With a college degree in math and a minor in art, Lisa Curry Mair sought a career that would combine the two seemingly disparate subjects. She studied architecture for a while, but wanted to focus on an "accessible craft rather than an entire house," says Mair.
Mair just wasn't sure what that craft would be, until she stumbled upon it during a trip to Vermont. "I saw somebody doing floorcloths, and I didn't even know what they were at the time," she recalls. "The idea of doing something functional that was also artistic just spoke to me."
Sixteen years ago, Mair formed Canvasworks Floorcloths to craft these decorative – and utilitarian – floor covers out of her home studio in Perkinsville, Vt. History plays a big role in Mair's painted floorcloths, which were the primary choice of floor covering in American homes before linoleum came along in the late 1800s. "Floorcloths were traditionally made of canvas, and that's what I use because I am a stickler for details," says Mair, who employs one part-time worker in her shop.
Some of Mair's customers have initially balked at the idea of a fabric-based floorcloth, thinking they're not going to hold up under wear and tear. On the contrary: The heavy-weave canvas has the thickness of three layers of denim and despite its coatings, maintains the look of fabric when it's completed. "Canvas gives you durability and flexibility," she notes. "The floorcloths do not look like they were made in the 21st century."
Mair takes equal care in presenting a historic theme in her designs, created through freehand sketches, CAD software and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. "I like to base my work on something from historical references," she says, "and often that is just a geometric pattern used for floorcloths or inlay floors in the past." Additionally, Mair often incorporates nature-inspired motifs with flowers or leaves to work with the base geometric design.