Interface Vice President of Global Design Kari Pei is known for examining her surroundings with an artful eye and for finding inspiration seemingly everywhere and in everything. A quick glance at her portfolio reveals influences that range from city lights and Japanese art to couture fabrics and natural elements.
However, Pei’s influences are not limited to tangible items. Like many other creative professionals, she also draws inspiration from people – especially from artists and other designers.
“When I look back at my career, there are certain individuals whose work really resonates with my creative approach,” said Pei. “Some are icons in design, others are giants in the art world, yet their influences can be seen across the various colors, patterns, and textures of the styles I’ve created.”
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Pei is highlighting three women whose work continues to inspire her as she develops new products for Interface. In making these selections, Pei shared that each figure represents a different aspect of her life – textiles, art and the corporate world.
Florence Knoll – Textile Designer
The New York Times described Florence Knoll “as a pioneering designer and entrepreneur who created the modern look and feel of America’s postwar corporate office.” Given that Pei’s job at Interface involves creating flooring for office environments, it’s easy to understand why Knoll’s work resonates with her, but it’s really the simplicity in Knoll’s designs that she finds exciting.
“Whenever you see a fabric that combines clean geometry, crisp colors and texture, you recognize Florence Knoll’s influence immediately,” said Pei. “She defined the characteristics of a mid-century modern textile for upholstery, for drapery, for wall covering, for everything, and her lasting impact on commercial design continues today.”
In fact, some of Knoll’s signature themes can be noted in Interface products, such as the loosely textured Gridlock style in the Chelsea Estate collection, which evokes the idea of a fluffy Scottish wool. Knoll’s legacy is also evident in classic, modern looks like Digitized Tuft from the Simple Abstraction collection and Step in Time from the Look Both Ways collection.
Agnes Martin – Artist
Specializing in abstract expressionism and minimalism, artist Agnes Martin created paintings that showcase many of the characteristics that Pei strives for in her own work, including restraint, discipline and sensual intelligence.
“I think that I am drawn to Agnes Martin so much because she was able to just get lost in her work,” said Pei. “When I look at her paintings, I’m just overwhelmed with the sheer perseverance in her desire to complete her idea. Some of her paintings are so simple, so subtle that you have to see them up close to fully appreciate their genius, and I love that.”
Pei can identify with Martin’s ability to be wholly focused on her art. She shared that developing the color range for Chelsea Estate often felt like playing chess or solving a puzzle, as the multitude of yarns, constructions and combinations required her to think in the abstract round. “Being so completely absorbed in your work that you forget time and place is a beautiful experience. You are just there in the moment – creating – on an entirely new level.”
Mary Murphy – Maharam Senior VP of Design
According to Pei, Mary Murphy is an unsung hero whose work is integral to the success of one of the greatest companies in the textile industry, Maharam. Having worked closely with Murphy in the late 1990s, Pei saw firsthand how she led Maharam to take risks and engage in art, design, and fashion collaborations that shook up the status quo.
Although it has been years since the two designers partnered on a project, Murphy’s ongoing influence on Pei – and the industry overall – is undeniable.
“Mary is constantly curious, and her ability to discern the between good design and great design taught me a lot about quality, aesthetics and restraint,” said Pei. “She knows there is strength in delivering sophisticated, consistent products, and that is something I’ve taken to heart throughout my career.”