A framed map of Texas hangs in Kyle Bunting’s Austin headquarters, a four-by-four reminder of what first inspired the now-renowned hide designer. Pieced together with brown, black, and tan cowhide, the work was a gift from Bunting’s father, a plant manager who tinkered with decorative hide in the garage of their Irving, Texas, home. Years later, while living in San Francisco, Bunting awoke with a start. He had just left a career in television and was feeling adrift. The tribute to the Lone Star State caught his eye. “That’s it!” he remembers yelling to his then girlfriend (now wife), Libby. “I’m going to make rugs. Out of hide!”
Bunting aimed to elevate the craft; an array of shapes seamlessly assembled into intricate patterns became his hallmark—along with an unheard-of selection of hues, from mustard yellow to peacock blue. That level of elegance lured design-world heavyweights, including Philippe Starck and Jan Showers, and boldface names such as Tommy Hilfiger and Elton John.
Now, more than fifteen years later, Bunting’s textile company has evolved from an old Bay Area warehouse studio, where Bunting cut out hide by hand, to a sprawling Austin enterprise employing a crowd of artisans and designers to meet demand. This year, having “conquered the horizontal,” Bunting says, his team will emphasize the vertical: more leather and hide wall art, large custom murals, even hide wallpaper. Those ambitions include collaborations with artists such as the Houston-based Nigerian painter and sculptor Abidemi.
Not that Bunting is too busy to appreciate how far he’s come from the rough-hewn hide floor coverings of his father’s day. On a tour of his studio, he stops to examine a pearl herringbone rug composed of hundreds of ribbons of creamy hide. “I mean, that’s not rugged!” he says with a laugh. “That’s just sexy.”