Twenty-five floors up in a nondescript building in Brooklyn Heights is the studio space of textile designer Kristie Strasen. What’s most striking about the space is not the rows + rows of color coordinated yarns, or the piles of intricately woven fabrics, but the bright light that pours in from outside — an element crucial to her design process. Strasen’s artistry is evident is each of her handcrafted designs. Trained in hand weaving, Strasen’s deep understanding of the architecture behind woven textiles has contributed to her success and earned her awards and respect amongst the design community.
The intersection of Strasen’s studio space and the world of large-scale textile design lies in her consulting practice. Among those with whom Strasen collaborates is West Elm Workspace partner + leading innovator in textile design, Designtex. The fit is natural — she’s as comfortable designing a one-of-a-kind pillow as she is color-concepting an entire collection of workspace furniture. It’s this very confluence that results in textiles as inspiring as they are functional.
Take a peek at Kristie Strasen’s Brooklyn studio and learn more about her design process below!
Tell us about yourself and your work.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and had an interest in textiles from a very early age. I studied English and art history in college but while traveling in the UK and Ireland to do a masters in folk lore, I was swept away by a curiosity and passion for weaving. When I returned to the US, I had the opportunity to study with some of the great fiber artists of the 70’s including Sheila Hicks and Olga de Amaral. After teaching weaving and fiber arts at Evergreen University in Washington, I took a position at Knoll International in Seattle. That job exposed me to the world of commercial textiles which brought me to New York. I have been a colorist and wovens designer for many years — designing and developing fabrics for several of the most prestigious companies in the industry— Designtex being among them.
What is it like to be a maker in America right now.?
It’s incredible. I’m so inspired by the number of people who are creating things. When I was a young graduate student, the only way to communicate was through books, word of mouth, galleries etc. Now, thanks to the internet, it’s easy to connect with other fiber artists. I use Instagram to follows weavers from all over the world. It’s exhilarating and fun — there’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and support.
What is it like to work in Brooklyn, today?
Brooklyn has become this inspirational petrie dish of makers. Everyone is young with loads of cool ideas. I am not exactly young (!) but I am very happy to be a part of the ground-swell of creativity that is Brooklyn right now. I am happy and gratified to see the growing appreciation for handmade and hand-crafted.
What makes you feel most creative? To where do you look for color inspiration?
I feel most creative when I am at my desk with water colors, colored pencils, my small tapestry loom and a pile of yarn. I put on music and start playing around. I look for color inspiration everywhere, but I think my biggest influence is nature. I follow and analyze color trends as a business and am always interested in fashion, art, museum shows etc. — but inspiration is virtually everywhere. You have to become mindful to see it!
Describe your collaboration with Workspace. How do you color-concept for an office setting?
The Workspace project is a 100% collaborative process. Designtex hired me to assist with the West Elm Workspace project as a liaison between the Designtex studio and the Workspace team. I feel like the collaboration has provided me with a new perspective on how to think about the work environment. West Elm has the advantage of an international group of design professionals who are on the leading edge of color trends. Designtex has the advantage of being a leader in textiles for the work environment. When the two come together, there is a special alchemy that transforms the trend-setting palette into a perfect combination of hues for the new workspace.
Describe a typical day working on Workspace.
This project is multi-faceted. There is a lot of color matching to oversee as well as color blankets to be written. There are meetings to make sure everyone is happy with the direction things are taking and to tweak progress along the way. There is also testing to be carried out to insure that the West Elm Workspace fabrics provide the performance required of commercial grade fabrics. Application testing and evaluation is also an important part of the process. We check in as required to keep the project on track.
What makes Workspace fabric different from that of West Elm?
Many people do not understand that there is a different set of performance guidelines for commercial grade fabrics than residential textiles. Contract fabrics must withstand abrasion without showing wear; they cannot fade; their seams must remain stable with extreme use. In short, contract grade fabrics must be able to withstand a great deal of punishment and maintain their looks over time. All of the fabrics for Workspace meet and exceed industry standards for contract fabrics. This is especially challenging because West Elm sets a high bar in terms of aesthetics. Workspace fabrics not only perform, but they also look and feel luxurious. They must meet that standard for the new work place – one that feels as comfortable as home.