If you’re drawn to bold, bright colors and beautiful patterns, then you’ll absolutely love the pieces dreamed up by designer Thomas Paul. His iconic prints marry classic inspiration with modern, statement color palettes, and appear across an array of chic home designs including melamine dinnerware, silk pillows, shower curtains, and yes—rugs!
On the anniversary of his 20th year in business—and simply because we love his rugs—we sat down with Thomas to learn how he got started in the design world, how he built his business, and his best tips for nailing the boldly beautiful look at home. Keep scrolling to read all his words of design wisdom!
Tell us about what you do! How did you get your start?
I actually started my career coloring designs for a silk mill specializing in fabrics for neckties. I soon realized that I wasn’t content just creating the color combinations for designs—I also wanted to create the designs as well. This led me to creating my own neckwear collection, but then I also realized that the canvas of a necktie was too small for me to really express what I wanted to in terms of print designs.
So, while still working at the mill, I worked with my employers to develop a collection of printed silk pillows. The pillows took off, and the thomaspaul collection was born and has since expanded into all different categories of home accessories and fabrications.
How would you describe your signature aesthetic, and how did you develop it?
My signature is always described as bold. Usually when I make a design, it is one large image that takes up the entire space in terms of the size of the item it is printed on. I was tired of the small scale repeats I was working with on the ties.
Our mill also printed silk scarves, which are generally always one large square design, so originally I was going to do a scarf collection. But then I thought it would be a cooler idea to have the designs printed like scarves, then have a solid back sewn on and a zipper inserted and to make them pillowcases instead.
Tell us about how you started working with Rugs USA! What drew you to the company and why did you want to explore rugs as an extension of your brand?
I had already been working with another rug company for a few years, but their capabilities were limited to doing tufted wool rugs. There are limitations to what kinds of designs you can achieve in a tufted rug, and I wanted to translate my printed designs onto rugs more directly than what the tufted rugs looked like. Most of my textiles are hand silk-screened, and I had this idea of doing the same thing in the rug line. Basically doing a cotton dhurrie with a large screen print similar to how we print our pillows or shower curtains. I met with you guys, presented the concept of what I wanted to achieve design-wise, and a few months later we had samples!
What’s your favorite Thomas Paul for Rugs USA rug?
It’s probably the Whale Seascape rug. This is a difficult design to execute in a screen print because it is so detailed. We have done it as a pillow and it is hard to get the fineness of the whale—and if you don’t have that, you lose the entire design.
Also the colors of the flowers in the background have to be just the right shade. If a red goes too hot, you lose the feeling of the print. This is one of my favorites because you could never achieve this design in a tufted rug. I think it is so popular because it is truly unique—there is nothing else out there like it!
You are celebrating a big anniversary this year: 20 years in business! Congrats! How are you commemorating this milestone? Do you have any favorite memories from the last 20 years in business?
Thank you. It is kind of unbelievable, I really don’t know where the time has gone. This year I have reintroduced some past designs that became signatures for my brand, but then eventually were discontinued to bring in new styles. Our Aviary dinnerware set, for example, was a big hit. I brought that back this year to celebrate, but in a fresh color combination. With a lot of things, sometimes the motifs still have validity and you just need to update the colors.
When I start to think back, I can’t believe that so many different things have happened. Doing this job has led me to traveling all over the US and to places like India to see our fabrics being printed, which was definitely a highlight. I also can’t believe how many different people and companies I have worked with over the years. That is a great plus, because you learn something new from every person and situation.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned after 20 years in the design business?
Probably to concentrate on the big picture and not to get too nervous or worked up about the little hiccups along the way. Sometimes the world isn’t ready for what you are putting out there for a season or two. Not everything is a hit right out of the gate, it can take a few seasons for people to understand it and to start to appreciate it. When I first started, I would be having mini breakdowns in my booth at a trade show if no one was ordering a new style or collection. And then the next season, that same collection would be impossible to keep in stock.
What inspires you?
I have always said the concept of thomaspaul was combining all of the things that I like—which are from very diverse sources—and mixing them all together to look like a cohesive and modern collection. My aesthetic is informed by pop art and modern design, but I also love Old Master paintings and very traditional French and English antiques. I mix into this my love of Chinese and Japanese art and design, and somehow I get to a new design that hopefully doesn’t look like anything else.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
The research phase has always been my favorite part about designing. Usually I have an idea for a design or concept, and then I go out looking for source materials or samples to work off of that fit with the concept.
This has changed drastically in the past few years because of the internet. When I first started, I had to go out and hit the bookstores, the library, and flea markets to find what I was looking for. Now you can do so much of the initial research online and find inspiration images and samples on Etsy or Ebay—which is all great and saves time, but I still like to find things in person to work off of. A lot of the time you need to do legwork to find those obscure things that no one else has seen!
Many people are intimidated by bold patterns and colors. What advice do you have for those who want to incorporate some bolder pieces into their home?
I would say that unless you are very confident in your pattern- and color-mixing skills, it is best to keep most things solid or small-scale in terms of color and pattern, and have just one bold element.
So for example, if you are going to do a bold design for your rug, I would probably keep the major upholstered pieces of furniture solid, and then maybe pick up the colors of the rug in your art and smaller accessories. In my own home, I have my serpent rug in black and white, which is a very bold design. But it works because all of the other furniture is solid. Then I picked up the black and white of the rug in many of the smaller accessories so there is some unifying element, but no other patterns to compete with the rug.
What tips do you have for successfully mixing colors and patterns?
If you want to mix different patterns, I would stick to keeping them in the same color family and having balance. So, you could do a floral mixed with a stripe, and then throw in something like an animal pattern. If they are in harmonious colors, like all shades of blue, they should mix well. I always like to balance natural forms with a geometric element.
What do you feel like rugs, and specifically your styles for Rugs USA, do for a room?
I think everyone always says that accessories make the outfit, right? Like everyone is wearing the same little black dress, but it’s your choice of accessories—jewelry, shoes, bags—that make you stand out.
Rooms are the same, and most people have a pretty basic sofa, probably a neutral beige or gray and off-white walls. My goal has always been to give people the choice in their home accessories to really personalize their space and make it their own and different from their friends and neighbors. So it is your accessories—pillows, art, lamps, and rugs—that give you room to personalize and express yourself. I think my rugs add a bit of fun, whimsy, and personality to a room.