Meet Union Eighteen
My name is Tamara Komuniecki, and I’m very happy to be guesting over here in Holly’s neck of the blogosphere. It’s actually going to be an honor to read my words on decor8, as I’ve been a fan and reader for so long. I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment, so I’m de-lurking in a big way! I am a Canadian broadcast and print journalist, married to a wonderful guy named Konrad and we have a great, crazy dog named Duane. I share my time between Canada (Vancouver, BC), where I blog at ModernGear (soon to be renamed and rebranded TamaraMedia to reflect my history and love of storytelling) and the USA (Long Beach, CA), where I am the Editor-in-Chief of Long Beach Magazine.
It was in Long Beach, CA that I first came across the couple (and their wares) that I want to share with you today, Union Eighteen. Meg and Todd van der Kruik have since moved from Long Beach to near Atlanta, GA, but they are still working together in their spare time producing gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, handmade rugs, that go by the name RAW. These rugs pass both my environmental and my aesthetic considerations, and I am coveting one or two (or more) for our new house (construction zone). I caught up with Meg recently, and I’d like to share our discussion with you.
Tamara: Who came up with the idea to rework discarded remnants of carpet into a new piece?
Union Eighteen: Todd had the idea of assembling the remnants into rugs. When this idea came to fruition we were living on opposite sides of the country. He was working in California for Bentley Prince Street and I was living in Tennessee with our daughter preparing for the cross-country relocation. We would mail weekly packages to each other of design magazines and articles that we had tagged for one another with our thoughts and ideas. At one point he sent me images of the carpet remnants in the dumpsters asking what we could do with them. I think it took us a few days at that point, going back and forth with creative ideas for him to finally say, “Why don’t we use the remnants for what they were intended? Beautiful floor coverings.”
Tamara: Was carpet a conscious choice of medium given its enormous environmental impact, or was it more an opportunity when your medium presented itself?
Union Eighteen: Both. With Todd working in the carpet industry we have first hand knowledge of what it takes to make carpet and what is lost when it is discarded. I think the “Aha” moment came when working at the mill in CA. He had to walk past the downcycling and refuse bins on a daily basis there and I think that really impacted him. Each handmade, one-of-a-kind rug at its root is simply a method by which to save water, energy and offer an attempt to change the way we define “waste”. The history of this material is a long one. Much of it is made from oil that must be drilled, piped and transported to spinning mills before it can be spun, dyed (at a rate of 2+ gallons of water per pound) and tufted into finished material that is then backed with latex rubber. The design process of RAW is one method by which to sustain the longevity of this virgin material and the energy contained within. If not re-purposed in this way these scraps of carpet would at best be down-cycled into carpet padding and at worst sent to a landfill where they would lay in waste for upwards of 50,000 years.
Tamara: I know when you were living in Long Beach, Todd was working at a carpet manufacturer and thus was able to find leftovers with which you could work your magic – what are you using now?
Union Eighteen: We are currently establishing new connections with multiple mills here in GA. We feel very fortunate to be in a place where there are so many different mills to pull from. This will be great for our clients as we will have more access to different colors and textures for our inventory.
Tamara: What are the prices of your rugs? Where can people buy them?
Union Eighteen: Our rugs retail anywhere from $25-$40 per sq ft. We have 5 stores in the US: David Galindo Home, Twentieth, The Road Less Traveled, The Future Perfect and @ Work Design. In Canada we are working with Melissa Davis on her new online store. This amazing new site will be launching very soon!
Tamara: Does working and living together have a positive impact on your product, or do you find that you need to take a break from it more often?
Union Eighteen: Definitely positive! When we first met it was as two complete strangers with like-minded goals. We were both interested in starting a business focused on creating sustainable art and interior products through the use and reuse of discarded and renewable source material. Our personal relationship grew with our business. We have very different strengths and opportunities which makes us a really great creative team. I think that we also really respect each other’s talents and opinions…I feel very fortunate to have a business and life partner that is as encouraging and as supportive as Todd.
I have a long list of items on my “will have eventually” list – like two Eames bent plywood chairs, an antique metal map/blueprint filing cabinet, and for the last year, a Union Eighteen rug. I’ll be pleased that such a purchase will prevent even a little bit of carpet from sitting in a landfill for generations to come, and happy to support such a lovely couple in their creative endeavors. Thanks for having me today, Holly! – Tamara Komuniecki
(images: union eighteen)