When Jan David and Christine Hunt Winitz founded Claremont Rug Company in 1980, only a handful of collectors recognized the irreplaceable artistry, symbology and unfathomable level of craftsmanship of the finest rugs from the 1800s. Claremont’s offerings transcended the general consensus that antique rugs, handsome as they might be, were in the final analysis, “luxurious home furnishings to walk on.”
It took 20 years for the art market to begin catching up. In 2000, for the first time, a historical carpet broke the million-dollar mark at auction. A decade later, Christie’s sold a 17th century Kirman for $9.6 million, and in 2013, that record skyrocketed with the sale of another 17th century Kirman for an astonishing $33.76 million. Suddenly, art-quality antique Oriental rugs were being recognized by the art-collecting public for the true aesthetic and cultural treasures they are.
Observed The Wall Street Journal, “Some of the most coveted masterpieces are now the ones on the floor.”
Today, in concert with the growing appreciation of the finest Oriental rugs, Claremont’s service extends to Whole Home Rug Displays — the creation of carpet-centric interiors for entire residences.
“Once our clients begin to discern the impact of living with art-level carpets, of surrounding themselves on a daily basis with that level of history and beauty, some become inspired to literally ‘put them everywhere’,” Claremont founder and president Jan David Winitz explains.
That ability of clients to “discern,” to distinguish the rare and exceptional from the mass of existing older rugs, doesn’t happen by chance. It is nurtured by an enthusiasm to intensively study rugs, guided by Claremont’s expertise. “Many clients work closely with us to help them to discover their own taste and the needs of their decor,” Winitz says. “This enables them to make their own educated decisions, with us helping them to define what those are.”
On average, the lead time for furnishing an entire residence, which involves the placement of anywhere from 15 to 40 rugs, is a month or so.
On average. But for one busy client, Claremont trucked in more than three tons of carpets in three vans to the Sierra Mountains and furnished both a primary residence and a lakefront home (a two-hour drive away) over a two-day span. For another client, two homes in two different midwest towns were accommodated in a single 18-hour long meeting. “We finished the second home at 1 am in the morning after being so involved that we lost track of the hour,” Winitz recalls.
At the other end of the spectrum, one longtime Claremont client, a major art collector patiently waited years as the “right” pieces became available to blanket her various homes in both the U.S. and Europe. (Claremont “sources” its inventory from privately-held collections. Some of its offerings have been out of public view for generations.)
Regardless of the time frame, tremendous preparation is required for the process to go seamlessly, beginning with an understanding of a client’s “collecting temperament” and wish list. Winitz’s experienced team studies a client’s previous purchases (if any), and compiles detailed photographs and floor plans. And there are myriad considerations.
Is the home in question modern, 18th century, or something in between? Is it located along the ocean, in the countryside or in the midst of a busy metropolis? Is the climate cooler or more tropical? What’s the desired mood? Will bold tribal geometric rugs or intricate floral carpets work best? Bright colors? Muted camelhair? Are the carpets meant to star, center stage, or to blend into an overall ambience? Which sizes and styles of weaving will best create a “flow” between rooms?
And how will the homeowner’s furniture, paintings and sculpture contribute to the desired overall effect? The astonishing versatility of art-level antique Oriental rugs resonates not only with any kind of architecture, but with various types of art. Claremont has helped coordinate its exquisite floor weavings with everything from Old Masters to Chagalls, Kandinskys to Warhols, early Chinese porcelains to early sepia photographs.
Many clients as far afield as South America and New Zealand have purchased rugs directly from Claremont’s website, which features crystal-clear, screen-size images of 1000 pieces from its vast and ever-changing inventory. Others choose based on Photoshop-ed images of carpets “inserted” into their rooms (another Claremont service), or via Facetime discussions with Winitz as local logistics teams lay out rugs that Claremont has shipped to them to view in situ. Yet others avail themselves of Claremont’s program where Winitz or one of his carefully trained installation team do an in-home rug presentation, a service Claremont offers anywhere in the U.S.A.
Narrowing the possibilities until the “right” rugs are chosen can require considering over 100 options for a home. How they’re arranged, and how they’re aligned, can make all the difference.
Some clients want everything perfectly matched in terms of style and palette. Others prefer juxtapositions that create tension and more complex visual interest. For large spaces, like a great room, Claremont will usually present several carefully curated, multiple rug “suites,” comprised of as many as half a dozen pieces, for consideration. Or possibly a single, palace-sized carpet. Larger antique carpets are canvases that can envelop a room, not unlike Renaissance frescos, their vast surfaces creating intimate sanctuaries for those fortunate enough to live with them.
Working with clients on Whole Home Displays “is a highly creative, exhilarating activity” for Winitz, who has contributed to many hundreds of such projects over the 38+ years he’s been in business. “It’s like creating a beautiful painting together,” he said.
One of the more memorable “paintings” involved a house that had yet to be built. On a beautiful summer’s day, he and his team stood on a subfloor on a cliff overlooking the Pacific – with walls, windows and ceilings yet to come – and successfully furnished five “future” rooms.
Claremont averages 30 such Whole Home Projects annually, a service that generally ranges from the low six figures well into seven figures in U.S. dollars. More and more people with the wherewithal to create unique and harmonious environments for themselves, people who appreciate the difference between style and “fashion” and the enduring value of these one-of-a-kind “precious tangible assets,” are seeking out Claremont Rug Company to help fulfill their vision.
B. Alexandra Szerlip is a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and author of The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes & the Invention of 20th Century America (Melville House, NY/London), voted “One of the Top Ten Arts Books of 2017” by the American Library Association.