On 12 March 2020, everyone at Jamie Stern Furniture, Carpet & Leather began working remotely due to Covid-19. On 13 March 2020, colleagues gathered on Zoom to explore ways to maintain their normal routines, support and continue to build relationships with the architecture and design (A&D) community, and ’have a little fun’. Psychologists know a positive mindset is a key way to survive ‘threats’, and if you can add a skosh of fun too? Even better.
Headquartered in New Jersey, Jamie Stern Furniture, Carpet & Leather is a B2B company helmed by the man himself—Jamie Stern. During an engaging phone interview COVER discovered Stern believes in adding ‘fun‘ (he loves the word as well as the concept) as an integral, but not overreaching, element of the company ethos. The March think-tank session resulted in the idea of launching a national rug design contest. Emails announcing the contest were sent to the company’s contacts. Designers throughout the US had just over two weeks (15 April to 4 May ) to submit entries.
‘It’s so funny,’ says Stern as he deviates to describe the selection process. ‘We had interior designers [William Oberlin, Geoffrey Woodrum, and Suzette Subance Ferrier] as our judges. They chose the four Grand Prize winners and eight runners-up.’ Stern returns to his recollection of fun. ‘I was shocked at how fun the whole thing was! It was so interesting and rewarding to see how the hand drawn sketches [AutoCad was also allowed] translated into rugs.’
Another key element of the contest was education. Winning designers were limited to natural, sustainable fibres for the weave of their rugs. ’We work with a lot of high-end hospitality, corporate and commercial designers,’ says Stern. ‘There’s still a misperception that carpets and rugs made with petrochemical fibres “last” longer. Our company is committed to natural fibres. We tell designers “you’re not sacrificing quality, maintenance or durability“ [with natural fibres]. We’ve been very successful doing this, and the contest is another way to introduce designers to the benefits of natural, sustainable and biodegradable fibres and how they line up with our handmade production techniques.’
Designer and illustrator Lance Trachier, Associate Creative Director of Dallas-based SWOON the studio, is one of the four regional Grand Prize winners. ‘A co-worker sent me a promotional email about the contest,’ he says. ’I was a bit apprehensive because I’m always worried whether or not people will ”get” where I’m coming from with my illustrations.’ Trachier’s design Mad About Spots charmed the judges. It features his spare yet playful line illustration of leopards, snakes, and moths—all with spots. ‘I’ve always coveted vintage Beni Ourain rugs. I found a few vintage rugs featuring simplified drawings of cattle and fish that I just fell in love with. That was my starting point, but I wanted to approach the design with animals that played to my graphic style. I started sketching a snake, filled him in with spots, then decided to run with that theme. I went from the snake to a spotted Ermine moth to a white leopard. I love how these animals play into the black and white nature of vintage Moroccan rugs.’
Each of the four Grand Prize winners received a 5′ x 7′ rug in their winning design. Runners-up received a 3′ x 5′ rug. Rugs were hand tufted in wool with up to 20% in bamboo silk if they wished. Trachier comments on the ease of the process. ‘I was surprised how easy they made the manufacturing process and how little rug expertise I needed to get my design translated so well. The Jamie Stern design team knew how to translate my concept into a commercial product with very little help from me. The rug’s so soft that Moose, our Great Pyrenees dog, refuses to sleep anywhere else!’
‘We do this every day,’ says Stern referring to the design renderings the company created for contest finalists, but he’s also referring to the company’s ongoing commitment to continual refinement of processes to create a seamless, easy and stress-free (if not fun!) experience for the A&D community. ‘We take a slightly different approach to the rest of the industry,’ he says. ‘We like to bring designers right into the process of making their rug. We offer the A&D community a chance to work directly with our JS factories so they have complete control over the product with a shortened lead time.’ Designers and contest applicants also benefit from Jamie Stern’s ‘digital pom box’—an online tool developed two years ago ‘to create one more easy step for designers’.
‘We were overwhelmed by the response to the contest,’ says Stern. For the majority who entered ‘it was their first foray into rug design.’ Stern says the contest ‘was a fun way to get people comfortable with our process and show them how easy it is to work with us.’ Asked whether the contest will enjoy a second outing in 2021, Stern is enthusiastic. ‘Yes! We’ll keep doing it.’ Jamie Stern’s positive personality, dedication to streamlining processes, and his commitment to sustainable fibres, are characteristics that amplify why the company he founded forty years ago remains a leading B2B company.