Red Carpet Treatment
“Tai Ping definitely didn’t want a room with stacks and stacks of dusty carpets,” Matthew Baird says of the four far-flung showrooms he was commissioned to design. The Hong Kong−based luxury carpet manufacturer sought to distance itself from the image of the typical rug merchant while retaining a sense of its 50-year history. In 1956 a small group of businessmen fled Communist China and banded together to create the company—now an international presence with more than 3,100 employees—as a philanthropic endeavor to employ a generation of craftspeople. Tai Ping hired Baird in 2004, soon after he launched his own firm (he’d spent a decade with Tod Williams/Billie Tsien).
Though the company had a strong presence in Asia and Europe, in America it still served mostly as a “ghost weaver” for other brands. Tai Ping hoped to announce itself Stateside and start revamping its image with a New York City showroom (completed in spring 2005). “We wanted the New York showroom to be a template for the others,” marketing director Simone Rothman says. They chose a space with a distinctly New York sensibility, housed in the loft building once occupied by Andy Warhol’s Factory. The structure is cast iron and vaulted brick, a style particular to the city, with a long wall of windows offering sweeping views of Union Square. Old cast-iron radiators and fixtures were preserved in what Baird describes as “their slightly dented and timeworn state.”
A new Los Angeles outpost and a renovation of the Hong Kong showroom followed in March and June 2006. Displays were important since Tai Ping sells primarily to interior designers, who often work with the company’s artists to create custom carpets. Because customers need to view the full range of colors and textures, Baird created the “pom bars.” These gleaming white workstations with yarn-filled drawers, which will be found in all of the new showrooms, are topped by a piece of acrylic containing the many standard colors. A selection of the latest carpets is displayed along the walls on a rope-and-pulley system, another technique that will be replicated in every location.
Otherwise the spaces are treated individually. In keeping with Tai Ping’s heritage, Baird introduced a tearoom to the New York space. “We decided that if there were going to be references to Chinese antiquity, they ought to be authentic,” he explains. “We weren’t going to make reproduction Ming chairs.” Instead they bought antique canisters and incorporated more recent artifacts, such as chalkboards scrawled with Chinese characters that are used during the dyeing process in the company’s Nan Hai factory. Antiques from the manager’s private collection were borrowed to decorate the Hong Kong showroom, housed in the Prince’s Building, a high-density high-rise retail complex that is emblematic of the city. Because, as Baird says, “the culture of the car drives L.A.,” there they chose to locate in the Pacific Design Center for its accessibility and ample parking—and its views of the Hollywood Hills. “The palette was a lot lighter,” says Baird, who substituted aluminum and sandblasted concrete for New York’s stainless steel and dark hardwood.
Baird’s showrooms mark a new era for Tai Ping, whose name means “great peace.” “Matthew came to us with no preconceived notions and started from a really clean slate,” Rothman says. “He gave us something enduring—something that reflects our heritage but takes us into the future.”