If you request an entrepreneur from central casting, you just might get Jerry Krull. He has the right mix of skills (computer know-how, business smarts, artistic talent) and character traits (energetic, tenacious, resourceful) to succeed in this role.
Krull designs and makes area rugs, mostly in Prairie-style designs. His business, Aspen Carpet Designs, filled a niche that was waiting to be filled.
Krull's Web site, www.aspencarpetdesigns.com, is his magic carpet, attracting orders from 30 states, Canada and Europe.
"The Internet allows someone like me to run an international business," says Krull. "I recently got one order from an interior designer from Turkey, with a British accent, calling for a French client who lives in Moscow. You can't get more global than that."
Krull didn't fall into this role by accident. He studied for it by reading every book he could find about the masters of Prairie-style designs: Frank Lloyd Wright, George Grant Elmslie, Walter Burley Griffin, Marion Mahony and George Mann Niedecken.
He and his wife, Laura, who co-owns the business, took a rug-designing course. He learned to write press releases by reading how-to books. Business acumen came easily to Krull, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in finance before his first career in financial services. He launched Aspen in 1994 and ran it part time at first. In 1999, he quit his day job to devote all his time to his business, which he runs out of his home in Mokena.
The parents of two children, the Krulls juggle orders as they pass the parental baton. "Laura prefers to be the behind-the-scenes person," says Krull. "I'm a people-person, so I like meeting with clients and promoting the company."
At first, Krull made rugs in various styles, including contemporary and Art Deco. But his Prairie-style designs were "Wright" on, quickly becoming his most popular. His name spread among homeowners who were looking for furnishings to match their Prairie-style homes. Ditto for his designs that were Usonian, a word coined by Wright to describe his later work. Compared to Prairie-style designs, Usonians have brighter colors, a more modern look and include circles.
Now, the "links" section of his Web site helps his clients find everything Prairie-style and Usonian: furniture, hardware, lighting, art glass.
Krull custom-designs the rugs per clients' requests. "They range from people who send me pictures of designs they like to people who want something Prairie-style, but aren't sure what," says Krull.
He visits Chicago-area clients' homes, samples and portfolios in hand. "I bring a sketch pad and colored pencils and spend two to four hours playing with a design until I get it right," he says. "Then I draft a design on the computer and send it to them for their OK."
Laura is the color expert, he says, coordinating the client's color choices and, for tricky colors, ordering custom-dyed yarn to match fabric swatches or paint chips. Most of his clients choose earth tones, true to the Prairie-style.
"But I've done them in bold colors, too, especially when the house is contemporary and not an original Prairie-style home," says Krull.
With out-of-town clients, Krull communicates via phone and e-mail. He sends yarn samples by snail-mail. Many of the original textile and window designs drafted by Wright and other designers of his era are copyrighted, explains Krull, so he cannot copy them.
"I use them as inspiration, incorporating similar elements and shapes," he explains.
Krull assures prospective clients that he does keep their designs on file. "Some people think about it and call months later when they're ready," he says. "And, some call to order another rug in the same design for another room."
Others want exclusive designs. On the backs of these rugs, Krull sews labels with the dates and the names of the designs. Like Wright's homes, many of Krull's rug designs are named for the clients.
Krull's repertoire includes several types of rugs: hand-tufted (woven with a small hand tool), hand-knotted (tied by hand without tools), inlaid and sculpted. All of the tufted and knotted rugs are wool, while most of the inlaid and sculpted are nylon.
Krull subcontracts the making of the hand-tufted and hand-knotted rugs with a company in India, selected by Krull after an international trade association certified that it does not employ child or slave labor.
Krull makes the inlaid and sculpted rugs in his home studio. He uses nylon carpeting to make the inlaid rugs. Onto a monk's-cloth backing, he glues pieces he assembles like a puzzle. To create a sculpted rug, he carves a relief pattern into thick-pile carpeting with a "carpet carver" tool, which looks like a barber's electric shaver with blades of various sizes.
About 70 percent of his clients use his rugs on their floors, says Krull. The rest hang them on their walls. Monthly, he completes about 10 floor rugs and 10 to 20 wall hangings, which are usually smaller.
Krull charges per square foot, depending on the type of rug and design intricacy. The tufted and hand-knotted rugs range from $35 to $55 per square foot. Inlaid and sculpted rugs run $25 to $65.
Krull says he never tires of meeting new clients.
"They all teach me something, so I'm always learning," says Krull. "They tell me about new books and I add them to my home library."
Nor does he tire of creating new designs. Someday, he hopes, he and his family will retire to the lakefront property they own in Putnam County.
"Sitting there by the lake, I can relax and put my feet up," he imagines. "But, I'll still be sketching."
One on one with Jerry Krull
Q. Where do most of your clients live?
A. About one in five are in the Chicago area. The rest are from all over. I get the most orders from California, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. Illinois ranks fifth.
Q. Do all of your clients have Prairie homes from the Wright era?
A. Many have old homes designed by Wright or his colleagues, and many of those are becoming museums now. Others have new Prairie-style homes. But many have traditional or contemporary homes where they are decorating one room, like a home office or a living room, in Prairie-style.
Q. Why the name "Aspen"?
A. I love Colorado, especially the Rocky Mountain National Park. And, it helps to have an `A' name to get top listings on the Internet.
For more information, call Jerry Krull, 815-483-8501, or e-mail him at email@example.com.