center; these hold the samples—1,050 24-inch carpet squares—in convenient pull-out drawers. Shelves under the windows to the right hold more in hand-tufted, hand-knotted, carved, and sculpted wool, or specialty fibers such as sisal, flax, and dull silk. "There's really nothing we don't make," Kaplan adds. To focus attention on the contents of the bins, Baird ebonized and poly- urethaned the existing Douglas fir floor. By removing an old plaster ceiling, he exposed brick structural vaults, which he wire-brushed and sealed.
A hallway on the showroom's left side leads to the back office and meeting areas. Mobile storage can be rolled conveniently into a kitchen at the far end to clear the main floor for events. Along the corridor, doors open on a conference room where a floor-to-ceiling vitrine displays 350 spools of colorful wool yarn. (Baird designed the wool-and-silk carpet using a photograph of shadows cast by the spools.)
A back wall of clear glass showcases rugs hanging in a room behind. They're suspended from scrim hardware normally used with sliding backdrops for stage sets. Look up from the conference table, and these rugs may be in motion as people browse the display. A tea room? Flying carpets? Andy Warhol would've felt right at home, even amid the serious commerce. Indeed, the artist himself once wrote, "Good business is the best art."