You can fight the urge to create, but eventually it catches up with you. Alexandra Proba went as far as medical school—an MD being her parents’ Holy Grail—before dropping out to attend the AMD School of Design in Hamburg.
The Lüdenscheid, Germany, native has been at it ever since, making a name for herself as an amazingly versatile designer. Between branding stints in New York, Proba studied product design at Design Academy Eindhoven, launched her own studio, and joined Kickstarter as an art director. But she’s perhaps best known for A Poster A Day, a self-imposed challenge to create daily still-lifes inspired by her surroundings. Out of nearly 600 electrifying images so far, Proba can’t even count how many she’s sold—thousands, perhaps.
The poster project, which she describes as her “little ghost, always there in the background,” is taking the backseat for the time being in order to make room for Proba’s latest adventure: rug making. This week, SHOP Cooper Hewitt is launching five new limited-edition carpets, designed in collaboration with rug-maker Aelfie Oudghiri and hand-knotted in India.
The two Brooklyn designers had admired each other’s work for a while before Proba finally reached out by email, resulting in a Hollywood-style meet-cute. “We found out we’d been working all along in the same building,” Proba says. “Then it turned out we’d both started our careers in medicine. It was weird.”
They had excellent chemistry. Proba brought her graphic, European, mid-century sensibility to the drawing table and suggested making some parts shaggy and others flat, testing the limits of how forms translate to wool. Oudghiri, inspired by Kurdish mixed-technique weavings, reined her in. One rug, monochrome with accents of green and pink, is actually half Proba’s and half Oudghiri’s, stitched together at the middle. “I was definitely more experimental,” says Proba. “Aelfie’s into a more classic look, changing it up with modern color palettes. She gave me a lot of freedom, but she knew the boundaries so we could both learn.”
What boundaries are those, exactly? “I hadn’t realized that my designs couldn’t be thin because of the nature of the wool. Or that I couldn’t do round shapes because it takes the weavers forever.” The rug with the white tufted circle was actually intended as a hexagon but came back round. “If I’d known that, I could have done a lot of tufted round shapes.”
The Cooper Hewitt’s interest has egged them on. The pair are already planning a line of winter blankets and cozy homewares set to launch next fall. Those will take shape as Proba embarks on an art-mobile collaboration with Brooklyn paper artists Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao of Chiaozza.
Meanwhile, the tactility of 3D design has got Proba hooked. “When your art is on the floor, it’s like an optical illusion,” she says. “People look at it twice.”