On a cold yet sunny Saturday my husband and I set off to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to meet with Stephen Szczepanek at his by-appointment-only textile gallery - Sri Threads. We arrive at the door of his building, and once we are buzzed in, walk across an open-air courtyard that leads us to his building. As we entered Stephen’s gallery, I immediately took note of the array of neatly stacked fabrics on the tables, benches, and shelves. Stephen specializes in antique Japanese folk textiles - particularly indigo cotton dyed fabrics, boro textiles, textiles from India - and he also has a few objects for sale. Boro textiles are patched and mended fabrics which I find endearing. I can see the dignified beauty in these humble fabrics- quite a contrast to todays throw - away fashion.

In old Japan, women would document the fabrics they wove by keeping small watches in Shima Cho or Stripe albums. Today, textile designers may find inspiration in such books or in many of the fabrics here such as a small fragment of stencil dyed cotton of chrysanthemums in steam. The pattern is of stylized flowers, and steam reminds me of something from the Art Deco period; and this fabric could be reimagined into a new fabric, wallpaper or even a rug design. Interior designers have longed sought out antique and vintage fabrics to incorporate in their interior design projects as it adds a layer of depth, and a good designer knows that everything should not be new in a room. I like the idea of making new throw pillows out of antique and vintage fabrics for the face of the pillow, and a new fabric on the back, and perhaps adding a trim to frame the pillow.

On a cabinet with a collection of Indian deities sits a small stack of hand-plied nineteenth century ramie from Okinawa. Though most of the textiles we see here are indigo, these textiles are in vibrant floral patterns which are typical of Okinawan textiles. These fabrics are made by a freehand paste resist dye method called Tsutsugaki. There are different kinds of Kimono sashes from the early to mid- 20th century. I find these textiles interesting because of their history; they give us insight on how people lived in the past, not only making their own clothes, but also weaving, and dying their own fabrics. It is impressive that these textiles still exist and that people cared enough to save them. I learned a lot from Stephen such as what made indigo a popular color choice, in Japan and all over the world. It was most likely because it didn’t need a mordant to set the color and thus it is a less complicated dying process. Perhaps, it also explains the expression “blue collar” as the dye rubbed off easily onto the skin.

We didn’t leave Stephen’s gallery empty-handed. Since I couldn’t settle on a fabric, we purchased a small deity of Shiva with much of paint worn off. This deity now sits next to a contemporary Balinese deity of Saraswati on an hand-painted Indian cabinet in my home. I enjoy incorporating unique items from far away cultures into my personal spaces as I think it makes an interior more fascinating.

Architectural Surfaces

Each City has its own tone, its own flavor, and we love working with clients all around the world to create the perfect material solutions to enhance the poetry of that destination.

(Karen Pearse)

When embarking on a residential or commercial interior project, one of the most important materials to source for are the hard surfaces. For interiors, this includes the floors, walls, ceilings, and kitchen and bathroom counters. Karen Pearse is a marble expert and founder of Karen Pearse Global Direct, specializing in architectural surfaces and fabrication. I met Karen at her showroom on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Karen got her to start working with her father who specialized in stone and tile for the residential market. Her grandfather, the modern artist František Reichentál instilled in her a love and appreciation of art. Her curiosity to learn more about marble and stone led Karen to spend several years in Europe, to learn as much she could by spending time at quarries, and delving into the local culture, history, and art. At one point she moved her offices, and her home to a castle in Pietrasanta, Italy. One of her fondest memories is when she entertained clients with a small orchestra playing music out on the balcony overlooking the Carrara Mountains, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Out of a vast amount of materials I saw at her New York showroom, one of my favorites was marble from Bordeaux in deep, rich colors. Beyond marble and stone, she offers porcelain tile from France and Japan, and realistic digital-printed porcelain of wood and marble. Karen creates and innovates and is constantly creating new materials to offer to her clients.

Recently, Karen started working with the Toronto office of Yabu Pushelberg on the La Samaritaine project in Paris - the once the famed Parisian department store that is now set to reopen in 2020 as a multipurpose complex of retail stores, a five-star hotel, spa, and swanky restaurants. The company provided custom-made terrazzo with tile inserts of rare marbles that were designed to work with the original architecture of this historic building.

She keeps on the pulse of international trends where she sees strong influences arising from fashion, art, film, and global cultural shifts. She sees a lot of designers inspired by the European design trends coming from Milan’s Design Week and a renewed interest in traditional design methods from around the world. She also noted that sustainability has become one of the leading design trends along with the materials and methods used.

In spring Rizzoli will release Rooms of Splendor by Karen Pearse, with the forward by Massimo Ferragamo. In this book, she shares her passion for marble and how it can be used to make an interior stunning, warm, and inviting. This book also features interiors by leading interior designers such as Kelly Wearstler, Vincente Wolf, and Juan Pablo Molyneux.

Meeting with Karen Pearse, and with Stephen Szczepanek has been a virtual cultural trip around the world. I have seen beautiful marble, and porcelains, and vintage, and antique fabrics that make me dream to travel, to design and to renovate.