Journal

Welcome to Maddux Creative’s journal – a place to discover more about the studio’s co-founders, Scott Maddux & Jo leGleud.

Creative Confessions: Five minutes with Hector Coombs

Shame Studios founder Hector Coombs shares with us why rug design is special to him, the story behind the company, and the pieces that have inspired and influenced him.

CAN YOU SHARE WITH US YOUR JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF DESIGN, AND HOW YOU SPECIFICALLY BECAME INTERESTED IN RUG DESIGN?

I was spending my teens and early twenties after I left school getting sacked from every job I tried to do and vaguely trying to build a body of work as a fine artist. I got introduced to Matt Bourne at Christopher Farr and he decided to take a chance on me and let me make the tea for a couple of months to see how it went. 

It was like falling in love. Matt was working with loads of artists who I admired and just the collaborative nature of the medium, coupled with its rich history and tradition spanning thousands of years, fascinated me. The way they were modernising it, making it relevant to the present while still respecting its heritage; even the smell of the rugs!! I just loved it from day one. Matt really took me under his wing, encouraged me and shared his passion for the medium with me. That inspired me to care deeply about traditional textiles as well.

WHAT INSPIRED THE INCEPTION OF SHAME STUDIOS? CAN YOU SHARE THE CATALYST THAT LED TO ITS ESTABLISHMENT AND TELL US MORE ABOUT THE NAME?

After I left Christopher Farr, where I had worked for ten years, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to carry on working with textiles. I had hit that moment in a career when you’re not really sure if you chose what you do and if you really love what you do or if you are just doing it because “it’s what you do”. I ended up travelling and thinking about what I might want to do with my life and then being drawn to all the weaving centres wherever I travelled, commissioning samples to see what they could do. Soon I had run out of money to commission samples, so I needed to start a business to make more money to make more samples!!

Interior design and taste are so tied up with identity, and the name Shame Studios is meant to serve as a daily reminder to embrace and express these things without shame, while also emphasising responsibility toward others, including our weavers, employees, clients, and the broader impact on the environment. The name Shame Studios was also inspired by a lot of the discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues, the right to be oneself and the responsibility to treat others with kindness. 

We are a long way from being perfect as a company, and still have a lot of work to do to really be the best in the industry in prioritising artistic expression and kindness in all our interactions, both within and beyond our company.

Pride Rugs are available from Shame Studios, with all profits going to the Human Dignity Trust.

AS A RUG DESIGNER, WHAT ASPECTS OF YOUR ROLE DO YOU FIND MOST ENJOYABLE AND FULFILLING?

I love seeing things that I’ve never seen before; I think that’s the most exciting thing. When a designer comes to you with a design or colourway you never would have thought of, or when inspiration strikes and you think maybe, just maybe, you might have come up with something new yourself… That is a really electric feeling.

Equally rewarding is providing something for a client that they really love, when you get the sense that the object you have helped create is going to bring someone comfort, pleasure and ease in their daily life for a long time to come. When it feels like you have helped, even in a small way, someone feel more at home and more able to be themselves in their home. That is a very nice feeling. 

Portait of Janah Abderrahman - Photographed by Hector Coombs.

YOUR RECENT 'WATERCOLOURS' RUG COLLABORATION WITH LEVESON DESIGN - CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS COLLECTION AND HOW THE COLLABORATION WITH LEVESON DESIGN CAME ABOUT?

A very lovely client introduced me to Cindy and on seeing her interior illustrations, I was instantly inspired - Cindy has a very instinctual and expressive way of rendering traditional textiles, particularly rugs. I am always searching for ways to reinterpret the traditional and when I saw her drawings I thought, “If she can capture that feel in an actual rug design then we will really have something”. Of course, Cindy could, and when I saw her first designs, I knew it was something that I wanted to make. They felt really familiar, like something I had been searching for already. Also Cindy is simply the most fun, generous, joyful, wonderful, inspiring person to work with, which makes a big difference!!

Tabs - Silk Dhurry designed by Cindy Leveson for Shame Studios.

COLLABORATION IS OFTEN A KEY ELEMENT IN THE DESIGN PROCESS. ARE THERE ANY OTHER DESIGNERS OR ARTISTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH IN THE FUTURE? IF SO, WHY?

