Somerset West-based studio, Coral & Hive, produces authentic, hand-woven rugs using the largest traditional wooden looms in Africa. Comprising karakul wool, mohair and cotton, each rug is unique, and beautiful in its imperfection. Coral & Hive employs talented local weavers whose skills have been passed down for generations, bringing age-old techniques into contemporary living. We chatted to owner Jeannine Birch to get to know the company better.
What is your role at Coral & Hive?
I am the owner of Coral & Hive and I have two partners in the business, Alex Daniel and Deborah Davies. Based in London, I look after our marketing and sales there, while Alex is based in Somerset West and flies to New York once a year to visit our biggest stockist there, ABC Rugs. Deborah has only recently joined us, and is a very talented lady with a strong business background. We have lots of fun making Coral & Hive a creative and inspiring environment for our talented weaving team, who set a calming rhythm by singing while they weave.
What inspired you and your partners to start the business?
I have always loved interiors, but I rarely buy from chain stores as the idea of designing a custom piece and seeing it being made appeals to me more. The name Coral & Hive stems from my fascination with nature and the beauty that surrounds us, and it came to me long before I started the company. Because of my location in London and Alex’s family’s knowledge of weaving, we saw a unique opportunity to begin Coral & Hive – The Natural Home, and it almost feels like a family business because Alex, Deborah and myself all went to school together at Somerset House.
What makes a karakul rug special?
The karakul sheep graze in harsh conditions, making them resilient to the weather, and this is seen in the rugs. Hand-spun, chunky and totally natural, these are the epitome of a luxurious African rug.
Where in your home would you use a karakul rug?
Because they are so resilient to dirt, karakul rugs are typically used in high-traffic living areas and also make wonderful runners. We can spin the wool to varied thickness for a chunky or fine weave effect. In terms of colour and pattern, karakuls look wonderful in their neutral natural tones, but also with African or simple geometric patterns.
And mohair and cotton rugs?
Mohair rugs are the ultimate luxury purchase, as mohair is the diamond fibre of South Africa and soaks up dye like silk, resulting in dreamy colour combinations. I would use a mohair rug in a formal lounge, study or master bedroom. Cotton rugs, on the other hand, are great in kids’ bedrooms, and you can roll them up and pop them in the washing machine when they are dirty. Some of our cotton rugs are also hung on walls as wonderful tapestries.
What is your favourite thing about hand-woven rugs?
They carry the story and heritage of the hand-weaving tradition, as well as the personal touch of their weaver. The imperfect nature of the hand-woven rug highlights the process gone into creating it as well as its beautiful texture, making it authentic and full of meaning.
How do you work with clients on custom-made rugs or designs?
Typically we meet with clients or designers at their studios, but where possible we invite them into the looms to meet our weaving team. The consultation lasts about an hour as we go through each fibre type, our mood boards and a tour of our looms to see the rugs being woven. We love finding out more about where the rugs are going to be used, as this provides us with the inspiration we need to come up with specific designs for our clients. Finally, we put together a design brief and quote. Once accepted, we will draw any new designs and keep the customer updated with a picture of their weaver so that they feel part of the whole process.
One of our most prestigious orders so far has come from Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby in London. Sophie loves South Africa as well as the story behind our rugs. It was wonderful meeting her in her design studio in Notting Hill, whose interior reveals that she is a potent interior designer with a clear vision. At the moment we are working with a few innovative designers, some of whom are even mixing karakul and mohair in one rug, so keep an eye on our Instagram to see these creations come to life.
Find out more about Coral & Hive, here.