Some people are born with an innate sense of color and pattern. I’m not one of those people. But thank goodness designer Malene B is. She has been wowing me (and the rest of the design industry) with her bold carpet designs for years, and at this past year’s ICFF, I had to take a moment to look through every single sample to really appreciate how gorgeous they were. Drawing inspiration from her international travels, cultural icons, landscapes and her African Caribbean heritage, Malene is constantly creating patterns and color combinations that make you stop and look closer. Whether she’s designing a flat-weave or thick, tufted wool carpets, Malene also makes sure her work is as socially conscious as possible by supporting Goodweave and Aid to Artisans. Inspired not only by her design talent but also her commitment to the people behind her craft, Max and I decided to visit Malene’s beautiful home studio in Brooklyn’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood yesterday to get a closer look. Malene sat down with us to talk about all things design, and we had so much fun learning about color samples, her habit of designing patterns on the subway and all the places and people that inspire her. Thanks so much to Malene for welcoming us into her home. I hope you’ll enjoy her interview as much as I did! xo, grace
All photographs at Malene’s home by Maxwell Tielman
Image above: ARS color yarn samples (a fiber-specific system similar to Pantone), and Malene’s sketches for designs, made on the train ride home.
Image above: Malene’s sun-filled kitchen is the perfect place to browse new samples.
The full interview and more photos continue after the jump . . .
Name: Malene Barnett
Occupation: Carpet Designer
Years in the business: 3.5
Design*Sponge: I’m always intrigued to see how someone’s hometown (or adopted hometown) affects their style or influences. How does Brooklyn shape who you are and what you do?
Malene: Brooklyn is a global mecca. I love the strong cultural influences from all over the world. Brooklyn provides an environment that supports a creative lifestyle. I really love the fact that you can grab a home-cooked meal for $6 or less, find large living spaces at reasonable prices, have easy access to the bus and subway lines, have a fun social scene within walking distance, be surrounded by quiet residential streets and be inspired by your surroundings on a daily basis. I wanted to live in an artsy, culturally diverse community that was close to Manhattan. I found that Brooklyn provides the best of both worlds: It’s the perfect blend of living in an urban environment with a touch of the suburbs. My hometown is Norwalk, CT. Since I grew up by the beach, the aquatic influence is prevalent in my home but not reminiscent of my hometown; it’s more so of the Caribbean.
Image above: The second-story banister is draped in colorful wool, silk and synthetic fiber samples.
D*S: How did you first get into textiles and decide to design your own?
Malene: I studied textile design at FIT in New York City. After graduation, I worked as the design director for Afritex, designing African print fabrics. Later, I worked for Nourison Rugs, one of the largest importers of handmade rugs in the world, as their first in-house designer. Initially, I designed their area rug collections but soon became design manager for the company’s very successful accent rug division. At Nourison, I was given the opportunity to develop fashion forward designs that changed how accent rugs were viewed.
In about 2003, I began thinking of creating my own company. However, back then my focus was on creating innovative bedding designs for the home-furnishings industry. In the summer of 2008, I decided to focus on my passion, “carpet design,” and started formulating my company, Malene B. My goal as the design director/principal of Malene B is to create carpets that merge my artistic background and passion for global travel. I wanted to create a company that not only produces great carpet designs, but also inspires others to experience the world through a unique art form.
Image above: More sketches for carpet designs and carpet color samples
D*S: How would you describe your style?
Malene: My style is modern, bold, colorful and globally inspired.
D*S: What was the first pattern or piece you designed?
Malene: My first carpet design for the Malene B collection was Wolof. During my visit to Senegal, West Africa, I was inspired by the colorful traditional fashions worn by the Wolof people. My goal was to create a carpet that reflected my experience in Senegal. Wolof consists of figures that are transformed into bold graphic, geometric icons. This is how I started my signature collection, and it has truly become one of my signature pieces.
D*S: What is your favorite pattern in your collection right now?
Malene: My favorite pattern is “Chiapas.” The design consists of lines that represent the intricate embroideries found in Mexican clothing. Each time I look at the design, I’m amazed at how many lines formulate the pattern.
Image above: Chiapas
D*S: What are your workroom essentials? What creative objects and/or work tools can you not live without?
Malene: I can’t live without my 27-inch iMac computer (the bigger the monitor, the better), Wacom graphic tablet to draw all of my designs, Pointcarre design software (I design everything in this software), Adobe Illustrator to specify all of my designs, ARS color yarn system to specify colors and my international music playlists to keep me inspired throughout the day.
D*S: What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? Where do you typically look for inspiration?
Malene: I’m inspired by women’s adornment from around the world. I’m obsessed with art created with straight lines, moko jumbies (stilts walkers or dancers), fruits and vegetables of Trinidad and the patterns that are created from the draping of fabric. Inspiration is all around me, so I really don’t have to look for it.
Image above: Malene’s inspiration board is full of beautiful imagery and colorful fiber samples.
D*S: What are your top five inspirations right now?
D*S: When do you feel the most creative or inspired?
Malene: Any time the mood strikes me!
D*S: What do you do to keep yourself, your space and your time organized?
Malene: My day starts with an early AM workout. I always make sure that I eat throughout the day. I also take time to treat myself to quiet time.
Image above: A stack of carpet design samples from Malene’s new collection for Surya.
D*S: How to you combat creative blocks?
Malene: Creative blocks come and go, but when they happen I consult with friends and family. They have been a great support through this journey.
Image above: More carpet samples stacked on Malene’s living room floor (which is a gorgeous teal-stained wood).
D*S: What is next for you with your work? What projects can we look forward to?
Malene: I will be a panelist at the Women’s Summit at Bryant University, and I’m working on a pillow and pouf collection with my licensed partner, Surya. I will be debuting a new collection at ICFF in May and participating in Design Caribbean, a trade show that will be held in the Bahamas.
More designs by Malene: