Ashley Stark, the third generation of the venerable Stark Carpet company, bridges the gap between old-fashioned and au courant by revolutionizing family heirlooms and auction pieces.
growing up, Ashley Stark followed her mother, Andrea, to auctions and antiques shops. Now 24 and addicted to the thrill of the find, she homes in on hip pedigreed 20th-century pieces. An appreciation for fine design and craftsmanship may be in her blood, but she’s got a renegade aesthetic. “Transitional” is how Stark dubs her style. Whether at work, where she develops her family company’s modern carpet collection, or at her Manhattan home, where she adventurously refurbishes her parents’ furniture, she puts a hip spin on her traditional heritage via cool color schemes and a bold layering of textures. “When people come over and compliment my apartment, I’m so proud that these are things my family has made or taken part in,” Stark says. But it’s not just her respect for honored designs that wins her accolades. It’s how she infuses them with fashionable flair and displays everything with just the right amount of attitude.
Wall-to-wall carpeting is often considered passé; Stark makes it anything but with a timeless family design in handsome chocolate.
Stark’s den typifies her avant-garde classicism. Not surprisingly, she started with the carpet, a Stark original that has been in production since her grandfather founded the company in the 1940s but that she had redone in very now chocolate brown. The carpet inspired the faux-croc walls (a Stark covering) and cocoa palette. The mohair-velvet sofa was imported from her parents’ last apartment, while the end table is a bedside stand that legendary designer Karl Springer created in the early ’80s for the couple’s first residence. Stark scored the 1970s bronze stools by Italian visionary Gabriella Crespi at auction.
living and dining area
In a fitting introduction to Stark’s high-design, cool-palette aesthetic, the foyer features a snakeskin bench by Karl Springer and a vintage mirror whose frame she painted black—both set against a Stark wall covering in stately gray. A sweep of purples injects a rock ’n’ roll edge to the adjacent open-plan dining and living area, where iridescent ballgown–dramatic curtains and a muted antique Stark carpet form the backdrop. Two custom Jonathan Adler sofas are dressed slightly differently: one in velvet, the other in Ultrasuede (both Stark fabrics). “Combining furniture in the same color but with different textures is something I do with clothing too, because it creates depth and interest—and I’m not big on patterns,” Stark says. The sofas offer a prime view of her prized console by Tommi Parzinger, an American designer whose ’40s and ’50s pieces are coveted by furniture collectors. Of course, she couldn’t resist putting her mark on it, dousing it in Prince-worthy deep-purple paint.
Payton Mirror - 40 x 50
Mirror Image Home
This translucent spiral lamp was found at a Palm Beach antiques store.
Whereas the rest of the apartment is decidedly grown-up, Stark wanted her dressing room to feel “girly”—but not too much. The prettiness of pastels is rendered smart not sweet thanks to strong white furniture and hits of Lucite and mirroring. Reupholstered now in curly lambskin, the fluffy white chair had been in “this awful orange velour” when she rescued it from an antiques shop. With advice from decorators Robyn and Sara Carp (a mother-and-daughter interior design duo), a French-style vanity that belonged to Stark’s mother went from trad to mod.
Goodbye, green paint and brass knobs; hello, white lacquer and Lucite pulls. The classic Stark wallpaper applied to the folding screen is an ingenious stand-in for a hand-painted Chinese original. By affixing a framed drawing to the screen, Stark turns it into a decorative wall—one that beautifully plays off the light-blue carpeting, another family staple.
Ellen von Unwerth’s photo “Playboy Bunnies,” Stark’s favorite and first.
Once Stark saw the prototype for this graphic carpet, she had to have it for her bedroom. By opting for a subtly decorative pattern, she again makes wall-to-wall improbably hip. The carpet’s chic pale blue sets off the skylike color scheme of the room, echoed in the bathroom. The metallic surfaces of the flowers on her Osborne & Little wallpaper—a downtown twist on an uptown pattern—emphasize the mirrored surfaces. “I like the glamour that mirrors add,” Stark explains. She bolted an Art Deco mirrored night table to the bathroom wall for stability, transforming it into an ultra-stylish dressing table. In the bedroom, the Ralph Lauren bed takes center stage. Originally swathed in tobacco-brown suede and now recovered in studded faux leather, it’s Stark’s “favorite thing ever.”
