A Soft Touch

Chic chenille? In the hands of Jeffrey Aronoff, the much maligned fabric is transformed.

For almost 30 years Jeffrey Aronoff has been handweaving exquisite chenille upholstery fabrics and throws, but until recently most people had never heard his name. With the exception of a short list of extremely devoted private clients, Aronoff sold his wares exclusively to the trade—specifically to discerning interior and fashion designers. Over the years, a few loyal admirers had gone on the record, but for the most part Aronoff's work has remained an industry secret.

After 26 years of being behind the scenes, the fabricmaker decided to expand his business, opening a retail shop in Hudson, New York, this past March. Jeffrey Aronoff Handwoven & Co. is located on Warren Street, a main thoroughfare packed with fine-art and antiques stores, which has become the star attraction in this quiet town about two hours north of Manhattan. Since opening, the shop has become known locally as "that shop with the man weaving in the window." The store is run by Aronoff and his partner, Bruce Mundt, who frequently sits at the front of the store moving his hands elegantly across an antique loom. "I love working here on one of Jeffrey's designs," he says. "People can't help but come in to see what it's all about."

Upon entering, clients are greeted by Monty, Aronoff and Mundt's lumbering dog, and by chenille samples in more patterns and shades than they probably thought possible. The walls are covered with ultrasoft squares in greens, blues, reds, and all shades of purple, as well as in checks, stripes, and other patterns. Tables are stacked high with client orders and bulletin boards are covered with Aronoff's inspirations, among them snapshots by New York Times Style photographer Bill Cunningham of men in kilts surrounded by Aronoff's recent experiments in plaid.

Chenille may have been all the rage in 18th-century France, when it was said to be a favorite of Marie Antoinette's, but today the fabric has a less glamorous reputation, most often associated with the throws found at chains like Target and Pottery Barn. Aronoff's chenille is an altogether different matter. A tight weave of cashmere and silk yarns, it is luxurious and dense. Aronoff says the way to tell the good stuff from the machine-made variety is to pay close attention to the tightness of the weave, the design, and softness.

"Jeffrey's textiles defy description," says New York interior designer Clodagh, a frequent Aronoff collaborator. "His color sense is impeccable—the blues of a Caribbean night, the oatmeals of an Irish breakfast, the radioactive chartreuse of a young willow," she says. "What really gets to me, though, is the texture. I refer to his sample book as Jeffrey's petting zoo." Designers like William Sofield (who worked with Tom Ford at Gucci), John Saladino, and Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz also regularly use Aronoff. "I cannot think of one house we've worked on without an Aronoff throw in it," says R. Scott Bromley of Bromley Caldari Architects. "I just saw throw pillows upholstered in his fabric at a Richard Neutra house we renovated in San Francisco."

Aronoff started out as a painter and studied color theory at Pratt. In the seventies he turned to weaving, and he spent years honing his technique at the loom and sharpening his eye. He studied with Emma Levine, a top talent in textiles and a protégée of the late Dorothy Liebes's, one of the most prominent fabric designers and weavers of the last half century. Samples of scarves in hand, Aronoff approached designer Geoffrey Beene and came back with an order for the scarves that would be used for Beene's first show in Milan, in 1978. Collaborations with Ralph Lauren and Mary McFadden shortly followed. By 1980 Aronoff had his own scarf line and a Coty Award for his accessories. The scarves soon grew into a full collection of throws and fabrics.

Although Aronoff now has his own team of weavers, many of whom he has worked with for 20 years, he still gets his best ideas by sitting alone at a loom in his studio. "I generally turn to colors that I think will work well in a room for a long time." There will always be, he says, rich greens and reds in the collection, but this season he added a more intense scarlet, as well as several shades of orange, greens of every hue, and a few touches of blue.

Aronoff's throws, in particular, have reached collector's-item status. (One client says she has more than 200). "In 1975, when I started out in this business, I knew that the thing that would make me most proud would be to create something that wasn't disposable," Aronoff says. "I love that people come into the shop and tell me that they are still enjoying a scarf or throw from many years ago. In fact, sometimes they come in wearing one."

Throws, $595-$1,850. Fabric, $190-$400 per yard. Jeffrey Aronoff Handwoven & Co., 307 Warren St., Hudson, NY; 518-671-6501; www.jeffreyaronoff.com.


Shopping in Hudson, N.Y.

This quiet hamlet has become a mini mecca for those seeking handcrafted housewares and antiques. Here, Jeffrey Aronoff maps out some of his favorites.

1 PHILIPPE SOULE LANDSCAPE DESIGN Soule is the man responsible for the intimate garden behind Aronoff's shop. "He also works wonders on Manhattan terraces," reports Aronoff. $ 68 WORTH AVE.; 518-965-3152

2 LILI AND LOO The chartreuse walls of Melinda Slover's store form the backdrop for her brightly colored housewares. Bonus, according to Aronoff: "The prices are so good, you can buy multiples of everything." 259 WARREN ST.; 518-822-9492

3 MARK MCDONALD McDonald is a noted expert on all things 20th century. His store is filled with iconic objects by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ray and Charles Eames, and Donald Judd. Aronoff goes "for the vintage pottery and design books." 555 WARREN ST.; 518-828-6320

4 MALABAR After living in Nepal and India, this store's owners moved to Hudson and set up a shop stocked with Eastern treasures. 314 WARREN ST.; 518-828-7050

5 VARIEGATED, INC. In Aronoff's words: "A great source for linens and pajamas in outrageous color combinations." 17 N. FOURTH ST., 2B; 518-671-6667

6 JOOVAY Barbara Cooke closed her SoHo outpost and opened this gem of a lingerie shop, with pieces by a carefully selected group of European designers. 623 WARREN ST.; 518-822-1526

7 THE CAMPHILL SHOP The store features wood and ceramic objects, and delicious baked goods (Aronoff favors the chocolate and coconut cookies). $ 325 WARREN ST.; 518-828-5877

8 EARTH FOODS ($ 523 Warren St.; 518-822-1396) Aronoff says this is the place for "the freshest juices and delicious veggie creations." For dinner, it's SWOON KITCHENBAR (340 Warren St.; 518-822-8938) for red-wine and soy braised pork loin and white-peach tarte Tatin, and BOLGEN & MOI, a French-Scandinavian restaurant with a sleek interior (136 Warren St.; 518-671-6380).

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.