To give a traditional dining room a new twist, interior designer Rhea Arnot looked down -- down to the cream-colored needlepoint rug under the double pedestal table. Her client had hired her to design a one-of-a-kind rug to replace it.
"My client is an artist and her home is traditional, but with a lot of contemporary touches," says Ms. Arnot, a partner in Arnot & McComas. "The dining room is really the most traditional room in the house. I wanted my design to look like it belonged in the house, but I wanted to add a real kick to the room."
She found inspiration in a framed print of dark cherries hanging on a nearby wall. Ultimately, similar fruit turned up intertwined in the bamboo border of the 11-foot by 13-foot rug. To design the center section with its luscious-looking fruits and vegetables, Ms. Arnot went to the market, got the real things, arranged them in her studio, and began sketching.
"I get my ideas very quickly and I can sit down and sketch the design in 10 or 15 minutes," she says. "Then it takes months to develop." Usually the process from sketch to rug takes about a year.
Once the design has been finalized, Ms. Arnot goes to Washington, where she spends four or five hours sitting on the showroom floor of Stark Carpet, surrounded by 5,000 pounds of worsted wool. After selecting the colors for her design, she turns the process over to Stark, a noted rug dealer. At Stark, professional renderings of the finished rug are prepared. The design is then put on canvas at a mill in China or the Philippines and the rug is hand-tufted by workers using a special hooking tool. Prices are "comparable to fine Oriental rugs of the same size," Ms. Arnot says.
She has been designing rugs for the last two years and has a trio -- a garden design of flowers with a checkerboard border -- that will be ready in the fall. "Although they will be used together, each one of the three rugs is different," she says. "I never repeat a design."