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Rusty Arena - Couture Fabrics and Wallcoverings

What a treat for me! One of my "heroes" in the art field - renowned fabric designer Rusty Arena - gave me a private tour of his studio!!!

We met recently at Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries when I was doing a book signing and Rusty was launching his new rug line. Although I've admired his custom couture fabrics and wall coverings in clients' homes for years, for me, his legend began when I started my business over 17 years ago... I would see his fabulous Trompe l'oeil murals and wonderful faux finishes in homes.

Starting as a muralist and faux finisher, his career evolved into fabrics and wallcoverings. Today, his work is featured in so many beautifully designed rooms and is seen gracing the pages of all the premier design publications. 

Rusty is the creative (and unpretentious) mastermind behind his company Arena Design. Born and raised in Houston, Rusty attended Houston’s High School of the Performing Arts, one of the first of its kind in the U.S., which gave him confidence in his abilities and a true appreciation of people, art and culture. Even though he received scholarship offers from California Institute of the Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and Parsons, he decided to get started pursuing his dreams, traveling the world, and creating and painting along the way.

The intricate designs and depth of color he obtains on these velvets is truly remarkable!!!  Designed entirely by Rusty, his fabrics are not only made in America, but created only by him and his long-time staff of 4. He's dedicated to preserving and developing new hand printing techniques that are impossible to replicate through computer generated imagery.  Some products take up to 9 layers of dye to achieve their richness!

This is a collage of the color swatches and layers that were needed to create the one fabric he's pointing to. What amazes me is how, even with all the different dye lots of fabrics, he somehow matches each of his current designs from his collection to perfection! Rusty definitely has a keen color eye and a commitment to quality!

Simply beautiful!  This detailed bottom piece has a 9 step production process!!!  Rusty says his parents were big supporters of his art - “I remember my mother liked to sew. At around the age of five, I was busy gathering bits and pieces of fabric from under her sewing machine. I glued my favorites to paper for no apparent reason, and then added a little paint and crayons."  His first creation!

Rusty draws much of his inspiration from Mariano Fortuny, who made some of the most gorgeous fabrics in the world until his death in 1949. A Spaniard living in Venice, Fortuny was known as "the magician of Venice" for the way he transformed Egyptian cotton into ornate reproductions of 17th-century, handwoven silks. With a similar commitment to quality, Arena Design aims to make the finest, most unique handmade products on the market.

Fortuny fabrics are still produced in Venice, many years after his death, on machines he invented in the early 1900s. Many in the interior design world consider Arena to be a latter-day Fortuny, and I would have to agree... just look at his creations above!

Specializing in classically inspired patterns that can be customized with different shades and colors, Arena Design also fashions designs on linens, jutes, cottons and silks that are first hand-painted and then silk-screened. 

Rusty has a special talent for experimenting with non-traditional techniques and manipulating wet ink in a way that can be applied to different surfaces. This talent certainly hasn't gone unnoticed! He's been approached by Jim Thompson in Bangkok, Vakko Textiles in Istanbul, and Hermés in Paris. Even Fortuny continues a dialogue with Arena as to how the two textile legends can collaborate!

I adore this headboard! The Arena Design signature fabric, crafted on linen, is just fabulous!

Here are the 100-foot production tables where Rusty and his team create all their wonderful fabrics and papers. The technical capabilities of Rusty’s facility can be attributed to the engineering brilliance of his brother who designed and custom built the curing units that improve the durability and colorfastness of the textile products. The materials are layed out to dry, and while drying times may differ, the pieces are enhanced only by fans and the addition of more and more layers since there's no climate control in the building. Rusty and his staff are literally running around the tables to ensure that each section gets its own special touch.

I loved the Arena Design paper in this wonderful dining room that was featured in a recent issue of Veranda, so it was fun getting to see it up close and personal in Rusty's studio.

 The textures and dimensions really pop off the paper - I had to touch it to feel if it was flat!

A true artist in every sense of the word, Rusty has worked in every medium imaginable.  This beautiful abstract painting he created was displayed in the 2010 Pink Ribbon House in Houston!

I have been honored to collaborate with several designers who coordinate my plasters and hand-painted finishes with custom Arena Design papers for a gorgeous outcome.  In this bold and lush bathroom designed by John Kidd,  we handpainted a chinoiserie design on the cabinetry.

For this elegant dining room, we pulled out a background color in the paper and then plastered and waxed the ceiling to bring the look together.

This lovely dining room features a hand-painted medallion we did over the Murano glass chandelier. Rusty's designs in the wallpaper served as our inspiration!

Rusty's panels were framed as art in this stunning entryway. To complement the beautiful paper, we plastered the walls and handpainted a motif on the table.

I hope you enjoyed learning about this talented artist and designer as much as I did.  A successful, yet down to earth entrepreneur, Rusty has rebuked today's mass-produced products in favor of beautifully designed,  rich and luscious wallcoverings and fabrics that can't be found or replicated elsewhere. Rusty will always be such an inspiration to me, and now more importantly, he'll be a friend as well. To learn more about his designs and where they can be purchased, visit his website at Arena Design.

Be sure to come by our shop  for our special Valentine's Day sale. And that next weekend is the Urban Market Houston Antique Show!

February 9, 2013 - 3pm-6pm
February 10, 2013 - 9am-4pm

The NEW Location: 9401 Knight Road, Houston TX 77045 - Just South of 610/Reliant Stadium.

For information on The Urban Market Houston Antique Show, please go to their website HERE


To purchase “Segreto: Secrets to Finishing Beautiful Interiors” on our website, click here or to purchase through Amazon, click here. To Subscribe to Segreto Blog, click here. To follow Segreto Finishes on Facebook, click here.



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Reader Comments (6)

Leslie, what a fascinating opportunity to visit Rusty's studio and see his process up close. His work is truly stunning. It is also wonderful that he is making everything here with a small staff so that he can control the product and make fabric and wall coverings for the ages, as Fortuny did. Your collaborations with him are beautiful and, I am sure, made for very happy homeowners. Wish I had been there.
XO, Victoria

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria Athens

What a magnficent experience...and such an honor to work with him and vice versa!!...The cabinet is exquisite!

OMG ! The Rusty Arena fabrics are to die for!!! Those cushions you showed us here are just gorgeous! So glad you shared this with us!!

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreet


Thank you for the fascinating insight into his wonderful work. His velvets are truly works of art. That issue of Decor has always been one that just stopped me in my tracks...absolutely lovely!

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercindy hattersley design

fascinating! i loved this intro and lesson and inside look at the artist. loved seeing how you let his designs inspire the finish selections!

off to check out your shop.


February 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermichele

What an incredible artist! Thanks for sharing his work- I enjoyed the opportunity to see some of his creative process!

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermimi

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