Breathing New Life Into Old Masterpieces

Transforming hand knotted carpets into stunning decorative pillows and accents

reprinted from a story about Marianne in Couture Flowers Magazine Spring 2016

Interior Designer Marianne Donahue grew up surrounded by beautiful carpets. Her paternal grandfather was a rug collector, and through him, she learned to appreciate the colorful, hand-knotted carpets he purchased for family homes in Florida and Cape Cod. In fact, a classic Persian Heriz in red, dating back to the 1920s Art Deco period, still resides in her son Will’s apartment – a testament to the enduring appeal of these magnificent works of art.

Marianne’s innate sense of design led to a career in the interior design field. In 1994, she became a partner in the J.Namnoun Oriental Rug Gallery, one of the very few woman working in this specialized field. It has always been male dominated, and doing business as a woman in the Middle East, India, Turkey and war-torn Afghanistan is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. These days, all the rug merchants bring their wares to established markets in the U.S., so she has never needed to travel.

Marianne’s signature look as an Interior Designer combines the old world with the new, and blends classic design in rich colors enhanced with touches of surprising and bold modernism. She specializes in layering looks from different periods with rugs, textiles and antiques. “It’s a look whose time has come,” she relates. Increasingly, her clients are yearning for something beyond the cold “Restoration Hardware” look – those bland grey, creams and monotones so popular and ubiquitous in recent years.    

She guides her clientele adeptly into a new era of color and comfort with a clever adaptation of damaged, though still-beautiful, rugs. Marianne started repurposing rugs by making pillows for herself from carpets she purchased at auctions and from private collections. At Namnoun she began working with skilled weavers and seamstresses on damaged rugs that came into the store. They may have been beyond repair for the floor, so she would turn them into chair cushions, upholstery and decorative pillows, breathing new life into their classic designs.

Hand knotted rugs have been used in home decoration for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest fragments date back to 400 BC. They were treasured by kings, merchants and the average man and woman for centuries and are still among the most revered of all home furnishings purchases. For many, the rugs and intricate designs remain steadfastly confusing, complicated, misunderstood and inaccessibly expensive by all but the experts. Marianne Donahue has found an innovative way to make them accessible and relevant again.

Marianne Donahue Interior Designer

Breathing New Life Into Old Masterpieces

Labor of Love….



I recently found a gorgeous oriental Cloisonne vase at an auction.  Such a great acquisition, at a great price too. Just looking at it makes me happy.  I was so inspired by this piece I decided to make it a light fixture, so I could appreciate it every day. After a little wiring and reworking, a coral silk pagoda shade added just the right touch.


Murano crystal tulip lamp (left) and others found at a local estate sale

This got me thinking about lighting in general- it is such an important element in a room, yet so often can be predictable and common. A unique light fixture can really transform a space and give it some personality, one that you won’t see everywhere. Auctions and estate sales are great places to find such treasures.

Junior League Show House In Hartford

It has been 3 years already since the last Junior League Show House in Hartford. A stately brick on Scarborough St in Hartford’s historic West End is the site of this year’s event. Designers from around the area have been busy working on story boards that were due today. Noon was the deadline for submission and people were still arriving at 11:55am. I turned in my proposals at 11:40 with time to spare!

Participating in a Show House can be a very stressful experience. You must pull together a beautiful finished space that will awe your audience in a few short weeks. The ideas can came quickly as you are scheming through the night, but often the materials and labor needed are not so easy to find. There is always lots of scrambling and substitutions to be made. But, in spite of all the trauma and drama, it is great fun. Friendships are formed that last a lifetime. There is always someone to lend a hand or a hammer when needed. We eat too much junk food and skip the gym. Someone is always laughing.

As designers, we wonder should our proposals be edgy and avant guard or traditional? Do we want to be known for radical designs or safe classic looks? We live in the conservative Northeast, but do the Show House visitors come to see something wild and exotic that they would never use? Often the most memorable rooms are the ones that are the least likely to be duplicated, but they are talked about for years.

I try to work for a little bit of glamour and an unexpected splash or color. To me, it is most important that guests walk into my rooms and smile.

The first week of March the room selections will be announced and work can begin the end of the month. We are all anxiously awaiting the results. Stay tuned.