Hong Kong-based rug brand HANRAD made its European debut at Maison & Objet Paris this January with a stunning collection of hand-tufted art rugs. Here Denna Jones discusses tufting with a difference with company owner, Barry Radford.

In 2016 Hong Kong-based HANRAD made an art rug named Soul. Translated from a painting by Chinese artist Chen Xin, the rug was composed of twenty one colours; each fibre a blend of up to five different yarn colours in multiple configurations which yielded a spectacular colour field greater than the sum of its parts. The rug’s field was sheared to four different pile heights accented by a low loop pile. Tufters spent the same amount of time hand finishing the rug as they did wielding their gun tufter. Soul represented a departure from the norm, and proved the prosaic, mechanical hand-tufting process can be uplifted to a fine art. Soul also marked a significant stage in HANRAD’s plan to introduce their art rugs to a global audience. ’It’s been a battle because there’s snobbery around hand-knotted rugs,’ says HANRAD’s co-founder Barry Radford. ’Don’t get me wrong, I love hand-knotted rugs, but we’re proving there’s another way [to achieve excellence].’ Radford’s research into art rug production led him to the conclusion that hand-knotted rugs—regardless of knots per square inch—create ’an illusion of the artwork; a pixelated grid’, whereas hand-tufting can ’follow the strokes and curves of the paint’ and more accurately interpret the artist’s intention.

HANRAD produced hand-tufted rugs to its own designs before Soul; But Soul was their first artist collaboration. ’I love art,’ says Radford. ’I wanted to discover a unique way to express artwork as a rug.’ Industry perception is that hand-tufted rugs are ’lower quality’ but, says Radford, ’that’s a perception based on the fact that tufted rugs are almost always manufactured for a lower price point.’ HANRAD’s artistic adaptation of hand tufting was noticed by Li Da Jun, the founder of Beijing’s Shixiang Art Space (SAS) who in 2017 commissioned HANRAD to create a 24 square metre rug of Wu Da Yu’s painting Dancing Flowers now on permanent display at SAS.

Li Da Jun then commissioned HANRAD to translate Wu Da Yu’s painting Untitled 122 as a rug edition. To Radford’s delight four rugs from their ’not inexpensive’ edition of Wu Da Yu’s painting sold in just two days at the SAS stand at ART021 Shanghai. ’I realised,’ says Radford, ’that this was a real niche for us.’ The validity of their concept for a global market was tested when Radford and his business partner made the rounds of European art and design fairs. ’We came away thinking that we really do have something unique.’

HANRAD Collectibles was founded in 2006 by New Zealand-born interior designer Radford and his business partner Han Chao, born in Inner Mongolia (Han plus a truncation of Radford create the portmanteau company name). The company’s original focus was their shared love of antique and contemporary handcrafted textiles, embroideries, and art. Their collections evolved into highlighting contemporary Chinese makers through bespoke interior design products and projects, and from there the company developed into HANRAD Bespoke Rugs.

HANRAD produces about three hundred rugs a year. Each rug edition is thirty or fewer. ’I don’t want to grow the business larger. I’m doing something I love.’ Radford visits China’s galleries and artist studios to find work that can translate into rugs. ’It has to be contemporary and abstract,’ he says. Radford works with each artist to ’interpret and retain the work’s essence and feel, but I have to find artists who respect us as much as we respect them’ referring to the negotiations required to translate from one medium to another. Radford is hands-on at all stages: ’I’m very involved start to finish.’ Tufters must have a minimum of ten years of experience before working for the company. ’They can’t make a mistake. If they do we start over.’ Atypically for the industry, HANRAD does not place time restrictions on the tufters. ’We give them space; we give them the best materials. It takes as long as it takes.’ Freedom from a ’piece work’ time frame allows HANRAD’s tufters to express their creativity. ’Sometimes they’ll question me. “We’ve never done it that way”. But they’ll tackle it after I reply “Well, why haven’t we?”’

HANRAD made their European debut at Maison & Objet in January 2020. The optics, materials, and superlative designs married to superior technique of HANRAD rugs prove that in the right hands the quality that can be achieved with hand-tufting is no longer limited. But HANRAD’s inimitable ability to surpass skills, technique, and materials by imbuing ’soul’ into each rug means the bar is set impossibly high for any potential competitors.

Location: London, UK
Date: March, 2020