Liesel Plambeck with her Year of the Snake rug for Mehraban

Los Angeles-based designer Liesel Plambeck started her own creative studio in 2017 to focus on growing her print archive and showing seasonal collections to fashion and interior design companies. She specializes in curated collections of exclusive artwork alongside vintage print inspiration for the apparel and home industries, in addition to freelance design work.

She gained experience in interior design by working with Kelly Wearstler for two years, helping with art, product, furniture, textiles, wallpaper, lighting, jewelry, branding, packaging… you name it. “It was so fun and stimulating touching so many different things,” Plambeck says. “There’s so much cross pollination at her studio. I learned so many valuable things. I think the most important lesson was learning how to get inside another person’s vision and execute on it.”

This experience came in handy when Plambeck recently collaborated with Mehraban Rugs for a new collection. The company came to Plambeck to see some of her artwork, and, impressed with her work, they came back the following day and asked her if she wanted to design a rug collection for them. This was a major deal for Plambeck, and one she says was one of the most exciting moments of her career so far.

They worked together to create an impressive collection of 30 rug designs based on Plambeck’s unique ideas. Since then, she’s also designed rugs for Mehraban for bespoke projects and clients interested in custom rugs.

“Working with Mehraban is such a privilege,” Plambeck says. “They’re great guys—very artist-friendly—and they really care about the quality of the product which is rarer than one might think!”

To learn more about the new collection with Mehraban, we sat down with Plambeck to talk about the inspiration behind the patterns and what it’s like to design rugs.

Liesel Plambeck: I wanted to make something fun, playful and different. I thought it would be interesting to do something figurative and began by taking photos of myself dancing in my studio. I wanted to do a collage and for the figures to have movement, looking at Matisse and Keith Haring for inspiration. The first design I created had full figures dancing. It wasn’t until I cut the legs off that it became interesting to me.

An Eye For Art: Liesl Plambeck partners with Mehraban rugs for new collection

Pose rug

DT: And Year of the Snake?

LP: From the start, Year of the Snake was supposed to be a piece in the collection with a personal story. I loved the concept of a spirit animal and took inspiration from Nepalese and Tibetan tiger rugs. They wove the animal skins into rugs and they were thought to protect a person during meditation. They were a sign of power and symbolized status and bravery.

Although I’ve never felt much like I have a spirit animal, I thought about the Chinese zodiac. When I was little, I loved listening to my mother talk about the zodiac signs and years. She would mystically explain why my brother, father, and I were the way we were because of our signs. She never talked about herself though. The sign of the snake has long symbolized boldness and strength to me, and I wanted to create a rug dedicated to her.

DT: Is designing a rug different than designing other textiles? If so, how does it differ? What do you have to keep in mind?

LP: There are several things about the process of weaving a rug that changes the translation of artwork. Often, this process brings life and richness into art that might otherwise seem flat and unimpressive as a print. You can feel and see the difference in rugs that are hand-knotted by people, not machines. That being said, hand-knotted rugs are very expensive and time consuming to make. Often, it can take six months to just make one with a team of people working on it simultaneously.

An Eye For Art: Liesl Plambeck partners with Mehraban rugs for new collection

Profile rug

Another huge difference between rugs and other textiles is texture and different kinds of weaves. You can have a rug be only one color and have intricate variation in texture, pile height and fibers. Detail is translated in a different way and you’re working within the amount of knots per square inch.

Something also very different about designing rugs compared to textiles is considering scale, floorplans and the placement of furniture. It’s often the largest piece of art in a room and has to harmonize with everything else. The largest rug I’ve designed was 15’x22’ for a theater. I had to design around certain constraints such as where the bar and other furniture were to be placed, the entrance of the room, foot traffic, a very inconveniently placed step, and, of course, budget. In prints and textiles, placement is often something to be considered as well but on a much smaller scale.

DT: Is there a lot of back and forth in the process of rug design?

LP: Similar to any other design process, there can be rounds of samples and revisions before a design is ready. The handmade component of rug making leaves a lot of room for interpretation and variation. Often, these are happy mistakes. They’re also often not what you initially imagined for a design. Making rugs and revising them takes time. Most of the pieces in my collection have taken over a year to perfect.