North London's Cultural Guide

Sonya Winner: the unexpected story behind Dartmouth Park’s rug studio

Sonya Winner’s striking rugs break the rules, making art as at home on the floor as the walls. We visited her York Rise studio to hear her unexpected story


areer advice comes in all shapes and sizes, but falling off a horse and breaking your back is probably not the path to success most would ideally choose.

For Dartmouth Park resident Sonya Winner, that was exactly the twist of fortune that propelled her onto the pages of numerous style magazines and began her life as an in-demand contemporary rug designer.

“I’d always been a fan of bold shapes and vibrant colours,” she tells us over coffee at her studio, a space that offers a kaleidoscopic yet still agreeably calming experience of her abstract geometric creations.

Having run her own design consultancy, published six books and worked as a photographer (before the riding accident put paid to that), a recuperating Sonya was casually asked by old school friend Ruth Aram if she’d like to contribute something to the 40th anniversary celebrations for Covent Garden’s Aram Store. They were looking to create a range of 40 unique rugs to mark the occasion.


“With my graphics background, the design I came up with was very different to traditional notions of what a rug should look like,” she says. “Textile designers tend to work with repeat patterns, but I prefer strange shapes that are standalone graphic forms. The press really picked up on that as something a bit interesting, and it took off.”

All that media attention led to the phone ringing with requests for further rug designs, and before Sonya knew it, a brand new business was born. She found a small, generations-old community of weavers in India who could work with her vivid palette and irregular shapes, using pure New Zealand wool. She also insisted on the strongest ethical values on child labour and local educational programmes, too.

Sonya Winner’s original ‘After Matisse’ Rug

Last year she opened her dedicated studio opposite Truffles Deli on York Rise, a purposefully modern yet tranquil and homely space, designed by Stella Dourtme, senior architect at Zaha Hadid Architects. Step inside, and the full effect of these bold design statements quickly becomes clear. Colour has long been known to change mood, but Sonya’s creations enliven the other senses, beyond the eyes.

“Rugs will change the acoustics of a room,” she says, “making it very cosy. The rugs I design are generally a lot thicker too, so they absorb sound; they are like acoustic panels. It’s always very rewarding to see how they totally transform the homes of our colour loving customers.”

The rugs also demand a tactile running of fingers or toes through, and for closer inspection of the beautiful artistry that has gone into their manufacture. With as many of the designs hanging on the studio walls as adorning its floors, you really get to appreciate the impact beyond their primary function.

“My designs are likened to art pieces and have been inspired by my favourite artists, such as Matisse or Albers,” Sonya says.

Talking us through the pigmentation, yarn and weaving, complete with photos from her trips to India, she then also points out items of carefully chosen ceramics and jewellery on the shelves, from designers who share her bold aesthetic, and now also available from this Dartmouth Park base.

Runner rugs drying in the sun in Nepal

The studio experience is certainly as rewarding for the casual customer with an inquisitive eye for design as it is for her regulars, who return to commission bold creations for their latest eye-catching interiors.

And you get the feeling, surrounded by splashes of intense colour and form, that Sonya’s work also celebrates the endurance of passion through adversity. You don’t have to fall off a horse to get here – but in some strange way, it helps.

“It’s a privilege to earn your living through creativity. Art and design enhance existence and lift the spirits,” she says.

One look at these rugs confirms that delightfully transformative effect.

Sonya Winner, 14 York Rise, NW5 0203 283 8776 Find out more here.
Come to Sonya’s British Wine, Cheese & Design event on Sat 18th May from 11-6pm.
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