When Adam Hunter was 6, his first job was singing onstage in “South Pacific.” By 12, he had a steady income from the theater. When he graduated from the University of Michigan school of music, his mother told him that if he wanted to be a Broadway musical star, he would have to wait tables and drive a taxi. Instead, his first role was in “Les Miserables.” Then “Ragtime” with Audra McDonald. Then Baz Luhrmann’s “La Bohème.” Then “The Lion King.” “But I was not cut out for it; it was grueling,” he says. “My Timon was Jewish. I needed a bagel and a nap.”
You might think his transition to interior design was based on the dramatic skills he developed while singing for his supper. But the truth is, what he learned in the theater was more about emotion, art, pattern and breaking the fourth wall, which have all come into play in his design career, where Hunter, now 45, creates high-end projects that are indeed theatrical productions. He is known for warm ombre leather walls, experiential 3-D trompe l’oeil and, most of all, for his abstract impressionistic rugs that take cues from nature, especially in California.
“Of course, I know how to make things dramatic and fabulous,” says Hunter. “But my approach of showing you behind the stage is 100% part of my brand, it’s authenticity.” And that transparency often involves light, which imbues every aspect of his work, including the patterns on the rugs he designs for The Rug Company, such as Smoke, Sunset, Waves, Tundra, Wisteria and Transcendence.
We wanted to find out what exactly to look for if we want to feel as passionate about a rug as Hunter does, so we hit a few of his favorite Los Angeles shops to learn how to fall in love with the right rug.
Why does a rug feel like such a big commitment?
I compare it to art. A chair you need, a sofa you need, but people wait to buy a rug, like they do with art. Rugs are expensive. But it can be a starter rug; people shouldn’t wait. Go to Pottery Barn. A rug is the first thing your feet feel every morning. It’s sensory; you feel sumptuous. After a long day, you want to feel that in your body. It starts there.
Why are rugs so expensive?
Because of the way they’re made. You can’t make people’s fingers and hands go faster. The Rug Company will tell you it’s all about the ethos that goes into that. It used to be little children making rugs, almost like trafficking. Now there are seals all over saying this rug was made ethically.
What was the first rug you designed for The Rug Company?
I was like a crazy fan. I saw that Diane von Furstenberg and Paul Smith were doing rugs for them. I wasn’t a designer yet. I went there and suggested doing something painterly as opposed to pattern, somewhere between a zebra and faux bois wood — called Zebois. It got into their collection, then it caught on; it had a nice run. I was with my parents at Harrods and we saw it.
What should we look for in a rug?
Look for pattern and texture. I can always custom the color, which I’m insane for. But you have to respond to a pattern that moves you. There’s emotion in a rug. Always look for something you can’t live without.
THE SHOPPING LIST
The Rug Company
8727 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
“The Rug Company is the Louis Vuitton of rug shopping. They are so strict that their rugs are handmade, their actual name is The Rug Company Handmade. I suggested they do hand-tufted rugs, as opposed to handmade. Now they have TRC Lab, like Waterworks Studio. The rugs are half the price and take six to eight weeks for a custom rug. In a point-and-click world, that was a seismic move. TRC Lab is selling like hotcakes. I was the only West Coast designer invited into the fold of it.
“Look at this Alexander McQueen Hummingbird rug. Now I’m dead. I can’t stand up anymore. That’s how you want to feel. The light, color, movement, fluidity; it’s breaking the trompe l’oeil. You literally feel like they’re in motion; there’s a vibrancy and boldness in the color. I would never put this on the ground; it should be on the wall. This is like a symphony, the equivalent of a Damien Hirst butterfly piece. In the art world, it’s actually cheap.”
545 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
“I go here for texture and vintage. I love the jewel tones of the old Sarouk rugs. The design is formal, but it has a nomadic feel to it; it feels worldly. The medallion colors are from spices, saffron, vegetables and roots. Weavers would weave what was in their mind. That’s why I love a rug. It’s a piece of history — the length of time, the work. Rugs are hard for people to know about — their age, history, condition. When you go shopping for a great rug, you’re shopping for a rug dealer really. I love Soheil Mehrabanian [the owner]. He’s such an honorable guy in the L.A. community. I trust him implicitly, and his taste is excellent.”
8000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
“I love CB2. It has by far the most innovative noncopies. I suggest the Daphne, it reminds me of the McQueen tapestry we saw for $30K. You could build your room around [these flowers]. It’s different, magical, and a lot of people probably won’t have it. It’s so worth it for a few hundred dollars to have such joy and art in your life if only for a year or two.”