A vibrant, saturated rose pink runner curves down the stairs and hits a mandarin floored landing. This is gorgeous intense colour celebrating an often forgotten part of our interiors; the stairs. For many of us the stairs are the first things that greet us when we come home, the centre point, architecturally dramatic portals that we pass through many times a day. Roger Oates and his wife Fay set up their self named company in the late 1980’s with the desire to focus on this very specific type of flooring. Their discovery of an historic flatweave fabric sample in Temple Newson House Museum in Leeds prompted them to use their respective textile training to develop a floor covering that had hand woven qualities yet was adaptable to power loom technology.
Practical and sound business sense combined with this understanding of craftsmanship and the hand-made has meant Roger Oates as a brand has evolved impressively over the last two decades. “We always design products that we like and would want in our own home”. Simple as this statement seems it’s inevitably the key to their success. Words and phrases such as ‘timeless’ and ‘perfect tailoring’ spring off the page of their brochure. Indeed, this is classy tailoring for your stairs. This ‘Venetian flatweave’ which has become synonymous with their name is expertly fitted and sculpted around any possible shape of stair, the stripe miraculously aligned.
It transpires that the term ‘Venetian’ has nothing to do with Venice but is a generic term given to a particular kind of twill based flatweave popular in the 17th century in England. Oates is a proper weaver’s weaver, intrigued by techniques and structures and he conducts a constant, personal, enquiry into industrial revolution production methods. All of their carpets are woven on power looms with Dobby heads in the UK after extensive hand loom designing and sampling in their studio first. In comparison to the relative ease of jacquard weaving, the Dobby looms require more complex drafting and lifting plans to create a variety of patterns and textures. In the past they have used New Zealand wool but recently have been working with a UK based wool merchant who has been able to source Shetland wool in its natural colour. From this relationship they are now able to spin a large volume of Cheviot blended yarn exclusively to their own requirements meanwhile supporting another arm of British textile manufacturing. An important factor when dealing with dynamic colour is to begin with a suitably white raw material that can take the dye well and keep vibrancy. All the yarns they use are dyed to their own colour palette ranging from classic neutral to bright bohemian. This bold use of colour sets them apart from other flooring companies and forms an important part of their “Roger Oates hand writing”. This consistent signature is crucial to their business. Their customers, Oates says “want something that’s individual and we offer them that individuality” and although the classic colours and designs always sell it’s important that they bring the new generation fresher and brighter colours.
The main bulk of the business is undoubtedly their unique Venetian flaweave stair carpet however in the early 2000’s they introduced furnishing fabrics and most recently, this year, a range of interior accessories. This logic makes sense when you consider that the Venetian carpet is not a standard type of carpet but more of a very heavy woven fabric. To illustrate Oates refers to it as “upholstering the stairs!” and claims it’s not a stand-alone product but something that needs time and expert fitting. It therefore made perfect sense to develop a range of furnishing fabrics and ready to use products that shared the same quality and integrity but were more immediate. To meet the demand they drew again on their own passions and their design team, with whom Fay and Roger are extremely involved with, created a range of European sourced woven furnishing fabrics which reflect the same ethos as the flatweaves. Raspberry herringbone stripes, ombre effect twills in gem like colours merge with elegant neutrals making a chair covered in these cloths look like a dapper, bespoke suited object. It became clear that many customers were visiting the site to look at long term interior projects and that while they were there a bit of e-commerce shopping was in order. This new collection of products was a natural development and surprisingly little needed to be changed to adapt the flatweave cloth to suit them. Carpet bags and upholstered furniture such as benches and footstools were covered in exactly the same heavy weight venetian flatweave cloth. Throws were reinterpreted from their most popular designs into lambswool and Roger and Fay’s love of English and Welsh blankets made it easy to introduce these to the online shop. They have also introduced a series of floor rugs which co-ordinate with their stair runners, simple solid textures of colour. Boldly striped floor cushions especially illustrate the woven roots of this company, houndstooth checks, colour and weave effects and chevron twills in understated combinations. These are elegant, technique led products which seem to have evolved naturally from the loom and their raw materials rather than a drawing board.
A client says “I am a lifelong fan of Roger Oates. Their colours are always spot-on, and work in both London and the country (rare). And they somehow manage to look chic and smarter the longer you have them.” It seems this company has managed a kind of intimacy with their customers. Their team of 25 people is driven by design. Everything is designed in house by people who really understand woven cloth and the weaving process. The personal hand of Roger and Fay touches everything and it shows. Another customer states “For me, Roger Oates is first of all a story of a family in the wider sense. We were taken by it when we first came to the Long Barn, a home/workshop/company in the middle of a spectacular landscape. The product is very sophisticated, the “dress” of the staircase…” It’s this rare combination of personal touch alongside intelligent business sense that makes this an exciting name in weaving and with a bed linen collection on the horizon we will all soon be running up our colourful stairs to beautifully woven sheets. We can’t wait.