Designing ‘Dendros’

Greg Ehrman and his prizewinning rug. —Kelsey Perrett
Gregory H. Ehrman is a designer by trade and by passion, but he never expected his skill set to include drafting handcrafted rugs.

“The rug,” as it’s known in Hutker Architects’ Vineyard Haven office, does not carpet the floor. It hangs on the wall of principal architect Gregory H. Ehrman’s office, facing out through a centrally placed sliding door for all to see. Even in an office designed by architects, the rug is too beautiful to withstand the punishment of sandy shoes. The sheen of its beige and black contrasts, jagged lines, and lush yet durable texture conveys artistry and careful craftsmanship. That’s because Ehrman designed the rug himself, and it was hand-tied by crafters in Nepal.

In 2014, New England Home magazine named Ehrman one of the “5 Under 40” residential designers to watch. The honor includes a charity component concocted by Boston-based sponsor Landry & Arcari Oriental Rugs: Each winner creates a custom rug design, which is then sent to the company’s Nepalese workshops to be hand-tied using a generations-old technique. At the “5 Under 40” awards gala, the rugs are auctioned off to benefit Barakat, a charity which supports literacy and education for women in the Middle East.

Courtesy Landry & Arcari

Courtesy Landry & Arcari

Since none of the winners had worked in the medium before, New England Home provided a seminar in rug-making, including an explanation of the knot-tying technique and the effects of different pile heights, materials, and blends. It was valuable information, but a crash course. “They were hands-off so we could explore as designers,” Ehrman said. “Everybody comes at it from a different background.”

Ehrman was flourishing professionally, so he drew his rug’s inspiration from some of his most recent projects, which he said “were really meaningful and had a pretty big impact on how I think about my work.”

One of those projects was the development of Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark. “It was an unbelievable project, which included a big timber-frame component with old reclaimed timbers,” Ehrman said. On a site visit, Ehrman snapped a photograph of a discarded stack of timber. He dropped the shot into Photoshop, and toyed with the contrast and resolution.

“I love the graphic quality of all these contrasting curves, the organic lines and the struggle of the wood,” Ehrman said. “Then there’s all this noise from dirt and sawdust, growth rings juxtaposed with the marks of the circular saw, checks and cracks and artifacts from its life.”

He named the piece “Dendros,” alluding to the study of timber and its chronology. “It’s a story about the life of the timber,” Ehrman said.

Once Ehrman finished his design, the Nepalese craftsmen spent six months hand-tying, stretching, and washing the rug. By then, Ehrman was ready to let go and see it auctioned off. His boss, Mark Hutker, had other plans.

“He was hell-bent on winning the rug that I designed, like a proud papa bear,” Ehrman said. “It was borderline embarrassing, because it’s sort of like your parents bidding on you. Actually, my parents were there, and they didn’t dare try to outbid Mark. He was not going to lose.”
Hutker brought the rug back to the Vineyard Haven office, where it hangs to prove the point that good design always wins.

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