By Silvana Longo
When long-time rug expert Antonio Hellman decided to strike out on his own after 30 years in the industry, he worked hard to fill a gap in the market and provide exceptional service to the trade. In 2019, Studio 321b was born in the hip Junction neighbourhood where Hellman can combine his love of artistic, one-of-a-kind, high-quality rugs made with truly sustainable practices that are fairly priced. While Hellman eventually wants to expand to the public when the timing is right, he says he’s beyond content at where the company currently is. “My journey has been one of understanding designers’ needs and desires,” he says proudly. And in just three years, Studio 321b has quickly become a go-to location for unique, bespoke rugs, where designers can come and feel safe ensuring excellence is delivered on all fronts.
Ethical practices and pricing
Most would agree that quality takes time and usually costs more. While a quality rug may cost thousands of dollars, Hellman doesn’t see this as a reason to overcharge. “As long as the budget is reasonable, I can work within it,” he says. For instance, after an initial consultation, which covers the desired style, look and budget for a client’s custom rug, he works within the budget and recommends an appropriate weave, whether that be Tibetan, hand-knotted, hand-woven, hand-loomed or hand-tufted. He assures all desired qualities can be attained without going over budget. “The next step is having our creative team come up with a CAD or diagram of the carpet pattern and colour placement. Colours are chosen in collaboration with the client, the designer and our creative team, and sizes are determined by furniture placement and room size.” The local aspect looms large, too, as all designs are created by local artists on-site at the studio.
Using only eco-friendly natural materials, such as New Zealand wool, bamboo silk, organic cotton and jute, Hellman also addresses the “greenwashing” taking place in the industry. “You will see a rug that is outrageously priced and yet it is not very well made,” he says. Hellman cites instances of people paying up to $50,000 for so-called silk, which turns out to be viscose. He encourages a “buyer beware” approach, and to avoid this pitfall, he recommends dealing with only credible companies and to read the reviews.
At Studio 321b, no shortcuts or false claims are made when it comes to the use of quality or sustainable materials. Take bamboo silk. Hellman explains that the fibres are extruded from the plant and then are shredded and made into a yarn. Some will claim Tencel or viscose is bamboo silk because of a very small amount of silk present, yet it is mostly comprised — 90 percent, in fact — of chemicals. Want the proof? “By pouring water on it, it will harden and change shape,” says Hellman. “All our stuff is pre-washed even before it arrives here. And we wash it again when it arrives to ensure there is no shifting or hardening of the fibres.”
With all these procedures in place, you may wonder how Hellman can offer the high quality he does in his custom works of art, at times at a lower price than his competitors. “We keep our overhead low, pay our weavers up front, and have connections in the marketplace to make sure our wool grade is high,” he says.
Soon the public can indulge in a new generic collection of animal rugs that Studio 321b will be launching online. Inspired by Hellman’s daughter, it is called Rebecca’s Animal Safari. “Th ese rugs are extremely high-end and will sell for $595,” he says. With 10 percent of the proceeds to be donated to either the women’s shelter Red Door or to one of the weaving facilities in India with an education centre for children under 10, Hellman fully believes in the power of giving back.
When asked about the future of Studio 321b, Hellman affirms, “There are plans for growth, but not at a cost of quality . It is my reputation and that is not something I’m willing to compromise.”
MAKE IT LAST
Did you know a quality rug can last more than 20 years if properly maintained? Here are Antonio Hellman’s tips to ensure the longevity of your fl oor coverings.
Rotate the rug in the space every six months to assure equal light distribution, the sun and UV rays fade colours and rotation makes sure the colours fade equally.
Vacuum using a rotating bar to avoid excessive shedding. Make sure the brushes are at the highest levels to avoid shredding of fi bres.
Spot-clean stains using a teaspoon of a mild detergent (one that is non-acidic) and a cup of cold water. Blot the stains out with a white cloth — don’t ever rub the stain (rubbing will make the stain permanent and it will become locked into the backing of the rug).
Professionally clean your rugs every two to three years or longer as needed by a reputable cleaning company.