There is more than meets the eye to ‘Isla’, the big, pink, furry outcome of a whirlwind collaboration between South American luxury rug maker Yerra and London- and Hong Kong-based architecture studio Design Haus Liberty. It doesn’t immediately look or sound like the most natural, ethical or sustainable product – and that’s partly the point. Similarly, it’s not a product that might immediately call to mind South American craftsmanship. But this soft-as-soft-can-be luxury landing mat, made from the finest Peruvian alpaca, is an exercise in upending expectations.

Dara Huang of Design Haus Liberty and Yerra founder Santiago Schapira met for the first time when they were tasked with making a love-themed rug for Wallpaper* Handmade’s tenth anniversary exhibition. The result, a lovingly handcrafted rug, made from only natural materials, was fawned over and fluffed up by just about everyone who came near it, an instant happy place of tactile pleasures.

Yerra craftspeople at its factory
Craftspeople stitching a hide at the Yerra factory. Photography: Daniela Mac Adden

From the initial meeting, preconceptions were left at the door. Design Haus Liberty underwent a crash course in Yerra’s trade, getting to grips with everything from the origins of the palette of materials on offer to the techniques available to shape them. Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, eyes widened at the design visions Huang was laying out.

Huang and Design Haus Liberty’s design director Sofia Hagen also wanted to understand Yerra’s supply chain. ‘I didn’t know that there was a cradle-to-cradle ethos and a thorough promotion of organic farming when it comes to their supplies,’ says Huang. ‘It’s important that all the skins are humanely sourced. With the alpacas, they wait for the animals to die of natural causes before using the fur. It really brought to light a sustainable method for things to return to the earth in a way that honours and promotes wellbeing.’

‘Isla’ picnic set rug
The front and back of a rug before adding the backing and finishing. Photography: Daniela Mac Adden

Yerra is keen to make the case for alpaca fur as a highly sustainable natural material. ‘We really care about a better livelihood for everyone involved – animals and people alike,’ says Schapira. ‘By investing in ethical and sustainable suppliers, we are actively encouraging others to adopt a new philosophy and ecological techniques. We’re showing them a better, more efficient, more profitable way to make a living.’

As is customary with Handmade commissions, the brief was to explore new possibilities for materials: suggestions ranged from fur-lined meditation rooms and mazes to all manner of tactile topographies. In the end, space constraints saw the team settle on a picnic rug. ‘At Design Haus Liberty, we always aim to create abstract art rooted in history and geography,’ says Hagen. ‘So we looked at the topography of Uruguay, where most of the sourced fur would come from, and started creating striations into the rug based on topographical maps – the landscape has gorgeous mountain ranges around its perimeter.’ The architects used this as an inspiration to generate a composition of accessories dedicated to the outdoors and South America’s tradition of al fresco dining. Huang continues: ‘What lends itself better to that than a picnic scenario, fully equipped with rug, cushions, backrests, basket and even a furry bottle holder?’

‘Isla’ picnic set components
A diagram showing the various components of the ‘Isla’ picnic set: A. Long mat B. Backrests C. Basket D. Bottle holder E. Cushions

Such is the lure of a deep pile of bury-your-face-in-it fur – and the colourful samples on the drawing board at those initial meetings – it’s no surprise that both Design Haus Liberty and Yerra were moved to create something that would be interactive. ‘We really wanted to get visitors involved, to touch the installation,’ says Huang. As such, the picnic became vertical, so more easily accessible for passers-by. The hanging display also showed off the rug’s distinctive topography, the gradients of different hair lengths used, and different hues of pink, all representing the love theme.

The final design was handmade, like all Yerra’s bespoke pieces, in its factory in Uruguay. Under the expert eyes of the company’s highly skilled craftspeople, the quality of each stitch, the colour and the direction of the hair was scrutinised for the highest-quality finish. Ten years ago, Yerra introduced an innovative new technique involving the application of complex patterns on hides using laser technology. ‘It’s important to us that we are always trialling pioneering production methods. We’ve never done a picnic rug in pink alpaca before, but that’s fine. As long as it’s respectful of our materials and craftspeople, we want to push the boundaries to create exciting new textures and designs.’

Huang looks forward to collaborating with Yerra again. ‘We’re looking for the right opportunity, but we are full of ideas. We know what’s missing in the interiors market, and we hope we can create something together that will satiate its needs.’ And what interior doesn’t need a big, pink, Peruvian alpaca picnic rug? §

As originally featured in the August 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*245)