Grand 19th century Oriental Rugs find a home in 21st century Art Collections
By Jan David Winitz, President of Claremont Rug Company
When I founded Claremont Rug Company in 1980, a gallery that specialized
exclusively in older Oriental rugs was not unusual. However, a company whose niche
was art-level antique carpets was revolutionary.
When I founded Claremont Rug Company in 1980, a gallery
that specialized exclusively in older Oriental rugs was not
unusual. However, a company whose niche was art-level antique
carpets was revolutionary. Except among a handful of collectors
and scholars, rugs were then viewed as no more than luxurious
Now, in the wake of the April 2010 sale of a 17th century
Kirman rug at Christie's auction for $9.59M (twice the previous
world record set only last year), antique carpets are broadly
acknowledged for their aesthetic achievement and their rarity.
Historic carpets now regularly sell in seven figures and attention
has turned to art-level 19th century rugs. These have the
additional dividend that they can still be used on the floor.
For the past three decades, I have guided a great number of
clients in distinguishing the rare category of antique art rugs
from the mass of older rugs still in existence. My business had
previously been based in connoisseurship-searching out just
the right rare, collectible piece-and what I didn't entirely foresee
was that once clients learned to discern the artistic impact
of carpets, some would become inspired to literally "put them
everywhere." Thus, the era of the "Whole Home" project
In 2008, we completed eight such ventures, each involving the
placement of 15 to 40 rugs in a single residence usually over a
period of months, but in some cases in a single appointment. In
2009, the number of these projects jumped to 25 and this year
we are on pace to complete nearly 50. The number of clients
who consider the best antique rugs to be equal to other forms
of art appears to be reaching critical mass. Many of these
projects include hanging particularly rare rugs on the wall as
part of an art collection.
The residences in which we complete Whole Home projects
are memorable environments, superbly constructed with the
finest materials and a mature design sense. Whether the homes
are traditional, contemporary or cutting-edge glass and steel,
the great diversity of art-level carpets reflect consummate craftsmanship, aesthetic grace and
harmony equal to that of the home itself.
A Whole Home project typically begins
with clients formulating their vision of
the environment they wish to create.
Clients show us architectural drawings
or photographs of their rooms and tell us
about the other art that will be nearby.
If they are still forming their ideas, we
show them photos of other clients' homes
and rug collections. We may start by
determining which styles to focus on based
on their comments about the ambiance
they hope to create: elegant or casual,
modern or traditional, rustic or high-style.
We then work to identify which styles of
carpets reflect both their aesthetic interest
and the aim of their design scheme. Then,
either at our gallery or directly in their home, we show a series of appropriate
carpets usually presenting three or four
multiple-rug suites of compatible carpets,
or demonstrating the impact of a suite
of rugs versus that of a single, palacesize
Antique rugs effectively create a mood,
and with so many geometric and floral
styles, any atmosphere can be created.
From the spare, graphic lines and clear
colors of Serapis or Bakshaishs to the
intricate, melodic pattern language and
more muted hues of Laver Kirmans,
the panoply of antique carpets offer a
wealth of design directions. Throughout,
we work to balance the decorative needs
of clients' homes with their interest in building private collections of noteworthy pieces that
will continue to grow in rarity.
Sometimes the architecture of a particular home leads
us to suggest certain rug styles. One project required an
oversized carpet in the main sitting area to enhance its
majestic architecture and mountain views. The client
selected an unforgettable Sultanabad village carpet. Its
naturalistic mood and striking artistry distinguished
this important area and established the ambiance for
the rest of the carpets in this grand residence.
Clients with a developed eye for color are drawn to the
broad tonal spectrum of the best antique rugs. Wool
soaked in vegetal dye baths provides a kaleidoscope of
hues and subtle layers of shading instead of the blocks
of homogenous color that lesser rugs contain. Like
the pigments in an Old Master painting, the colors of
naturally dyed antique rugs soften and gain a magical
patina with the passage of time.
The myriad primary and secondary hues of art carpets
can enrich the subtle nuances of the most sophisticated
color waves. For instance, the classic Tuscan palette often
prompts us to introduce clients to Hadji Jallili Tabrizs
and Laver Kirmans that feature earth and pastel tones.
A client who owned a company in the textile industry
knew well how the colors in properly selected rugs
enhance an environment. Recently, she decided to put
fine carpets in every room of her Spanish style home.
She started the project in her refined great room adorned
with early French and Italian furniture and Old Master
paintings, where we placed a suite of four Laver Kirmans,
noted for their delicate colors and intricate designs. The
rich patina of this suite of four connoisseur-level carpets
quietly supported her paintings and created a sublime
Old World ambiance.
Some commission us to create collections of rare rugs
to take center stage in their decors. Clients living in a magnificent Mediterranean-inspired home wished to
showcase investment-level Bakshaish and Serapi carpets.
The early 19th century Bakshaish carpet that graces
their living room is mesmerizing in concord with their
antique American furniture and California Impressionist
paintings. The use of 27 other collectible carpets
throughout their home completed their unwavering
We assisted another seasoned collector in choosing 38
highly collectible tribal rugs for the floors and walls
of an ultra-modern home with 20-foot windows. The
strategic placement of so many exemplary pieces with
angular, graphic designs upheld the minimalist aesthetic
of his home, while contributing warmth and depth to
The Wall Street Journal devoted two full pages to rugs, declaring
"some of the most coveted masterpieces now are the ones on the floor." (6-19-10)
Another couple built a majestically tooled Arts and
Crafts-style home with an open-plan interior, partially
because they wanted the enjoyment of viewing several
rugs at once. As the compatibility among the rugs was central in their decision-making, we assembled a
formidable inventory to explore directly in their home.
They selected 23 pieces in a single-day session, including
a six-carpet grouping for the public area.
I often have the privilege of working with serious art
collectors who are quickly moved by the great visual
impact that art-level carpets offer. They "get" rugs
quickly, and are often taken aback by how perfectly
they unify the various elements in a room and support
their other collections.
I have had the privilege to put a highly refined Kerke
Kashan beneath a Lichtenstein and a Richter, and a
geometric Malayer Camelhair in a living room which
had a Kandinsky over the mantle. I have also enjoyed
furnishing rooms spotlighting Diebenkorns and Warhols,
early Chinese porcelain, sepia photographs and worldclass
Many clients have little previous exposure to antique art
rugs as, with any medium, the percentage of truly inspired
works is minuscule compared to the total output that
was created. They soon discover that larger carpets are
enormous canvases that immerse them in the artwork,
enveloping them just as a Renaissance fresco surrounds us.
They find this unique intimacy with the myriad colors and
designs to be enrapturing.
The primary allure for clients who build Whole Home collections is that
antique rugs of high artistic merit play an invaluable role in creating a home
atmosphere that is deeply nourishing and inspiring.
Antique art rugs as an established depository of wealth are
particularly attractive in these times. Recently, The Wall
Street Journal (June 18, 2010) devoted two full pages to
rugs, declaring "some of the most coveted masterpieces now
are the ones on the floor." Little over a decade after historic
rugs broke the million-dollar mark, the world-record price
is almost ten times that. The best 19th century carpets
have also substantially increased in value, yet remain very
modestly priced relative to other forms of art.
The primary allure for clients who build Whole Home
collections, however, is that antique rugs of high artistic
merit play an invaluable role in creating a home atmosphere
that is deeply nourishing and inspiring. Multiplying this
effect room-by-room creates an inviting sanctuary from the
demands of hectic modern life.
All images, except cover: Michael Irwin Photography