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Shopping the planet, ancient routes bring fresh design

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Shopping the planet, ancient routes bring fresh design

As far back as 200 BC, the fabled Silk Road carried coveted silks, richly-patterned carpets, worked metal, fine porcelains and ceramics from deep within China, all the way to the Roman Empire. Think of it as an ancient form of Wayfair, with longer delivery times.

Two millennia later, independent design boutiques connected to a worldwide marketplace make sourcing unique treasures for the home easier, and a lot faster.

A World Of Character

“Being independent gives us the freedom to find all kinds of elements that add layers of personality to a space and give people a feeling that there is a design story,” says Pamela Arora, owner of Turquoise Palace, which sells global design to both designers and residential clients.

Many products come from India, where Arora and co-owner, Tanya Sharma, have family connections.

Traditional weaving techniques meet modern sensibility at Thirty-Six Knots.

Responsible Luxury

With independence also comes the ability to choose one’s own suppliers, and to insist they share a commitment to good labour conditions and sustainable materials. “We work with co-ops that employ stay-at-home moms, we work with local artisans and entrepreneurs,” says Sharma. “But we have a list of criteria for people we work with that we don’t deviate from.”

“Tanya and I decided a long time ago that we only wanted to be involved in responsible luxury,” adds Arora.

Finally, independence gives them the freedom to flex their creative muscles through design: they’re currently working on a collection of pillows based on the wedding veils of their mothers. Turquoise Palace products are available in select stores across the country.

Artisanal Artistry

Hopson Grace, a pretty little store in midtown Toronto that ships across the country, also offers decor gems from all over, such as sculptural, deliberately irregular pieces from Italian ceramic artist Rina Menardi — handcrafted in her studio outside Venice.

Treasures from the modern-day trade route: Rina Menardi ceramics

Casa Cubista, owned by British-born designer Arren Williams and his husband David Pimentel (who grew up in an Azorean-Canadian family of craftspeople,) has expanded quickly, and has now added to its ceramic and textile line, a collection of handmade rugs available through Renwil. Casa Cubista products are available in Toronto at Saudade Toronto, located in Little Portugal, and at decor boutiques around the world.

Several Casa Cubista rugs are made with fabric reclaimed from the fashion industry.

Contemporary, versatile designs like these are helping handcrafted goods shed an often undeserved reputation for lacking in sophistication. Modern design and old-world craft come together masterfully, for example, in the carpets sold at Thirty-Six Knots, located in mid-town Toronto, (they also sell decor and furniture). Made from wool and silk in India, the designs mix traditional techniques with inventive, fresh patterns.

A marked improvement on the Silk Road delivery times, a custom design for a hand-tufted carpet can typically take 90 days, while a hand-knotted design could require up to a year.

“The reason hand-knotted takes so long is we typically use what is called 14- by 14- knots per square inch,” he explains. With some carpets, that can mean one and a half million hand-tied knots.

Tasselled jacquard pillows from Turquoise Palace blend old techniques with fresh trends

Global Decor Favoured

Mass market chains are increasingly making global connections: West Elm collaborates with local artisans in spots like New Delhi and the Philippines, while Ikea’s Överallt collection paired designers from five African countries with an in-house designer to create furniture, tableware, textiles, and totes. Hurry – it’s only in stores until the end of September.

Ikea’s colourful Överallt line.

Why is global decor resonating so well with homeowners?

“We’re gravitating to the past for stability and a sense of history,” suggests Sharma. “At the same time, we’re moving away from sparse interiors, and toward colour. Decor from around the world, artisanal crafts, they deliver that.”

SOURCES hopsongrace.com, westelm.ca, ikea.ca, thirtysixknots.com, turquoisepalace.com, renwil.com

Vicky Sanderson

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