For Kari Pei, VP of global design at Interface, the notions of action and art instinctively go hand-in-hand. At just 10 years old, Pei walked to her local hardware store and purchased a gallon of hot pink paint to freshen up her bedroom walls—conveniently while her mother was at work. This bold act, which shows her sharp sensibilities and tireless initiative, is a telling starting point of the path that led Pei to win this year’s HiP Manufacturer Leader award.
Another significant milestone on Pei’s journey includes obtaining her Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan. “My Fine Arts degree is essential to how my mind processes the context in which we design,” Pei shares. Without it, she would not have "the references to texture, form, color, and shadow that go into the products we create,” she admits, referring to her groundbreaking work creating sustainable flooring at Interface.
Beginning her professional career as a textile designer for Wolf-Gordon and Maharam, Pei often references the storied works of art she studied, discussing them with her clients and collaborators. Her aims to “design with dialogue,” which means she is constantly asking questions: “Is each design element necessary or is it getting in the way of essential beauty?” Pei shares, offering an example of her many inquiries—each meant to ensure a positive end result.
“Art is a language that we apply to the vernacular of design,” Pei explains, noting that her product designs are enhanced by a “frame of reference in the context of the visual world.” Pei’s inspiration is also informed by her many travels, from treks across the globe (pre-pandemic) or commuting between her homes in Serenbe, Georgia and New York City with her husband, an architect, and their creative daughter, Anna.