Federica Tondato of Fedora Design is a New York and Paris-based rug designer known for her unique hand-designed and hand-woven pieces that become the perfect accent rug wherever they are placed. Her business model is highly boutique – she is the go-to rug designer for those who want to create a strikingly original interior, for example interior maven Muriel Brandolini, or for those in the know about design. Here she talks how rugs can be architectural, the pleasure of unexpected design and why buying a too-small rug is ‘deadly’.
Is there a strong design aesthetic in family? Your sister is Allegra Hicks.
My father [the Italian inventor Carlo Tondato] was in love with design and architecture. He had a very modernist view – we grew up in a glass house, which was very unusual at the time – and I think we got from him a need to be inspired, a love of details.
You studied architecture at university – how come you moved into rugs?
I studied architecture at the Architectural Association in London and it was the best education I ever received. It didn’t matter what you were designing, if it was a chair, a building, music – it was about the approach. We were taught how to check and process an idea from concept to result. The Italian approach was very judgmental about aesthetics, there was a way of how it should be. It was very conformist. In the UK I was dropped in this place where beautiful didn’t matter – only the process and system of creating.
I then moved to Milan and did a Masters in Design which was interesting but was almost too comfortable. I did another Masters in NYC and I decided I didn’t want to follow that structure you have to follow to become an architect – it didn’t suit my style of being. I moved into videos and sculpture but I was terrified of the art world –it felt like you had to come from a certain background and I didn’t feel I fit. I really enjoyed being behind the camera, and I was asked at very short notice to be the cameraman in a documentary about the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala. It was an incredible experience filming these refugees, very powerful and painful, and I couldn’t go back to my old life. I locked myself into my environment and started to draw. I didn’t have a name for what I was doing. Six months later I went with my folder to textiles and fashion designers who looked at me like, “Who are you?” My sister [Allegra] said, “Why don’t you come with me to meet the producers and do it yourself?” Two months later my first sample arrived – my designs turned into actual things. I got my first commission via Muriel Brandolini, and now 1,500 plus rugs later, I still haven’t stopped!
And you still get your rugs made in North India?
My rugs are created via different processes depending on what the client wants: hand embroidered, hand knotted and hand tufted, and these different styles are created in different areas. I started with the embroidered style in northern India then expanded into other areas, for example tufting in Nepal, so I could offer more variety and have producers worldwide.
Could you describe your process of creation of design?
It depends on the project. If it’s just for me I have the inspiration, sit down, draw. It doesn’t matter what it is at the end, it stays in my office or show room and it’s not very commercial. I regard a rug as a 2D object which is also somehow 3D as it creates space. I’ve also incorporated 3D objects in a rug, like a stainless steel cylinder which is distorted and reflected back, or a Shivaist temple – the lingam/cylinder is the architectural reflection of the temple and reflects back again. I was asked to design a rug in homage to Lina Bo Bardi who was an architect, set, jewellery and furniture designer. I used different textures in the rug to create at 3D effect and incorporated pillars she used in building. When it comes to clients, I don’t get offended by any request – at the end of the day a rug is a decorative item. I can create in any colour and style.
What inspires you?
I love a commission for design in a specific room because it’s like creating a portrait for that room. I get inspired by furnishings, the client, colours and so on. I have occasionally been asked to do a rug before the room has been started – and even on one occasion before the house was built! In terms of designs, nature in its largest form inspires me, and every day there is a new inspiration. You can have a walk and see a reflection in a puddle with form and contrast, and one day you know just how to use it.
You’ve worked a lot with Muriel Brandolini. What’s the synergy there?
Well, essentially she’s not scared of colour and she loves to experiment. I understand how she works and thinks. She can be quite demanding and she works fast, but so do I – I get consumed by a project. I can do a presentation one week after I’ve been engaged. It has to be done fast as I only have a small office! I am approached at the beginning, sometimes her first influence will be my design. I am interested by how, in her environment, my rugs become something different. My aesthetics are actually much more modernist and minimal.
Your loft apartment in New York proves that you don’t need to have a vast mansion to use colour.
My loft is designed for me to work in. I needed a space with light and empty floors so I have space to lay my work down. My place in Paris has a lot more rugs! I love the use of colour – I’m brave with myself, I love to change my environment – and I would love people to be daring as it’s more fun. But it’s about what the client wants: I adjust myself to their space. For example in France people are not daring with colours, it’s all beige, white, brown, a little blue.
What advice would you have for someone creating their living environment?
Look around. I loved going to souks and buying rugs. If they have something custom made I would suggest not to forget the relationship between furniture, lighting and textiles – it’s very important they communicate. A rug is not just a surface, it creates a very strong area and a conversation piece in a room. If you put an accent rug between say a white sofa and a coffee table you change the space of the interaction between people. You can bring different areas in a room alive with a clever use of a rug or a colour.
What else do you need to remember?
I get quite annoyed when people use the wrong sized rug. Size is important – a tiny rug under a coffee table is deadly, you lose the scale of everything. You need to create a landscape with the rug and furniture – it is an object itself. For example a red rug with a white sofa is unexpected, it creates almost sculpture. But the most important thing is if it makes you happy. It might not be my taste, but it’s not my apartment, so I want to achieve what they want from the room. Everyone should create their space according to if it makes you happy.
Your work from 15 years ago hasn’t dated at all – what do you think your secret is?
May be because I don’t follow trends, they are not what moves me. I always knew what I liked and what I didn’t, I don’t need to be reassured by a trend. I love the contemporary look but I like it less when everyone copies it.
Do you enjoy the unexpected?
Definitely! I love those old nomadic rugs where they run out of colours, creating unexpected moments that are not designed but from the conditions at the time. It’s that little moment of ‘off’ that makes you go ‘huh’ – a line that is not beige or yellow but suddenly turquoise. It’s very pleasing and keeps you interested.