Chilewich sold the company in 1991 and went out on her own in 1994, finding herself more and more drawn to home design over fashion. She honed in on evolving the concept of the butterfly chair to work for the tabletop. Enter the RayBowl™, a first-of-its-kind bowl formed from concaved textile.
“As simple and as stupid as it sounds, no one has ever done that,” says Chilewich, who secured several patents for the design.
Much like HUE, RayBowl grew quickly. Chilewich found herself constantly experimenting with materials until 1999, when another discovery sent her career off on a new course once again.
Looking to create an outdoor line of RayBowls, she found herself on a mission for vinyl—though her description of it now sounds more like a haphazard hunt. “All I kept seeing were those ‘50s folding chairs with the web criss-cross thing, and I’m thinking, how am I going to find this material if I don’t know what it is?”
She walked through Material ConneXion’s doors, just as the material library was taking off. It was there that she forged her long-term love affair with woven vinyl, although at the time her prince charming was still just a frog.
“I thought it was pretty ugly, which is probably why you never saw it on furniture anywhere,” she says, “but I fell in love with certain aspects of it.”
First among them were its durability and washability, and later its aesthetic versatility, once Chilewich went to see it being made in a factory in Georgia. Extruded yarns opened up possibilities for sheen and metallic finishes, and bicolor dying led to unpredictable weaves with an appealing, natural quality—a “no-brainer place mat,” she recalls thinking.
Chilewich got to work making placemats and bags out of a one-room studio on Lafayette in Manhattan. But when the downtown scene became too trendy, rent prices started rising, and she knew it was time to move on.
Her husband, Joe Sultan, had an architectural practice in Midtown and invited her to take over one of the floors he was renting. Once she moved in, Sultan started stepping in to help problem solve on new product development; by 2004, the couple had formed Chilewich | Sultan.