Silicon Valley’s high-tech crowd discovers an affinity for high-touch, hand-crafted works of art
Tucked just off Oakland’s ultra-hip College Avenue lies one of the Bay Area’s real art treasures—Claremont Rug Company, a veritable jewel box of dazzling color and texture. It is here, in this extraordinary gallery of over 3,500 rugs, that Jan David Winitz, one of the world’s foremost experts on Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (circa 1800 –1910), presides.
Winitz is a fascinating man who has spent his career following his passion. Growing up in Silicon Valley (he attended Palo Alto High School while his father was a NASA chemist at Moffett field), Winitz would journey to the East Coast and visit his family member in Brooklyn Heights. She was an avid art collector and collector of fine rugs. Her particular favorites were Asian art and carpets. Over the years, she imparted not only her knowledge of art and rugs, but her deep love for them to her grandson. Winitz recalls fondly, “While other kids were trading baseball cards, I was learning the intricacies of 18th- and 19th-century rugs.” At only 19, Winitz made his first major rug purchase— a 200-year-old Persian Bakshaish Dragon Rug. He picked it up for $3,500. That purchase portended Winitz’s destiny.
He attended U.C. Berkeley and tried his hand at teaching high school English, but simultaneously started dealing rugs. At 25, he met his wife Christine Hunt, also an avid rug collector. Together, they decided to transform their hobby into their profession. In 1980, Claremont Rug Company was born. For the past 36 years, Winitz and his dedicated team have built a boutique business dedicated to curating museum-quality rugs of enduring beauty.
Claremont Rug Gallery’s clients hail from around the globe and include rock stars, heads of state, CEOs, and an ever-growing list of Silicon Valley’s biggest names. The Wall Street Journal and Robb Report have hailed Winitz as a leader in the field, and he is known throughout the art and interiors worlds for famously making house calls—bringing stunning pieces to a client’s home and transforming everything from boldly modern high-rises to ski chalets. Notes Winitz, “These rugs appeal to people who don’t want their homes to look like everyone else’s. Each one is handmade. Each one is unique and, of course, green—as antiques, you can’t get more eco friendly.”
One of Claremont’s great clients in the 90s, Adobe Systems Co-founder John Warnock, urged Winitz to look to the web for commerce. “I had to ask what it was,” Winitz laughs. “John showed me and helped me work with engineers to build a website when the web was still in its infancy.” By staying ahead of the curve, Claremont has been able to meaningfully interact with a global client base for years. Just visiting the company’s website is akin to taking a crash course in fine rugs. “Our customers are sharp and quick studies,” says Winitz. “It’s always fascinating to learn what interests them and what moves them artistically.”
Indeed, the art is what Winitz appreciates most about his rugs. “Just take a look at the Caucasian tribal rugs,” he says. “Their large scale geometric forms are boldly modern. Pieces like these inspired great modernists like Kandinsky and Klee. Some people think that antique rugs are meant only for Victorian interiors, but that couldn’t be further from the truth—there are surprisingly modern designs that work beautifully with contemporary décor.”
Until this summer, customers at Claremont Rug Gallery saw price points that started around $20,000. With the opening of Claremont 2 immediately adjacent to the original gallery, customers can venture into the world of rugs with items like 20th-century killims that start at $2,500. “It’s a wonderful way to introduce new clients to these special pieces,” says Winitz. “The hallmark of our business has always been customer service and education. We want our customers to fall in love with their rugs and return again and again.”