There's art in cartography: Street grids, the curve of a shoreline and topographic details lend themselves to wall art, rugs and textiles. Besides being great visuals, maps often chart our personal experiences, and that sentimental punch adds to their appeal.
Tony and Katie Rodono of Atlanta started their City Prints map art store after their daughter was born. "We realized maps are great storytellers — of where we met, went to school, went on vacation," says Rodono.
They sell readymade and custom maps of campuses, ballparks and hometowns. They'll make one of your favourite holiday spot or hiking trail. Coming soon: maps from video games, movies and TV shows. (www.cityprintsmapart.com, $40 and up)
Brooklyn's Haptic Lab sells hand-stitched, quilted city maps of Los Angeles, New York City, Paris and Washington, D.C., as well as the Great Lakes. Designer Emily Fischer's "soft maps" project started in 2002 as an academic experiment in tactile wayfinding after her mother was diagnosed with glaucoma. Her baby quilts are textured and colorful; the full-size versions are ivory with light brown stitchery.
The Great Lakes quilt is cotton, with the lakes done in poly-silk. All are finely detailed, and she'll add custom landmarks or features if you request. Coming this fall will be kits to make your own version. (www.hapticlab.com, $145 to $450)
Chicago-based Jenny Beorkrem makes neighbourhood maps, with typography scrunched into the shape of each community; the result, rendered in eco-friendly soy inks on recycled paper, are punchy graphics that vividly depict how cities are divided up. (www.orkposters.com, $22 and up)
Rugs are a great medium for cartographic decor. At Hivespace.com you'll find felted wool rugs of Moscow and Oslo; custom locations are available. (www.hivespace.com, price upon request) Swedish designer Calle Henzel's hand-tufted rugs depict the Champs Elysees and Manhattan in muted shades like charcoal, soft pink and yellow. (www.2modern.com, $1,770-3,260)
Check out Woodcutmaps.com for maps made of exotic and everyday woods; you create your own by choosing your Google map location, then selecting the woods you want used. (www.woodcutmaps.com, pricing based on customization)
Kim Sly, an artist in Portland, Ore., made her first city print several years ago for a friend relocating to New York. That led to a series, and the launch of her business. Pittsburgh, Atlanta, San Diego and Portland are part of the collection she sells at www.etsy.com/shop/albiedesigns ($20-40). Sly's whimsical illustrations are composites of elements she likes about a place.
"I pay special attention to a city's architecture, and how it contributes to its individuality," she says. "But I'm really looking for a more playful interpretation that people can identify with because of their love for their city."
As many of the designers suggest, these pieces would make terrific gifts. A new marriage; a new baby; a new home. A way to remember that great trip you took.
You can go DIY with map decor, too: Scrounge tag sales and old bookstores for large atlases. Antique stores and flea markets sometimes have vintage classroom maps. Find a simple complimentary frame, and you're on the road to a striking piece of contemporary art.