NEW YORK — Rug and textile designer Madeline Weinrib is a natural-born saleswoman — as well she should be considering her grandfather, Max Weinrib, founded Union Square institution ABC Carpet & Home.
“I come from a long line of carpet people and I can’t deny that,” she jokes. Right now, however, she’s uptown at Barneys New York, where she’s checking on her summer-long boutique set up in the store’s home department, Chelsea Passage. And the customers can’t stay away: One woman examines the stacks of brightly colored pillows, while another is literally on her knees, running her fingers through a $1,900 Turkish shag carpet, leaving her children to run wild through the store. Yet another, realizing it is indeed the designer of these wares standing in front of her, exclaims, “My sister told me I absolutely had to find you. I’m visiting from London and we are both doing our apartments.”
Like an old hand, Weinrib deftly juggles their questions, hands out her e-mail address and solicits orders, while musing whether she should stay the afternoon to help the Barneys floor staff. She’s not kidding.
Trained as a painter at Marymount College, Weinrib came late to her family calling. “It’s just something I never thought I would be interested in,” she says of the carpet business. “But I decided to do a rug collection and I just fell in love with it.”
That was nine years ago. Now, she runs her collection out of an atelier on the sixth floor of her family’s store with a staff of four, has a lower-priced “prêt-à-porter” line of rugs and pillows called Amagansett, is launching a wholesale business and has more work than she can handle.
But Weinrib, with her jaunty banter, perfectly coiffed hair and stylish clothing (today, she’s wearing a jacket of her own design), hardly fits the stereotype of the musty, gray-haired carpet salesman. “They were shocked by us at first,” she recalls. “With these old cigar-smoking rug guys, it’s not very welcoming to women — it’s an old-fashioned environment. Now they have nothing to say about it anymore.”
This story first appeared in the July 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
She certainly works hard enough to earn anyone’s respect. Weinrib, who designs her own materials based on traditional techniques, bounces around the globe from Morocco to Turkey to India. Her signature weaves, like the purple and white ikats or silver-leaf block prints covering sumptuous down pillows and upholstering antique chairs that she’s found in her free time, are hand-produced in these far-flung countries and then given finishing touches in New York. She also scours flea markets to find everything from vintage silk scarves from houses like Hermès and Pucci she uses to make $1,100 oversize pillows, to antique German and Austrian porcelain vases and American furniture, also sold at Barneys and ABC.
“I’m a hunter,” she says. “It’s like my sport. Some people play tennis.”
Despite her approachable demeanor, Weinrib is serious about her product. Indeed, she is strict that the pillows at Barneys be displayed in vertical piles, rather than the expected upright position. “I think when they are up, they look like decorative fluff,” she explains. “When they are straight across, you realize that you are looking at something that is there in its own right. If you want to take it home and turn it into fluff, that’s fine. But at least know that you are buying something that is like sculpture.”
As if on cue, a towheaded boy nose-dives onto a blue-and-white Lanvin scarf pillow and rolls around on it, causing the normally loquacious Weinrib to fall into a stunned silence. “Oh. I don’t like that,” she says, clearly crushed but bravely trying to keep smiling. “That was really upsetting. That was my favorite pillow.”