American artists Brad Davis and Janis Provisor have a soft place in their hearts for Hong Kong. It was where they first set up their business, Fort Street Studio, in 1996 after they began working with Chinese weavers that allowed their painterly ideas to come to life through hand knotted wild silk rugs. Hong Kong was where they began distributing carpets that caught an international audience’s attention while raising their son. Although they returned to New York to expand, Asia’s tug was persistent and beguiling.
“We were coming to Hong Kong a few times each year anyway,” notes Davis. “But we weren’t really aware how the city had changed. We were crossing the street in Sheung Wan one day and decided: why not move back? We were opening a showroom here — we should be here. We had so many new products. And Hong Kong is an easy base to travel to Nepal, India and China in comparison to New York.”
Fort Street Studio produces one-of-a-kind rugs using high grade, Himalayan wool and wild silk from western China. Their work has more in common with art than textiles, as the couple design from everyday inspirations that get translated into a two-dimensional image on a hand knotted carpet. “We recognise that hand knotting takes a long time,” says Provisor. “A rug can take four to six months for weavers to tie each individual knot. As a result, [they] do not have the same structure as tufted ones. Many Hong Kong designers leave the carpet to the very end of a project, and the culture here is mostly tufted carpets. We are not the same animal. We don’t work with colour poms; we work in a more artistic way.”
While Davis works with the factories to translate their ideas into patterns, Provisor concentrates on painting. “He’s the tech guy,” she says with a smile. “We collaborate with architects and designers on specific versions of their ideas,” adds Davis. “We’re the owners, designers and artists,” says Provisor. “That’s our background. We’re problem solvers.” For inspiration, the couple takes design trips to recharge. “Last summer, we rented a house in Ubud for five weeks,” notes Davis. “We worked every day; we had two studios and a swimming pool. We usually dealt with emails for the first hour or two, then locked up our devices and worked on designs until around 6pm. Of course, we’ll take a dip in the pool every once in while!” This summer, the couple rented a 1,000 square foot apartment in Umbria with a garden that provided colourful inspiration.
As their products are mostly hand knotted, Fort Street Studio carpets are rolled for transport and storage. Davis and Provisor wanted a studio that would also work as a showroom and shipping warehouse. “Hong Kong’s physical and insane financial constraints meant that we looked everywhere for the right space,” says Provisor. “We previously never had a showroom that worked with the quality of our brand. We considered the Pedder Building at one point, but the space was too restricted.” They eventually found a bright, south facing space in One Island South and launched their 5,000-square foot showroom last year. The couple is now considering leasing a separate studio where they can duck out to concentrate on new designs, leaving the showroom for the business side of things.
Fort Street Studio carpets have primarily enhanced luxury residences such as Hermes Maison. In recent years, Davis and Provisor expanded to include boutique hotels, chairmen’s private offices and exclusive reception areas. They prefer to be on board early in a project, so that they can customise rugs to suite their application — whether it’s a higher traffic dining area or a children’s bedroom that requires increased durability. “People come to us for innovation, and our goal is to always push boundaries and explore new ideas,” says Davis. “It’s also more fun; otherwise, we never would have stopped painting.”