Well, Jo and Scott of course!! It’s nice to collaborate with people you like and whose taste you relate to and admire. We really believe in serendipity in our collaborations; good work emerges from a fun but rigorous process, so finding people who you can take that journey with is key. Instead of actively seeking collaborations, we prefer to let them unfold organically. It might sound a bit whimsical, but we find that it's easy to be captivated by the idea of collaborating with someone you admire, yet the reality doesn't always match the fantasy. We have a couple of collaborations in the works though, so do watch this space.

Truly Nathalia, my business partner, is my greatest collaborator. I tend to be the face of Shame Studios but it really is a partnership, it wouldn’t exist without her and all the decisions that we make are made jointly. 

WHOSE WORK IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY DO YOU ADMIRE, AND WHAT SPECIFIC QUALITIES OR ELEMENTS OF THEIR DESIGNS RESONATE WITH YOU?

I don’t know how this is going to sound… but I try really, really hard to not look at what other people are doing! I feel like if I see something I really like then it’s at least a week before I can do a design that feels truly my own again!! 

That said, I really enjoyed working with Elliot Barnes (www.ejrbarnes.com); his work is truly wonderful, characterized by a rigorous and serious approach, perhaps with a hint of Josef Beuys-esque machismo – I hope he doesn't mind me saying that. But then it also has this very playful, gentle, humorous side to it and I find that contrast really intriguing and delightful. His 'Citron Presse' sofa is one of my favourite things I have seen recently, and I am incredibly proud of the work we did together for his Calla Field Study Rug. I think it illustrates what I like most about his work: brave and bold yet whimsical and gentle. 

'Calla Field Study Rug' - EJR Barnes.

I also really adore Rooms Studio (https://roomsstudio.net/). The way they combine folk tradition, brutalism, a sort of catholic/orthodox religious sensibility, modernism and craft so seamlessly to make objects that have so much gravitas, charisma and simplicity is just mind blowing to me. Their stuff feels important, I am so jealous of it I can’t even look at it!

'Sculptural Chairs and Triple Bench' - Rooms Studio

IF YOU WEREN'T DESIGNING RUGS, WHAT OTHER CREATIVE OR PROFESSIONAL PATH DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE PURSUED?

Well, I was trying to be a fine artist before I found rugs but I don’t think that was ever going to work out – it can be a very lonely career path. I think rugs are my thing and I would have been utterly miserable and woefully, un-survivably, unsuccessful at literally anything else! 

 

IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DOES DESIGN, ESPECIALLY IN THE REALM OF RUGS, CONTRIBUTE TO THE OVERALL AESTHETIC AND ATMOSPHERE OF A SPACE?

For me, it’s rare that I enjoy fitted carpet and I find bare floors to usually be a bit cold and austere. I believe a well-designed rug can enhance most rooms. Overall aesthetic and atmosphere are such deeply personal things, and I love those with the courage to explore something really out there; it takes such confidence. I do also have a bit of a soft spot for people who say “honestly, I just want something quite simple that nobody is going to make fun of me for”.

I think rugs can be an opportunity to go against the grain of a space and to create an object that will challenge the predominant aesthetic to give a space some friction and interest. Of course, it is also an opportunity to “really tie the room together”, to quote The Big Lebowski, and bring any disparate elements that feel disjointed into harmony through the use of your rug. I suppose the beauty of a rug is that it can be made, designed and used in so many different ways: it represents infinite possibilities. 

Ribbon Rug detail - Shame Studios.

CAN YOU SHARE A MEMORABLE OR CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE FROM YOUR CAREER THAT HAS SIGNIFICANTLY INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH TO DESIGN?

In general, I find that there are two experiences that I bounce between and get repeated every so often.

The first is the experience when you are working with someone and they want to do something a certain way and you think, “that is never going to work, that is utterly horrible and the outcome will be terrible”, but it’s someone you respect so you don’t say anything and then the piece comes and it is spectacularly beautiful in a way that you could never have imagined. This reminds you to be humble and to listen to and question your assumptions.

