I’m a firm believer that rugs are incredibly underrated. All day, every day they are the subtle cushioning between us and the hard, cruel and often cold world, er, floor. Luckily, rugs seem to be enjoying a resurgence, with new inventions in a myriad of styles and techniques. One of my favorite recent rug innovations is by Louie Rigano and Gil Muller, whose Shore Rugs are hand-woven from custom-engineered silicone cord.
Born out of the Design Products MA program at London’s Royal College of Art, the idea for Shore Rugs stemmed from a desire to create a designer anti-fatigue mat—yes, that ugly piece of rubber foam behind cashier counters or beneath your standing desk, meant to provide comfort for those on their feet all day. As Rigano says, “Anti-fatigue mats, as inherently functional and technical products, have never been made in an aesthetically progressive way.”
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But Muller and Rigano were not only concerned with aesthetics. They were also interested in using high-performance materials to create something technically superior—or at least comparable—to what was currently on the market. “Rarely do aesthetics and technical benefits align so naturally in a single product, and we wanted to achieve this in our rugs,” Muller says. Additionally, as part of their RCA studio, the duo was focused on creating a product that could be commercialized for domestic use.
During their initial research, in January 2015, Muller and Rigano identified silicone sponge cord as the ideal material. After all, it can be woven—“a process which evokes a tradition of domesticity,” Muller says—and it possesses a dynamic tactile quality. Plus, it’s the material of choice for a number of high-performance applications, including as a sealing component in machine and engine O-rings. “In these applications, the cord must meet a very high standard of consistency and durability,” Rigano says. “It was our intention to utilize and enhance all of these benefits in a design for the domestic realm.”
Some of the different silicone cords Shore Rugs’ founders tested during the development process The final rugs are now available to order on Shore Rugs’ website, with prices starting at $240.
The more the duo looked at silicone, the more it seemed preferable to other materials they considered, like polyurethane and neoprene. “Unlike the latter two,” Rigano says, “silicone will not give off toxic fumes or disintegrate, and unlike a normal fiber-based rug it will not harbor dust either.” Muller and Rigano cite silicone’s UV resistance and the fact that it’s hypoallergenic as further advantages.
Of course, the designers also made sure that woven silicone would provide the kind of cushioning needed for an anti-fatigue product. During development, Muller and Rigano showed their final mats to physiotherapists and tested them with users, whom would use them for lengthy periods alongside their standing desks. “Having examined different weaving techniques, cord densities and profiles we arrived at our product range,” Muller says. “Our rugs ideally balance density, weight and durability.” Plus, most anti-fatigue mats use polyurethane, which can have a negative environmental impact. “As a company we have decided to not promote using such a material but instead decided to put all our efforts into researching and developing silicone material,” Muller says.
The designers had special looms custom-fabricated for the rug weaving process.
After finding a partner in a nearby cord manufacturer in the heart of England’s historic weaving industry, Muller and Rigano worked with the factory to refine details of the silicone cord-making process. Although the designers knew they wanted to work with silicone sponge cord as a material, they wanted to customize the consistency to arrive at a specific look and feel for their final mats. “As our rugs consist exclusively of one single material, it was essential to get it right,” Rigano says. “One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced so far was to find and develop a cord material to meet our particular criteria: we needed a material that was UV resistant (for use outdoors), durable, waterproof and that could be made in unique and diverse colors.” The entire process took roughly six months.
The final cord has a tough, leather-like texture and an optimized density tested to produce the right balance for standing comfort. Like most silicone cords, it is produced through an extrusion, where a silicone compound is pushed through a round profile die to result in a very long, continuous strand. Muller and Rigano also worked with the manufacturer to develop a technique for combining different color compounds together to create unique and vivid color transitions. “During that development period, it was absolutely essential to develop a close working relationship with our cord manufacturers, as they had never before produced the cord for an application such as ours,” Rigano says.
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After arriving at a final cord the team was satisfied with, the next challenge was finding a technique for weaving the mats. “As the cord is stretchy, it has to be woven under even and constant tension,” Muller says. “We also had to find a technique to weave them quickly and consistently.” The designers considered weaving the cord on traditional hand looms, but that proved too difficult due to the natural stretchiness and size of the cord. Instead, they opted for having looms custom-fabricated for working with the cord; these special looms have frames with hooks on all sides to hold the warp (the vertical strands) in place as the weft (the horizontal strands) is fed through.
The two designers graduated from RCA last July, launched the first Shore Rugs collection during London Design Festival last September, and are now focusing on growing the business. “Standing desks are increasingly popular and we think we are offering something that truly stands out in a relatively monotonous market of corporate furniture,” Rigano says. They also see potential in expanding their offering for other use cases: “The areas of yacht furnishings as well as baby play mats are also interesting in the long term.”