Her philosophy: Go with your passion.

Bold, modern rugs put designer on a good footing

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Gardner's Chinese River incorporates butterflies, leaves, spirals and flowers, the colors inspired by a Japanese kimono. Luxury suites at a new Maryland resort have been decorated around her arresting, colorful rugs.

The designers of the luxury suites at the new Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George's County, Md., decided to decorate rooms around bold, modern rugs so arresting that guests would remember them and tell their friends.

They found just what they wanted for three of the suites at the Connecticut studio of Emma Gardner, whose inventive designs and vibrant colors have been featured in Elle Decor and Dwell magazines.

"Her rugs are so new and fresh and hip, they were perfect for these very bold, one-of-a-kind suites," says designer Foreman Rogers, who worked on the eight suites.

Gardner says her design philosophy is simple: Stay away from trends and go with your own creative impulses. "I just design what I'm passionate about," she says.

A rug can function as a backdrop for a room or step forward almost like a painting, says Gardner, 41. Although not formally trained as an artist, she always had a creative impulse, she says.

"Even when I was drawing princesses, I was more interested in the patterns on their dresses than anything else."

She took classes in painting, drawing and textile design while working as an editor of several online magazines for Conde Nast and iVillage.com. In 2002, she and her husband, Patrick McDarrah, moved to Litchfield, Conn., to pursue Emma's dream of designing rugs.

They hooked up with Rugmark Foundation, a global nonprofit group, to find mills that pledge not to use child labor. Gardner's Tibetan-style hand-knotted rugs of silk or wool are produced in Nepal; Indian mills produce the hand-tufted designs of New Zealand wool.

After launching Emma Gardner Design, the couple set off on a cross-country tour with a roof rack packed with sample rug designs. Six weeks later, the rugs had representation in to-the-design-trade showrooms in eight major American markets.

"We had this attitude: Things just would fall into place," Gardner says. "It was amazing."

The motifs in her work reflect her interests in Asian art, travel and patterns from nature, from rubber-tree leaves to bones. Gardner also is known for her unique color combinations: One version of her Curio design features chocolate, red, spicy orange, gray and butter rectangles.

Gardner's line is sold to the design trade through showrooms. Prices are $50 to $150 per square foot, $2,700 to $8,100 for a 6-by-9-foot rug.

We caught up with her by telephone at her office.

Question: Where do you get your ideas?

Answer: I often happen upon a color combination in an unusual way. I did a rug last year called Color Slick. We had gone to Europe with the kids on a scouting trip and went to Castle Howard in England. They have peacocks roaming all over, and I was struck by how incredible the colors were. I was also thinking about the look of when oil spills on the ground at a gas station, a shimmery liquid quality. Both were iridescent and very beautiful colors, and both images came together in the design for the rug.

Q: Some say if you have no idea where to begin decorating a room, start with the rug. Do you think that's good advice?

A: More and more people are using rugs as a foundation piece, as opposed to an accessory. There is a strong case to be made for that. Generally speaking, people fall in love with a rug - the color or the design - so that kind of passion is a good place to start. If you choose one thing you love, it can serve as the anchor for the room. Then you can be more neutral with your furniture.

Q: What's the difference between decorating around traditional Oriental rugs versus contemporary designs?

A: My advice would be the same for both kinds of rugs: Go with what you love. You should work with the colors in the rugs to create the room. You can mix both kinds of rugs in a house, not only Orientals or only contemporary. Sometimes, things look too stuffy if they are too matched or too perfect.

Q: What's the best way to arrange furniture: on an area rug or around it?

A: It depends how you want the room to feel. Sometimes, a large rug with furniture half on and half off can unify the room. . . . This approach may give the room a cozier feel. Some people are loath to cover up any of the rug: They use glass-top coffee tables and put furniture only up to the edge of the rug. They are making a statement that this is the focal point of the room.