Founded in 1938, STARK is a family owned and operated business that has mastered the art of handcrafted luxury rugs and carpeting. It’s been nearly 80 years since their doors first opened and, although quite a lot has changed (they now offer fabrics, wallcoverings, and furnishings!), the steadfast commitment to exceptional quality and premier customer service the company was founded upon remains. For my latest segment of The Finer Points, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Stark Kenner, a third-generation visionary and STARK’s Creative Director. Growing up surrounded by strong, iconic women and her father’s bold entrepreneurial spirit, Ashley boasts a keen eye for precision and beauty, and possesses an intimate understanding of the family business. When she isn’t getting creative at STARK, you’ll find her caring for her two young children and sharing the most remarkable design inspiration with her 265,000 followers on Instagram!
Marie Flanigan: Can you share a little bit about the history behind STARK and how you’re involved with leading the charge today? Is there a special memory you’re most fond of from your time spent “learning the ropes?”
Ashley Stark Kenner: My grandfather started his career on Wall Street and always had a passion for the details and for delivering exceptional products to his clients. That passion carried over when he founded STARK with my grandmother in 1938, and they were among the first to import handmade luxury rugs and carpets into the U.S. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents learning everything I could about the business, and, together, we traveled a lot on the hunt for inspiration! I will always cherish the time I spent with my great aunt, Iris Apfel, who spent hours quizzing me on brocades and fabrics; this business has always been in my blood and I love that I have the opportunity to be so involved today.
MF: It’s so interesting to hear that STARK expanded from exclusively rugs and carpeting to fabric, furniture, and wallcoverings – when did this shift take place and what do you feel sets your team apart from other leaders in the industry?
ASK: We have a passion for home design and, although luxury rugs and carpeting offered a great way to meet the design needs of so many, furniture was always something our family took interest in. We added fabric and wallcoverings in the 90s and then furniture came a bit later. I believe it’s our commitment to customer service and our ability to offer a broad range of pricing that allows our collection to fit nicely within any home.
MF: We love engaging with you on Instagram – do you and your team have an organized social media strategy or is that a world where you like to let loose and have fun?
ASK: The STARK team definitely has a social media strategy but mine is more freeform. I love Instagram and find it so inspiring, so my account is all me! I’ll be in the middle of making dinner for my toddlers and also trying to pull together a post – it’s hilarious!
MF: How and where do you source your newest collections and what inspires those designs?
ASK: The mills are all over the place but primarily in Nepal, India, and China, so it just depends on where we are, but wherever the quality is the highest, that’s where we’ll make it. Our wall to wall carpets are made in Pennsylvania, we make our hand-knotted rugs in Nepal, Pakistani rugs come from Pakistan, so it’s truly all over the place. I haven’t been to all of the mills but I’ve been to many!
MF: On that note, it sounds like you’ve been to some pretty amazing places! How has travel affected your outlook on design? Is there one area of the world in particular that speaks to you the loudest?
ASK: Yes, travel has been a large part of my life and, although every place I’ve been has its own unique sense of character, I always feel the most affected by Paris. I spent so much time there growing up visiting fabric mills and antique stores with my family that it feels like a second home. Every time I visit, I leave feeling completely inspired, and even though I’ve been there a million times, I still feel like every visit brings something fresh and new. The architecture is so impressive and the way they decorate around it is awe-inspiring!
MF: As designers, we love that STARK offers custom rug design. Is creating a custom rug something anyone can do or is that a process better left to the experts?
ASK: I would keep custom rugs for the designers. Going custom is obviously more costly because you’re getting bespoke and there’s also more room for error. When creating a custom rug, you start with a CAD drawing and we rely on designers to dictate the scale, sizing, and color placement. So much goes into creating these custom pieces, it’s an intricate process, and they’re expensive. You don’t want to run into mistakes and mistakes happen with even the very best designers!
MF: Totally unrelated to the business, I adore your style! If you had to choose one fashion pieces to live in for the rest of your days, what would it be?
ASK: This one is so easy for me – my turquoise jewelry! I seriously can’t live without it! My great aunt, Iris, gave me some years ago and I’ve been collecting pieces ever since. If you see me out, I’ve usually got tons of squash blossom necklaces, bracelets, and earrings on – it’s pretty much my thing!
The beauty doesn’t have to end here – to keep up with all things STARK and for more dramatic design inspiration, hop on over to Ashley’s IG account and start scrolling!