Spinning a Yarn

Bob(bin) and weave: the nine shades of yarn seen here will create our entire Axminster collection

We’re sitting in the Devon headquarters of Axminster Carpets – the prestigious manufacturer of plush, ornately patterned floor coverings found everywhere from royal residences to public houses – and enjoying a very British cup of tea. Then, a deep rumble starts brewing… It’s the sound of looms clanking in the adjoining factory, as millions of individual tufts of yarn are woven together to form a single carpet.

A meticulous process involving both man and machine, it is one that has remained relatively unchanged for over 250 years. Yet before that, in the early 1700s, few people in Britain would have even set foot on a carpet. The floors of most homes at the time were made of beaten earth covered in flagstones, wood or rushes of straw – and it wasn’t until the mid-18th century that woollen floor clothes were adopted as a means of providing some warmth and comfort against those cold, hard surfaces.

The man, the myth, the legend: Thomas Whitty
Good as new: the antique Axminster carpet (still pristine) at Newby Hall, Yorkshire

Step forward a man named Thomas Whitty, born in the town of Axminster in 1716, whose own cloth-weaving business prospered until the 1750s. Upon travelling to London in search of a new trade, Whitty came across a warehouse of imported Turkish carpets. Dazzled by their elaborate detail and vibrant colour, Whitty set his heart on recreating them, only to be left puzzled as to how such intricate designs could be made.

Many trials and tribulations later, Whitty successfully wove his first carpet in 1755 – the same year he would go on to establish his original factory. Aided by the vertical Georgian loom (thought likely to have been designed specially for Whitty), his method of creating hand-knotted carpets allowed for unique variations of colour and pattern – a pioneering technique now world-renowned as the Axminster weave. In a shrewd business move (albeit one that would be frowned upon today), Whitty tasked young girls, mostly aged between 10 and 17, to work side-by-side on the looms – the combination of their lower wages and nimbler fingers giving Whitty the edge against his competitors, whose teams were made up of men.

As carpets became ever more fashionable in English stately homes and country houses, Whitty was often the manufacturer of choice. Then, in 1789, King George III and Queen Charlotte paid a visit to the factory and commissioned several handmade-to-measure designs – bringing Axminster even more fame and demand. Whitty ran the company until his death a few years later in 1792, when the reins were passed onto his son and then his grandsons in the years to come. The youngest of which, Samuel Whitty, was in charge when devastation struck in 1828 as a fire ripped through the factory, almost burning it to the ground. Although the premises were later rebuilt, the business never fully recovered and was declared bankrupt in 1835. And so it was that carpet-making in Axminster was laid to rest, and rest it did for over a hundred years.

Cue another enterprising young gentleman: William (known as Harry) Dutfield, who had followed his carpet-designer father Herbert into the trade by weaving his own creations in Kidderminster. One day, Harry discovered that although the town of Axminster had remained synonymous with fine carpets, manufacturing had lain dormant ever since that disastrous fire. The revelation sparked an idea. Encouraged by local goodwill, Harry and Herbert moved to the Devonshire town with a handful of their most trusted and skilled craftsmen in tow – many of whom also helped to invest and found the new Axminster Carpets. So then, in May 1937, the sound of looms working on “Axminsters from Axminster” came clattering to life once more.

An archive Axminster advert capturing the glorious nostalgia of patterned carpets
Never work with children or animals… unless you’re as resilient as an Axminster

Despite that almighty gap – not to mention another pause in production, when the factory switched to churning out aircraft engine parts during World War II – the new incarnation stayed faithful to its forerunner’s values of quality and craftsmanship, and in doing so hit the ground running. By the 1960s and 70s, when carpets of psychedelic colour and pattern were all the rage, Axminster simply couldn’t make enough. A far cry from the early days when only the wealthy could afford woven carpets, by the mid-20th century increased mechanisation had rendered them affordable for homes up and down the country. It truly was a golden age, one that reigned until the late 1980s when interior design “gurus” on TV laid down a whole new look: hardwood floors. As the stripped-back, minimalist mood stood firm throughout the 90s and 00s, Axminster felt the impact. But it kept pushing on, kitting out sports stadiums and grand hotels while producing carpets for some of the most iconic buildings around the world, from Brighton Pavilion to Buckingham Palace. And now, fashion is coming around again. Thanks to a new partnership with us here at House of Hackney, we can officially declare that Axminster is experiencing yet another renaissance.

Unveil the magic of carpets, rugs and runners in your home

Ever true to its heritage, the company is still family-run – now presided over by the fifth generation of Dutfields. It’s not unusual for the craftspeople to go back generations too, and for their own children to continue the legacy by joining as apprentices. In their downtime, weavers have been known to create personalised rugs for their families, imbued with a sense of love and storytelling that is tangible in every Axminster carpet – alongside all that skill and tradition, passed down from Thomas Whitty to the carpetmakers of today. So you see, to own an Axminster creation is to quite literally possess a little piece of history – one that you too would be proud to pass on to the next generation.

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INSPIRATION

A Corner of Paradise

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INTERIOR & PHOTOGRAPHY: SARAH DEAN
INTERIOR & PHOTOGRAPHY: SARAH DEAN

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook. A snug away from the main action where you can curl up in a comfy chair and hit pause, if only for a moment. In a room where absolutely everything and anything goes, this is truly where the magic happens.

INSPIRATION

A Corner of Paradise

Be inspired with ideas for how to make our House your own.

Shop Inspiration

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns.

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook.

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns.

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook.

Shop Inspiration

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns.

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook.

Shop Inspiration

@PEARLLOWE

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook. A snug away from the main action where you can curl up in a comfy chair and hit pause, if only for a moment. In a room where absolutely everything and anything goes, this is truly where the magic happens.

Shop Inspiration

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns.

In our House, we also can’t get enough of plants. From clusters of geraniums to giant leafy ferns, botanicals have the unique power to infuse a room with colour, vitality and life. But amidst all this, the loveliest addition might just be to carve out your own quiet little nook.

@PEARLLOWE

A mantelpiece, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is even more worthy.

The last few pieces of the puzzle are the myriad layers and textures that make a space so inviting. Think a coffee table stacked with books and tactile cushions in an intriguing mix of shapes, sizes and patterns – all things which are easy to move around until you find a combination that appeals to you. A mantelpiece, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is even more swoon-worthy with the addition of eye-catching candelabras, hand-painted porcelain candle pots and treasured keepsakes you’ll have picked up on your travels.

The last few pieces of the puzzle are the myriad layers and textures that make a space so inviting. Think a coffee table stacked with books and tactile cushions in an intriguing mix of shapes, sizes and patterns – all things which are easy to move around until you find a combination that appeals to you. A mantelpiece, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is even more swoon-worthy with the addition of eye-catching candelabras.

A mantelpiece, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is even more worthy.

The last few pieces of the puzzle are the myriad layers and textures that make a space so inviting. Think a coffee table stacked with books and tactile cushions in an intriguing mix of shapes, sizes and patterns – all things which are easy to move around until you find a combination that appeals to you. A mantelpiece, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is even more swoon-worthy with the addition of eye-catching candelabras.

Is living in a white-painted box driving you up the wall?

Made from wood pulp sourced from FSC-certified trees, complete with added textile fabrics for strength and stability, our wallpaper is PVC-free and produced using the eco-friendliest methods available.