6sqft’s series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to the Ridgewood apartment of textile designer Christian Rathbone. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!
For most New Yorkers, 550 square feet would be a fairly comfortable one-bedroom apartment, but for textile designer Christian Rathbone it’s that, plus his studio and warehouse.
For the past 15 years, Christian has been working with native dyers and weavers in Turkey, who help bring his organic Kilim designs to life, using traditional vegetation dyes and hand-spun wool. And for the past six years, he’s been running his business out of his apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. Not only has he built his own extensive shelving systems, but he’s done so in a narrow, railroad unit. 6sqft recently paid Christian a visit to get a first-hand look at how he makes this live-work setup work and to learn more about his process and inspirations.
Tell us how you got started in the business.
I originally went to Turkey for prime viewing of the magnificent total solar eclipse in August of 1999. I had no plans to start a textile business, but this event triggered my interest in Turkey’s rich tradition of plant-dyed, hand-woven rugs. After making connections with rural weavers on subsequent trips, my business officially began in 2002, making this my 15th year anniversary.
He chose the front room for his studio because it gets so much natural light. All the textiles are dyed with natural materials such as indigo, chamomile, eggplant, madder root, and walnut.
How often do you get over to Turkey now? What does a typical trip look like?
Once a year if not more. [I spend] a few days spent in Istanbul, followed by days on the road visiting with the weavers, dyers, and spinners who make my collection possible. It’s always rewarding to see my existing designs come to life on the loom and to plan out new work with these incredibly skilled (mostly) women weavers. I always look forward to taking in Anatolia’s beautiful countryside along with its incredibly fresh food depending on what’s in season…cherries, grapes, nuts, berries, olives, Turkey has it all!
Christian also collects and sells vintage kilim rugs (top). Of the wool he uses, he says, “According to archeological evidence, these sheep were among the first to be domesticated by humans roughly 10,000 years ago in present-day Turkey and Iran.”
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Patterns and colors in the plant and animal kingdom, animation, and random drawing sessions. I am very driven in my designs by the life and vibrancy contained within all the plant dyes used in my work. Really, I want to see how color and design interact to create mood.
Speaking of dyes, you mention that using natural materials in your textiles is very important to you. Do you try to incorporate this natural and organic model into other elements of your home and lifestyle?
I do, absolutely. As a consumer, I buy very little and when I do, I try to be educated about the choices I make. Of course, it’s not always easy, but I want what I buy to last as long as possible to reduce my overall consumption and waste. I also love thrift and reuse stores and find that generally speaking, older items tend to be made much better than new. When food shopping, my goal is to buy as minimally processed as possible. I avoid as many chemicals/pollutants/additives/GMOs as is possible in this modern life. To me, this is my best way to avoid disease and doctors and promote my own health and well-being.
Why did you decide on Ridgewood and how did you find this apartment?
I was lucky to find my listing on Craigslist. I had no specific plans for Ridgewood, but I was taken with all the trees on the block. I also thought the name Ridgewood had a nice ring to it. At the time I was out of town on business but sensed it would go fast so I had a friend go and scope it out for me. Once I saw pictures, I jumped on the phone with the landlord hoping he would hold until I was back from my trip. Thankfully it worked!
Christian built the bed platform using reclaimed ceiling joists from his old apartment. His mattress is filled with Buckwheat and weighs 225 pounds! He originally built the clothing rack for his previous apartment.
How have you seen the neighborhood change since you moved in?
I’ve seen it go from a mostly working-class neighborhood to one that’s seen an influx of younger people.
Do you have any favorite local spots?
A walk on Dekalb and Grandview for excellent views of the city.
The small hallway behind the “warehouse” divides the work and live spaces.
Can you tell us how you went about designing space for living and working in just 550 square feet?
Gradually and with a particular eye on how the space can best serve multiple needs at once. I went from keeping things in storage units to building shelf after shelf until just about all my available space was taken. I’ve always preferred adjusting the space slowly as my needs dictate and as inventory levels grow. I now think of my apartment as my home, warehouse, studio, and space for entertaining. I hope I never leave!
A former house painter, Christian loved the existing seafoam wall color when he moved in
What are your top three tips for creating a successful live/workspace?
1. Arrange things according to your work and life patterns. i.e. what are the things you do every day and how can you build around those flows.
2. Find things on the street, NY is always giving gifts!
3. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the space you create, make it a retreat from the outside world.
If you could change one thing about your apartment what would it be?
- My 2,200sqft: Rug designer Amy Helfand shows us around her organic live/work home in Red Hook
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- My 1,000sqft: Tour a Newly Transplanted Couple’s Bushwick Apartment Filled With Craigslist Finds
Tags : Christian Rathbone
Neighborhoods : ridgewood