Design-minded artist makes floor coverings her canvas
Canvas is resilient stuff. A deck chair supports a 130-kilo rugby player, a shop awning holds hundreds of litres of rain, and in the hands of Patricia Baun of PMB Designs, canvas can also be stepped on, jumped on, and lived on every day without showing signs of wear. Baun's custom-designed canvas rugs are clearly no ordinary floor covering: with their signatures of forthright colour and arresting design, they are art at ground level.
The tradition of painted floor cloths dates back centuries; Baun first became aware of them through a book she found while browsing around Granville Island. At the time, she was working on TV commercials, the logical outgrowth of a movie-industry gig, gaining practical skills that balanced the artistic ones she had honed at UBC and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. The "rug thing", she says, had found her, but digging deeper into its technique and potential confirmed in her mind that she wanted to raise the bar.
"I've always been interested in colour and pattern. I don't want to paint flowers or spongy little things," Baun says. "My training isn't as a painter." Calling her pieces "canvas rugs" is a deliberate way of distancing what she does from amateur crafts projects. "I wanted people to see this isn't something you can do in a weekend," she explains. "I wanted to take it to a different level." With Internet information and the book's how-tos as a springboard, she quickly moved to heavier canvas and developed her own techniques. Using small rollers or brushes, she primes her background, then applies at least three coats of latex-based paint--more if she's using reds--which she protects with several layers of sealer. The rug is then waxed, polished, and, like any piece of art, signed and dated.
Our ancestors may have morris danced all over their floor cloths, but there's something downright peculiar about treading on a painting. To convince nonbelievers, Baun points at the rug under the dining table in her live/work space near Main Street, its squares in Tastee-Freez hues of raspberry, lemon, and orange as brilliant as the day she painted them three years ago. She drags a chair back and forth as proof that the canvas doesn't scratch easily. More advantages: splodges and spots disappear with warm, soapy water, and allergy-causing dust mites have no place to hide. Because the rugs need structural support, they work best on concrete or hardwood floors, Baun says.
Aesthetically, it's a better marriage too; you can't imagine these saturated colours and clean-cut geometrics living happily with developer-beige carpet. What is surprising is how amiably the modern shapes cohabit with Baun's funky antique furniture and how seductively the hallway runner--sage, yellow, blue, and orange being just one of the palettes in its smart circles-and-squares design--leads the eye toward the main living space.
All pieces are made to order. Depending on what a client wants, Baun either starts from scratch or reinterprets an existing design in a different size or palette. These are large, time-consuming projects, and she charges accordingly. (Prices start at $55 per square foot, with design fees extra; you can view examples at www.pmbdesigns.com/ or in real life by calling 604-879-7775.) Baun usually does a computer rendering first, which she can "place" in a digital shot of a client's room; once the design is approved, completion usually takes two or three weeks.
Ten tables pushed together make up the three-metre-square work desk in her mezzanine studio. Right now, it's a visual extravaganza of colour and line as Baun unpacks the samples she just brought back from the Interior Design Show in Toronto. One rug that drew considerable attention, she says, is the squares-on-squares subtlety of a design in a range of blues and chocolate browns. If its low-key colours seem tailor-made for a waterfront spread in West Vancouver or a Mayne Island cottage, the smaller piece beside it, its tilelike squares in incandescent shades of lime, emerald, and chartreuse with orchid pink "grouting", would be at home in Soho, New York, or Soho, London.
Almost every hue on the paint chart, provided it's bright, seems to have gone into a zigzag design that Baun has so far interpreted as a 2.7-by-3.6-metre rug, smaller mats, and, currently in progress, a couple of runners. Right now, she works alone. "I'm hoping to get to a point where I have people trained to do certain things," she says. "All the work is pretty much in the design."
While Baun continues to explore geometric shapes, she's also testing the potential of different shapes; squared off at one end, an oval rug is painted with freehand curves like the running tracks in a stadium, and she's moving more toward juxtaposing shades of the same colour. To date, she has had a few corporate customers, but she sells mostly to individuals, especially apartment dwellers, who can roll up her rugs when it's time to move on. Some people even hang them on the wall.