I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: rugs are incredibly underrated, and I’m thrilled to see more and more designers starting to pay attention to the humble textiles underfoot. This week we have another example: colorful squirted-foam rugs made by the designers at Nightshop, an experimental product studio in Rotterdam. In this case, the inspiration was not floorcoverings themselves but those nubby anti-slip mats often found under rugs to keep them in place.
“They feel kind of nice,” says Adriaan van der Ploeg, who founded Nightshop with Ward van Gemert in 2010. “Apart from that, they look cool.” That was enough of a starting point for the designers, who begin a lot of their projects with a hyper-intense focus on an everyday object.
One of the rugs from Nightshop’s Showdown series of squirted-foam floorcoverings
An example of the nubby anti-slip mats that inspired the project
In this case, van der Ploeg and van Gemert next began searching for the material used for those anti-slip mats, eventually finding a soft urethane foam that seemed like a match, and that also offered UV resistance. When asked the name of the urethane, however, the designers are hesitant to say more. “We searched long and hard for this material, and a lot of people always ask us what it is because they also want to use it,” van der Ploeg says. “As you might understand, we keep this one close to the chest.”
After a slew of material studies, the duo decided that they wanted to make lampshades out of their newfound material. “We modified an old centrifuge and poured the foam in,” van der Ploeg says. “It was a disaster.” A few prototypes proved fruitful, but the designers had trouble recreating anything more than once. Putting the project on hold for a bit, the designers eventually came back to it with new vigor and a new output: carpets.
“It was a natural process,” van der Ploeg says. “When we made a couple, we became quite skilled at just pouring the foam by hand. This makes the carpets also a bitmore ‘rougher’ and, in our opinion, cooler.” The designers would mix each color themselves, adding pigment to the urethane and pouring it across a table; once the creations dried, they simply peeled them off. But as they began to execute more complex designs, they found themselves needing more control over the material. Looking for a way to make thin lines, van Gemert and van der Ploeg turned to large plastic syringes, filling them with the different hues and slowly squirting the liquid foam across a flat surface. “It took a lot of practice,” van der Ploeg says.
Because the foam begins to expand and solidify shortly after leaving the syringe, the designers have to work fast—which suits them just fine. “We really like working quick and making quick decisions,” van der Ploeg says. “All our new projects and products we made last year share this way of working. Also, the material both helps in this way but at the same time limits your choices. You can’t work really detailed and you have to work really fast.”
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Planning the patterns for the rugs is an equally rapid process. “Usually one of us has a vague idea,” van der Ploeg says. “We quickly draw it on a piece of paper and adjust it a little bit or a lot.” Typically, within five minutes of the conception of an idea, the two dive into working with the material itself.
“The material limits your choices. You can't work really detailed and you have to work really fast.”
The final rugs measure roughly 5 by 8 feet, but the Nightshop owners are currently working on smaller versions, building them directly on sheets of aluminum. “That way you can easily hang it on the wall,” van der Ploeg says. This is a presentation style that the designers encourage, given that the finished foam rugs are actually not so functional as rugs. “The carpets are more objects than usable objects,” van der Ploeg says. “They’re experiments in pattern and color and material.”
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Given that experimental nature, van der Ploeg doesn’t see the rugs going to mass production anytime soon. “We didn’t start with the intention to make a product," he says. “We started out by wanting to make something cool.… The thought of making a real product for mass production never crossed our minds.” That attitude seems to be paying off—van der Ploeg and van Gemert will be showing one of their rugs at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in early March, followed by a larger showing during a solo exhibition at Robert van Oosterom Gallery in Rotterdam.
Carly Ayres is a writer using language and interaction to engage people in new and interesting ways. She previously penned "In the Details," Core77's weekly deep-dive into the making of a new product or project. Along the way, she covered rugs with dinosaurs, shrink-wrapped buildings, kinetic military boots, and a myriad of other topics. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in New York.