For this month’s ‘Meet The Maker’ we join Caroline Lindsell and Dylan O’Shea, founders of A Rum Fellow. This London based design studio is dedicated to artisan textiles, rugs and statement interior pieces which are full of colour and intricate patterns. They offer a balance of contemporary and heritage design. We love what they do!
Kit Kemp is a firm believer that ‘every room tells a story’. We love using A Rum Fellow embroideries because there is such a rich history to the designs. Can you tell us how it all began?
Caroline and I met at the start of our 30’s at a point when we both wanted to change direction and work towards something that had meaning for us. Caroline had a career designing in fashion and was tired of the throwaway fast pace of the industry. She wanted to design with longevity and quality at the heart. I (Dylan) had studied International Development at university and had always dreamt of creating a business with a social mission. We met at the perfect time. We had experience and developed skills that we channelled into starting our own design business: A Rum Fellow. The idea was to create a business where the design came first. We wanted our designs to stand out for their quality and creativity, and then if clients wanted to learn more they would be treated to a lovely story and ethical grounding. We started A Rum Fellow by travelling in Peru and Bolivia where we sourced beautiful handwoven fabrics and paired them with vintage furniture pieces we found at antique fairs in the UK and France. We’re both naturally drawn to vibrant colour and geometric patterns, so heading to South and Central America hunting for textiles was a great adventure for us. As time went on, we built a network of artisans and learned a lot about artisanal weaving, and we began to create new designs working with indigenous people.
To us anyone who uses hand woven fabrics in any interior is a total boss! It’s so chic and fabulous not to mention unique. What has been your favourite commission?
It is always such a treat to see how interior designers use our handwoven fabrics. A huge part of what we do is re-contextualising artisan woven fabrics and communicating how to integrate these wonderful weaves in contemporary settings. One of our first commissions was for a set of dining chairs in a hand-woven fabric featuring a beautiful decorative join. This project really set us on the path to working with interior designers. Another favourite was designing fabrics for Casita Andina a contemporary Peruvian restaurant in Soho. We worked with a group of incredible Quechua weavers in the Sacred Valley in Peru who realised our designs with reimagined traditional motifs in new scales and fresh colours. The fabrics adorn the banquettes, are inlaid into tabletops and even the sign hanging in front of the restaurant is handwoven – the result is beautiful and has a wonderful authenticity. Another obvious one to mention is working with Firmdale! We did our first trade show during our second year of business in 2014 and Kit was one of the first people to stop by our stand. It was wonderful that someone with such an eye for quality and passion for handcrafted fabrics was as excited as we were about Maya backstrap brocade. Then seeing our brocade panels upholstered into extraordinary headboards was such a great moment. We are so passionate about our brocade fabric collection which are all woven by indigenous Maya women in Guatemala, and it was incredibly exciting to have such a prominent designer enthused by them too.
What is the process when creating new designs?
For us it often starts with technique. First, we seek out interesting techniques to work with, we’re inspired when we discover unique and lesser-known craft techniques. Then we’ll educate ourselves on the process and on the artisans who create the weave so we can understand the limitations we have to work within. There is a beauty in weave as the designs and number of colours are always restricted by the loom and technique, but finding a way to push the possibilities during the design process is a creative challenge that can be very gratifying.
At Firmdale Hotels we are a family business. We all know things can get a bit… ‘hairy’ at times! How do you find working with family as a husband and wife team?
Ha – good question! When we were dreaming up A Rum Fellow, we filled the plan with as many life goals and personal passions as we could. We wanted to create a business that would grow with us personally, as we grew a family, as we evolve as individuals. The values that underpin A Rum Fellow, the places we travel to, the artisans we work with, and the energising colour and pattern are all elements that Caroline and I relish in and make us truly happy. Does working together create bumps along the way? Of course, but I feel very lucky that we are so aligned in our passions and that we get to share this great adventure together.
What is on the horizon for A Rum Fellow?
We’re working on an entirely new fabric which combines treadle loom weaving with an embroidery that is applied on the loom. It’s a fabric we’re working on with our master weavers in Guatemala and it is truly incredible! It is a meterage fabric and will launch later this year in the UK. There are also some stunning new rug designs in development, all very exciting.
A Rum Fellow has also worked with Schumacher since 2020 offering designers a piece of the handwoven magic that we conjure together with our artisans. I think they love how both of our brands share a commitment to craft and quality, both pushing the envelope for what that means in contemporary design. The US customers appreciate how A Rum Fellow’s distinctly special brocade panels can be masterfully transformed into everything from cushions to upholstered headboards and beyond. In 2022 we will be introducing new colourways of A Rum Fellow’s most popular designs with new products to follow shortly.
What is the best antique textile you have in your wonderful collection?
There are two favourites, one is Maya huipil from a Guatemalan town called San Mateo Ixtatan near the border of Mexico. It is the classic simple tunic shape with the most incredible hefty handwoven design with concentric stars in bright reds and yellows, it’s wonderfully large and weighty too. The second is a vintage Quechua textile woven in thick Himalayan wool depicting a people holding hands in multicoloured strips, its old and a little dog eared but much loved!
Caroline and Dylan make a great example of how a love for travel can inspire incredible design. We’re so grateful to have discovered their work.
Click here to delve into their colourful world or check-in to room 1502 at The Whitby Hotel where you will find cushions from A Rum Fellow. They complement the underlying geometric pattern of the sofa perfectly. Thank you Caroline and Dylan for joining us.