Everyone has an emotional connection to cities, whether it’s where you were born, where you grew up, or where you met your significant other. For me, that would be Sofia in Bulgaria, Casablanca, and Paris; and the closest I can get to those cities right now is by getting lost in their respective maps.
This special relationship we all have with cities is the essence of Urban Fabric, a company that produces handmade area rugs that look like tufted city models. Since launching in 2011, the company has created rugs inspired by more than 30 cities, worldwide, each with its own characteristic urban pattern: Paris’s star-shaped Arc de Triomphe; Manhattan’s dense grid, punctuated by Central Park; or one of the distinctive bends in London’s River Thames.
It all started in 2006, when Toronto’s Interior Design Show (IDS) put out a call for product design entries. Andrei Zerebecky, who would go on to found Urban Fabric, submitted a proposal to turn an aerial photograph of the Canadian Prairies into a rug. “IDS accepted the submission and informed me that I would be exhibiting the rug at their show in February of 2007,” he says. “So I quickly learned how to make my first rug.”
Then Zerebecky took an architecture job in Shanghai and found himself drawn to the city’s “noodle-y streets and canals.” (He now runs his own architecture firm, Atelier Zerebecky.) “I wanted to capture that as a rug,” he says. Today, the Shanghai rug is the most popular design, most likely because Urban Fabric is based there, but Zerebecky says Ottawa is another favorite. Different iterations of the Canadian capital have found their way to Canadian embassies around the world, from Copenhagen and Dakar to New York City.
Like creating a painting or taking a photograph, designing a rug relies on composition and scale: too close, and the city won’t be recognizable; too far, and details like buildings or landmarks will get lost. Once he settles on the overall concept, Zerebecky works with a team of artists to finalize the drawing and select the colors. (He’s also collaborated with such well-known architects as Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular and Elena Manferdini, whose creations remain inspired by cities, albeit in a more abstract way.)
When the design is complete, the backing (think of it as a canvas) is hung on a stretcher, and the pattern is traced or projected over it. Then artisans tuft or knot several layers of New Zealand wool, ending up with a 3D rug where the buildings are slightly taller than the roads, which are slightly taller than the water. Most rugs cost around $1,200 per square meter—or about $7,000 for a 6.5 x 9.5-foot rug. Customers can also request custom iterations of existing rugs, or new cities altogether, all of which come at an extra cost.
Zerebecky is now looking into more landscape and topography-inspired rugs, like the Great Wall of China, two glaciers converging into one, or the colorful expanses of tulip fields in The Netherlands. “There’s an endless array of patterns in the world if you look at it from the right perspective,” he says.