TSAR Carpets Isn’t Afraid to Take Risks

Known for high-quality custom rugs marked by bold use of color and texture, the free-thinking Australian brand readies its next chapter by expanding in London and debuting a series inspired by fluid motion.

Circ Collection by TSAR Carpets. Rendering by Joe Mortell

One of a room’s most important pieces often sits right beneath our feet. And TSAR Carpets—an Australian-born rug company that has studios from Shanghai to London—has made it their mission to craft custom statement rugs that are built to last. Known for eye-popping commercial projects like the Rose Bar at New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel, TSAR also takes on high-end residential commissions, all with a signature colorful flair. 

Surface caught up with David Sharpley, co-founder and CEO of TSAR Carpets, who dished on growing a global brand, and what makes a good design endure.

Exchange room at the New York Stock Exchange by Rottet Studio and Studios Architecture, which features a custom Venetian house design by TSAR Carpets. Photography by Eric Laignel

What inspired you to found TSAR Carpets 30 years ago, and how does being a family-owned business affect the company’s mission and vision?

My wife Kerrie and I co-founded TSAR Carpets from a shared passion for textiles and our desire to create designs that meet the distinctive individual needs. In founding TSAR, we adopted the German concept of the “gesamtkunstwerk,” meaning “a total work of art” when approaching our designs and working with clients. Our goal is always to create holistic compositions that empowers our wide range of clientele—from commercial, hospitality, and residential customers—to achieve a cohesive architectural expression from the ground up. 

I’ve been mesmerized by hand-tufting techniques since I peeked into a hand-tufting factory whilst picking a friend up when I was 18 years old. Soon after, I began tufting and selling my own rugs, and haven’t looked back since. I like to describe it as painting with fibers. Having a deep passion for this art form, and having formed my business around textiles, also means we have the good fortune of recruiting and working with like-minded individuals—people who are truly excited about textiles and design.

My family, including my three children, have always been involved in the business, so there’s a sense of bondedness within the culture. We all care deeply about our work and each other. I believe this strong connection within our collective takes the business to the next level.

Microsoft Technology Centre in Sydney by Tom Mark Henry, which features a custom design by TSAR Carpets. Photography by Simon Whitbread
(CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) Lagoon; photography by Lillie Thompson for X-MATERIALITY. Liquid; photography by Lillie Thompson for Design Unwind. Ocean Song of the Retreat Collection.

How is a new rug design born? Or, in less metaphorical terms, how does a rug turn from an idea to a beautiful finished piece? 

Alongside TSAR’s custom work, our talented design team generates a series of ready-made collections, drawing inspiration from a variety of multidisciplinary sources including the natural world, fine art, and historical design movements. Our designers are trained to be product designers as opposed to graphic designers, meaning they understand the medium 100 percent. They design a product to achieve predetermined aesthetics and quality. 

Vertical integration uniquely positions us. Owning and controlling all manufacturing processes —from the sourcing of raw material in fleece form, spinning the yarn to our own specification, dyeing the yarns, and making the carpets in various techniques—gives us unparalleled control over quality and innovation.  

Our company-owned value chain allows us to continually experiment and perfect a multitude of construction techniques including hand-tufting, pass-tufting, Axminster woven, knitted, and handwoven. We maintain total control over every step of manufacturing within its own production campus, including the dyeing of yarns from 100 percent New Zealand wool, thus ensuring complete consistency throughout the entire production cycle. The consolidation of  production steps frees us to experiment with design, letting us explore raw materials across high levels of customization.

(FROM LEFT) Saltwater; photography by Lillie Thompson. Equinox HQ by A+I, which features a custom Volakas pattern from the Mineral Collection. Photography by Magda Biernat

After three decades in the business, what do you find that clients keep coming back to TSAR Carpets for? 

Clients come to us because they know we consult and produce a product that’s strong in aesthetic and value with a particularly great emphasis on performance. I also think clients continue to work with us thanks to our unique designs and willingness to use bold colors, patterns, and forms. We also understand the custom process thoroughly and treat every project with care. We’re able to provide expert and honest advice on every project. 

I’ve actually turned down projects because my product recommendations for optimal performance in the space may not suit the intended aesthetic. I won’t produce a product that doesn’t last. This has always been my way of working, which means clients ultimately trust us.  

Do any local, Australian inspirations seep into the TSAR Carpets line?

TSAR is a proudly Australian with a global outlook. While our flagship showroom is located in Melbourne, we have design studios and offices in Sydney, New York, Shanghai, and now London, and we strive to collaborate with a global customer, which means understanding and appreciating all cultural preferences and behaviors. Our design influences are diverse. 

That said, the texture, depth, and vast beauty of Australia has also served as inspiration from the get-go. Our Stralis Collection, for example, celebrates the country’s natural beauty. From the outback to the coast, from mountain summits to raw earth, it’s a celebration of uniquely Australian terrains, layers and hues. We captured these beautiful, vast, and sometimes harsh landscapes in striking, abstract hand-tufted designs.

Our vibrant but restrained colors also reflect the outgoing and fun-loving Australian people. We have no problem being daring!

Shoreline from the Retreat Collection
(FROM LEFT) Ocean Song from the Retreat Collection. Seaspray from the Retreat Collection.

Can you talk about your newest collection? What inspired it, and what’s one of your favorite rugs in the collection?  

While the world spent the past six months figuring out how to cope with the “new reality” posed by COVID-19, Ross Cleland channeled his creative exploration into a series of soothing and biophilic floor covering designs for the Retreat Collection. It features seven distinct new patterns and was conceived in the Australian countryside, where Ross was sheltering with his family. The river next to his house served as the source of his renewed artistic vigor, despite everything happening in the world. The time in isolation challenged him to try out new colors, patterns, and techniques, and the end results are carpet designs flowing with positive, wholesome energy featuring muted blue and gray patterns, as well as vibrant reds, yellows, purples, and green free-flowing textures that give the collection a freeform, unstructured quality. Using natural bodies of water as an inspiration and art as the means, Cleland transcended two-dimensional surfaces into modern architectural complements. We’re so pleased to introduce this collection.

Circ Collection. Rendering by Joe Mortell

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