Fabulous flooring: A Q&A with rug designer Omar Khan

Step into any room and often it’s the furniture that grabs your attention. And then, you feel what’s under your feet. Whether plush carpet, smooth wood or fancy tilework, these surfaces are what introduce you to the mode and functionality of the room, whether it’s a living room lounge or a welcome hallway.

Dressing up bare floors and recently electrifying the Hong Kong home design scene from the ground up, so to speak, is Omar Khan, who has just begun retailing a collection of rugs designed for homes, created in partnership with Lane Crawford. Khan’s handmade rugs are crafted in Bangkok, and made with either bamboo silk, wool, or a mixture of both. We spoke to Khan about how he translates his designs from concept to reality. 

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What drew you to design rugs?
I had always been interested in the interior design industry, that was a given. I could take on the job of the interior design, but I would only be as good as my contractors. The client would ask, “Can you do this by tomorrow?” Yeah. I can physically do it by tomorrow, but I don’t know if these guys — the team — could. I wanted the luxury to depend on myself. I’m not saying they didn’t do good work, but that good work takes a lot of time to do. The people that are most disillusioned by the process are the clients, because they want the thing tomorrow, or yesterday. And so to negotiate new timelines with them is a bit stressful. But with the rugs, I can always be upfront with them. It’s always 8-10 weeks, and never any deviation from that.

Have you ever turned down a client?
Yes — because of absurdity.

Because of timing or style?
Both.

You’ve previously dipped your feet into every facet of interior design.   How did you choose rugs in the end?
It’s like practicing medicine. You’ll do general practice and then figure out what you were good at, and then you’ll specialise. Rugs are what suited me the best.

What sets the latest collection at Lane Crawford apart from your typical standalone work?
It was a very calculated decision to make those rugs meet certain price points, to carry certain stories. With the Lane Crawford collection we’re basically putting together a cast of actors that will always get you the performance, but you’ll have to pay the big bucks for it — because sometimes their name overshadows the piece. It’s kind of like a blockbuster movie. My other collection is a lot more detailed and embellished, a bit more abstract, with more room for you to make your own decisions.

Can you tell us about the way you approach each rug design?
Each piece is woven with a story. I’ve invested all of my time into each of them. Sooner or later each of these rugs are going to have their own Spotify playlist. It’s always one of a kind, because I always change something, especially since I know who the rug is going to, so I will go out of my way to change a colour or a nuance here and there. At the end of the day, it’s very much a bespoke process.

You’re serious about the Spotify playlists?
Yes. I design it behind the person. If you look at the Li Ling rug (above, part of Khan’s classic collection), she was supposed to be the pretty rug, she was always supposed to encapsulate a lot of different things, like Hatsumomo from “Memoirs of a Geisha,” played by Gong Li. Sayuri [from the movie] used to always get it good because it was easy, but with Hatsumomo, she had to try a little harder. I would see the rug like that, because it’s beautiful enough, and it’s tragic enough, and it’s got enough story behind it.

Do you find you get inspired by movies and literature the most? Or where do you get your ideas from?
I’m always learning and I’m always filling my creative well, but they will always gestate into these botanical, geometrical, compositional styles.

How do your ideas come into fruition?
I edit them — maybe some should never see the light of day — and then I hold a screening party and give different coloured flags to guests to see which ones they like. I’ve been with the designs for so long that I would like to step out and get feedback.

Very democratic process, then.
I’d like to think so. You can be a designer, and you’re designing for yourself, but that means you’re only designing for yourself. And that’s not who I want to be.

Have you ever made a rug all by yourself? How long does it take?
14 hours.

How important is being eco-friendly to you?
For starters, we only take water from within a 100-mile radius. All of that water is recycled down, used as much as we can, mainly in the dyeing process. Using renewable resources such as bamboo, for our bamboo silk, makes the dye process more eco-friendly as well as taking the dye better. However, at the end of the day, people just want to order traditional silk a lot of the time, and you can’t compete with that.

Does it make it harder to clean if there are a range of materials in a single rug?
No, it just means you need better cleaning people. The bamboo silk is hypoallergenic and is very stain-resistant.

You have an incredibly multi-cultural background. Your mother is Dutch-Chinese-Egyptian, while your father is Pakistani-German. Do you draw stories or traditions from your heritage into your work?
I tend to stay away from that because it’s kind of complicated, and I haven’t quite fleshed the narrative out yet. But eventually, yeah.

Where are you based now?
KL, Singapore, Bangkok and China.

Do you have homes in each place? And do you have your rugs in every one?
No, the only homes where I have my rugs are in KL, not even in my mom’s house, and I have a couple of rugs in my Singapore friend’s house, but other than that no. Mama Khan won’t let me get any!

Do you think Hongkongers tend to like having rugs in their homes?
Let me put it for you this way: if I sent a rug to your house one day, and a week later I took it away, how would you feel?

It would depend on how well the rug fit into my home’s existing decor.
The fact that you’re thinking about it already means you’re going to miss it. I promise you.

Shop Omar Khan’s Lane Crawford-exclusive rug collection at Lane Crawford Home, 1/F, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong, +852 2118 3652