Part artist and part entrepreneur, luxury rug maker Angel Rios champions Houston artists — and invites you to walk all over them. By Edward Nawotka, Photos by Alefiya Akbarally
ANGEL RIOS DESIGNS heavenly rugs. Heavenly, because these bespoke, pricey floor coverings are woven out of wool and silk and tufted by hand in the high climes of Tibet and Nepal — literally as close as you can get to heaven on Earth.
Rios, now 37, got his start in the rug trade after getting fed up with working as a private banker at J.P. Morgan. “I wanted to pursue a profession that satisfied my aesthetic and creative interests,” he says. His curiosity led him to working with Hokanson custom rug makers in Houston, which in turn landed him a gig helping produce rugs for the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. After a stint in New York with top interior design firm Fortuny, Rios returned to launch his own new line of floor coverings this year in Houston, after he was invited to be a part of the Ken Kehoe showroom at the Decorative Center.
Together with his business partner David Domangue, a 27-year-old former J. Crew stylist, Rios launched AER Textiles, now offering something new to the market: rugs inspired by and created in collaboration with local artists. “In this way, we are harking back to the much older tradition of tapestry-making,” explains Rios. “Historically, you hung the tapestry — which is basically a rug — on the wall as art. Now we’re taking the art, and turning it into something beautifully functional.”
The process of creation involves a bit of artistic voodoo, but is enabled by advances in digital scanning and design software, which allow Rios to reproduce a design, scale it and add contour and texture.
Some of AER’s collaborators are well established local artists such as Rusty Arena, Rene Garza and Nicola Parente. But it’s the opportunities that the duo are offering to emerging artists that may be the most exciting. These new artists include Kornelia Krslovic, a student at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, who began working with Rios after he was impressed by the edgy organic watercolor paintings she submitted to a design competition; and Magdalena Pamula, a Polish painter who produces vibrant geometric patterns.
And AER is going a step further. Rios and Domangue will soon offer Houston’s emerging textile-design community another home by converting their warehouse in EaDo into an experimental workspace for young creators. “We’ve taken in donations of leftover materials from clients and designers,” says Rios. “So far, we’ve collected some 200 bolts of fabric; we are creating a textile resource library that we can open to young artists who want come in and experiment with material design.”
It goes without saying that Rios is hard at work on his own designs as well. He is, like his creations, understated in his style — stubble, jeans, fresh white Converse All Stars — and easy-going, but with an edge of rakishness. He offers a playful smile when he admits to having taken some commissions that led to some rather curious, custom pieces for clients: A design that echoes the curves of and colors of a woman’s vulva is one example.
But so far, it is the art-based originals that have attracted the most attention. Rug designs licensed from Parente and Pamula’s art are going into the new BHP Billiton building on Post Oak, and AER has also produced rugs for the new Galleria-area Astoria high-rise and more than a half-dozen private homes. The rugs are available to order, and prices are in line with those of other custom, highend designer floor-coverings — or, jokes Rios, “perhaps just a tiny bit more.”
This is just the start, says Rios, who notes that there is no reason that AER’s partnerships with artists can’t extend into a broader range of textiles, such as upholstery or window dressings. But for now, rugs — bespoke, beautiful, luxurious rugs — are enough.
“Just feel this,” says Rios, running his hand along a hand-tufted Tibetan silkand- wool sample swatch. “Doesn’t this just feel divine?”