Stark stripped and repainted her mother’s formerly gold mirror.
Stark designed the custom blanket from Holland & Sherry to match the carpet.
Ashley Stark shares her wisdom on carpets, hardware and auctions.
about stark carpet
A long-trusted source for interior designers and decorators, Stark Carpet has been importing and designing high-end carpets for more than 60 years. A decade ago, the company acquired Old World Weavers, expanding into textiles of the same incomparable quality as its rugs. It also saw the development of a custom-built furniture line and a wall-covering division. While the company maintains its commitment to excellent craftsmanship, Ashley Stark is keeping it current, updating old patterns in modern colors like French blue, sisal and spring green, as well as traveling the world to pick out new rugs to carry. While Stark sells to the trade only, there are buying services at design centers around the country that can purchase for you if you don’t have a decorator to serve as your middleman.
At the Stark showroom, the furnishings reflect the company’s various lines.
stark carpet tips
- For top quality, go with a good wool, as opposed to a synthetic fiber.
- When decorating, don’t be afraid to mix patterns and/or colors, though be careful with a busy motif for a small room or stairs.
- Wall-to-wall carpeting makes bedrooms feel cozier (and your feet will thank you!), while area rugs are optimal for living and dining rooms or any space that has a beautiful floor.
- Schedule professional cleanings every six months, which can not only alleviate dust allergies but also make your rug look new again.
Stark reupholstered this wingback chair, found at auction, in light-blue velvet.
buying at an auction
According to Stark, shopping at auction, whether online or in-store, is always less expensive than buying directly from a dealer. Do your research—check prices of comparable items by the same designer or from the same era (1stdibs.com is a good gauge)—and you can end up spending the same amount on a truly unique historical piece as you might on a mass-produced purchase. Don’t be discouraged by garish paint or frumpy fabric; you can change those things, and refurbishing will usually cost a lot less than the furniture itself. “Look beyond the piece and try to envision it in your home, refinished or not,” Stark says. Most important, choose things that you’d kick yourself for later if you didn’t buy it now.
Stark’s Favorite Places to bid:
- 1stdibs.com An endless resource, where many dealers and stores from around the country, Paris and soon London, post their inventory. (Note: It’s good to have some direction because the site can be overwhelming.)
- Doyle New York A world-famous auctioneer and appraiser, Doyle has everything, from furniture and art to couture vintage clothing. doylenewyork.com; to purchase an auction catalog, contact Doyle at (212) 427-4141 x257.
- Ebay.com Great for furniture. I like to put in a broad phrase like Karl Springer or Eames and see what comes up.
- Treadway/Toomey Galleries Receives a lot of Kittenger and Robsjohn-Gibbings pieces, and many dealers from West Palm Beach put their inventory up here. Treadway also has real-time online bidding through eBay at the same time it holds auctions at the gallery, which is great if you aren’t experienced with a paddle. 818 North Boulevard, Oak Park, IL, (708) 383-5232; treadwaygallery.com.
- Sotheby’s I particularly like this renowned auction house for art of all kinds. When you register online, you can get artist-specific auction price histories, which is really helpful. sothebys.com.
Aside from a new coat of paint or a reupholstering job, nothing can completely change a door or piece of furniture like new knobs. Stark’s most important rule is “to have fun with it” and take chances. Buy a few options and see which one looks best; you can always return the duds. Repetition of one or two materials throughout the house creates a distinct, consistent look instead of an unresolved hodgepodge; Stark chose chrome and Lucite, both classic modern elements that match her furnishings. Or use what you already have: Consider updating old hardware with a new finish (e.g., recast baroque bronze in sleek silver).
Sticking with chrome, Ashley felt free to mix shapes, like these oval knobs on the den’s faux-croc papered closet doors. Estate Collection pulls
Cubic knobs adorn the bathroom cabinet in chrome
Stark chrome-dipped these ring-shaped pulls, chosen by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings when he designed this chest of drawers in the 1940s.