Matt Lightbown, founder of Wirral, England-based custom rug company Changespace, is a modest man. He would describe himself simply as a hardworking Liverpool bloke with two decades in the commercial flooring business under his belt. He would also tell you that one day, almost overnight, everything about his work and life changed. That was the day a client asked him, not for the machine-made broadloom, that he had been selling for years, but for a custom, one-of-a-kind bespoke rug. “From that moment,” he says, “a light went on. I realized that a rug could be truly a work of art.” Two things happened that made his life go from ordinary to extraordinary: he made his very first trip to India to meet weavers and to learn everything he could about rugs, and he signed on with GoodWeave. “I knew from the start that if I was going to make rugs, I would make them ethically.”
Matt crisscrossed India’s Rajasthan state visiting rug artisans. India, he says laughing, “was bonkers, but bonkers in the best way”, he adds. The food, the colors and sounds were “mind blowing”. Most of all, the rugs, he says with obvious excitement, were astonishing. Finally he found just the right workshop. It was a family of fourth generation weavers in Bhadohi with whom he would work. He says he never could have imagined how beautiful, complex and exciting the craft was or what a passion he would have for the handmade rugs. “I knew I no longer wanted to make just another me-too product,” he explains. “What interested and still interests me are rugs made by artisans that are 100% unique and when you look at the rug you can say, ‘Look what that person created!’”
Making the transition from commercial flooring to bespoke, one-of-a-kind handcrafted rugs in a huge variety of colors, styles, patterns, sizes and materials, Matt admits, wasn’t easy. While continuing to sell commercial flooring, he slowly grew his business and with each day he became more enamored with the craft. Work he says, can be soul destroying if it is only about price. His new company, Changespace, was different. It was about craftsmanship.
Today the business is growing at a steady pace. He no longer feels the need to go “100 miles an hour.” His end users are hotels, commercial spaces used for events and the high-end residential market. He is especially proud of the wool/cotton flatwoven kilims he provided for the legacy hotel Great House at Sonning. He is also constantly amazed at the weavers’ skills and points to what so far has been his most complicated order: a rug for the hotel Malmaison Birmingham. That piece–a palette of greens, blues and mustard accents pattern–has a linear design with an intricate pattern of blocks.
Today Matt Lightbown sits in his small office in an old factory building, a proud sole proprietor of a business, he says, that makes him happy. Part of his joy, he says, is that his GoodWeave affiliation helps the weavers and their families. “Working with GoodWeave shows you aren’t just interested in making a profit, but you care about workers and want to give something back.” When he shows potential customers the rugs, he says, he wants them to understand the craft. “I want them to get that this is something created from scratch and understand the beauty, time and energy that goes into making a rug.”