The second is quite a similar experience, but here the piece arrives and it is utterly disgusting and you hate it and it reminds you that you have to be true to yourself and trust your instincts and make them matter in the design process, no matter if it is sometimes difficult or uncomfortable. 

Finding that balance between keeping an open mind and having a clear vision is the hardest thing about design in my opinion. I think that constantly trying to dial that in so that you are making the best possible decisions is the main work of being a designer. 

'Sunset Sky' - Silk tapestry by Shame Studios.

HOW DO YOU STAY UPDATED ON DESIGN TRENDS, AND HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE THEM INTO YOUR WORK, OR DO YOU PREFER TO CREATE DESIGNS THAT ARE TIMELESS?

I definitely prefer to try not to think about design trends, as I said it just really throws off my own creative practice. However, sometimes the nature of design really turns on its head and it’s a bit of a generational change. I grew up in a design environment heavily influenced by "Gen X," emphasising minimalism and modernism. The advent of millennials brought about a more playful and maximalist aesthetic, challenging these principles I was raised on.

That was quite disconcerting because I think that your first fashion trend is always the hardest to let go of; it forces you to acknowledge that it was merely a fashion statement and not a genuine passion So, from that point of view trends can be great expanders and really challenge you to reinvent yourself and come to terms with a new language. That’s very exciting. I’m looking forward with some trepidation to being blown away by "Gen Z” very soon, and anticipate feeling old and out of touch and confused, before hopefully coming to terms with their ideas!

'Tabs' - Silk Dhurry designed by Cindy Leveson for Shame Studios - Shot at Hound Lodge Goodwood by Jonathan Wilson.

ARE THERE SPECIFIC CULTURAL OR HISTORICAL INFLUENCES THAT YOU OFTEN DRAW INSPIRATION FROM IN YOUR RUG DESIGNS?

I absolutely hate the idea of being pigeon-holed, so we consciously try to push in as many different directions as we can as a design practice. Shame Studios is meant to be all about freedom, and what is freedom worth if it’s not exercised! So we really try to be broad in our influences. 

I’m obsessed with the idea of journey, of translation and of process. In traditional carpets a motif might appear in China, travel for a century or two along the silk road, perhaps as far afield as Poland, through the whole of the Middle East and then return to China in an almost unrecognisable form. So this practice of evolving an idea without having a fixed vision for an end point, for “how it should look” is very important to me. 

Having said all that, I absolutely love early renaissance religious painting and the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher. But, mostly as an excuse to share these two images!

Madonna della misericordia (1445–55), Piero della Francesca. Museo Civico di Sansepolcro.

Water Towers 1967–80 Gelatin silver prints Each 15 7/8 x 12 3/16 in. (40.4 x 31 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1074a–p) © Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE CRATIVE ASPECT OF DESIGN WITH THE PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF FUNCTIONALITY AND USABILITY IN YOUR RUG DESIGNS?

It’s a tricky one. Handmade rugs are very practical, functional, and usable in that they are hard wearing, durable and tough but they are also very costly and take a long time to make so that is often more of a stress than anything else. It’s nice to have a balance of projects, some with big budgets and long lead times and some with lower budgets and shorter lead times. Both types provoke creativity; honestly, the latter more often forces you to be more creative and discover new things. 

Bespoke Pyramids Rug detail. 

RUGS SEEM TO HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN YOUR WORK. WHAT IS IT ABOUT RUGS THAT YOU FIND PARTICULARLY CAPTIVATING OR MEANINGFUL?

There is an ancientness and humanness to the medium that I find endlessly fascinating. The Pazyryk carpet was found in a Siberian tomb and is thought to be about 2,600 years old.  There is no way that this technology had not been around for at least a few thousand years before this and probably dates back to the very dawn of humanity. Today, handmade textiles have almost entirely disappeared from most of our lives. Yet there is something so soulful and moving about an object that has been made by another human with the intention of bringing warmth and comfort on the most basic and physical level. To be a part of this rich history and tradition is such a huge privilege for me. 

It is also a medium that allows me to engage with people all over the world, of all different classes, nationalities, histories and religions, to have a common goal with them and a goal that we are usually all quite passionate about: the goal of making a beautiful carpet together! 

The Pazyryk Carpet.