On the Move–From the Bosphorus to Charleston

Alix at the podium in Istanbul

This fall has been quite a whirlwind much thanks to Rob Leahy of Fine Rugs of Charleston (www.finerugsofcharleston.comwho had me on the move going to Turkey and then circling down over to Charleston, SC. At his suggestion, the organizers of Istanbul Rug Week of Istanbul Carpet Exporters Association (IHIB) invited me to present “Rugs in the Interior Design Market—Trends & Outlook” to the international rug trade in Istanbul.   For me (and my husband who accompanied me), going to Turkey was a bit like going back home. This is hardly surprising as my married life and rug journey began there so many eons ago. Just out of college, we spent 15 months living and working in Ankara while traveling throughout the country and even made it to Syria…Little did I know then how this experience would later shape my career. Being back in Istanbul was, simply put, amazing.  Rediscovering our old haunts–Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace to name but a few—was harking back to the bygone days.

With fellow speakers and participants at Istanbul Rug Week.


Hosted both by IHIB in collaboration with Cover and Hali magazines, the Istanbul Carpet Week (October 1-4 2017) drew over 600 attendees including an estimated 200 members of the international rug trade who hailed from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, the Middle East, and countries further afield. The packed four-day event included the Istanbul Rug Show with some 60 booths exhibiting Turkish handmade and machinemade rugs, the Istanbul Carpet Conference, and the Gala Awards Ceremony.  I was among those privileged to be a judge on Turkey’s National Carpet Design Contest involving Turkish students of the woven arts. 

The Istanbul Rug Week trade show


For me, the highlight was the opportunity to present my views of the American interior design market—how the industry has changed in the last few years and why. I strongly believe that the rug industry needs to publicize the uniquely sustainable aspect of handmade rug production given the increasing importance—albeit at a slow place–of sustainable design. I will expand on this subject in another post. For me, it was a great honor presenting with such a talented group of speakers–Ben Evans (Editor of Hali and Cover), Gunay Atalayer (author), Matthew Bourne (of Christopher Farr in London), Louise Broadhurst (Head of Christie’s rug department in London), and Dr. Huseyin Alantar (Marmara University Textile Department Chair).

It was also great fun running into my rug trade friends from all over—including Larry Stone, Roz Rustigian, Leslie Atiyeh, and of course Rob Leahy–and meeting so many new people including Fritz Langauer of Oritop in Vienna, Austria.  After a wonderful dinner cruise down the Bosphorus, we were treated with the opening of two rug exhibitions—the permanent collection of 55 early Anatolian carpets and the temporary exhibit of the Arkaş collection of Kum Kapi carpets at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.


Despite today’s highly sophisticated digital communications, there’s really no substitute for face-to-face interaction with your peers in terms of fostering camaraderie. Attending rug trade events is key! Case in point: I would never have gone to Istanbul if I hadn’t met Rob a few years ago at one of the New York rug shows where he bought my book The Decorative Carpet which he then distributed to his clients.

The National Carpet Design Contest

The Istanbul Rug Week trade show










CEU Presentation at Fine Rugs of Charleston

After a few weeks back in the U.S., I flew down on November 15 to Charleston where Rob hosted me in his beautiful showroom, Fine Rugs of Charleston (www.finerugsofcharleston.com). Ably coordinated by his stellar team, I presented my CEU “The Decorative Rug in Interior Design–The Key to a Successful Design Strategy” to the Carolinas’ ASID chapter. Once again, I was privileged to do what I love best—talking about the decorative importance of handmade rugs—in a world-renowned historic city. I stressed the critical importance to designers of learning the virtues of handmade rugs—from the esthetic, durability, and sustainable standpoints. With the growing challenge of internet sales, the role of the designer has evolved into being more of a curator than that of a mere purchasing agent.  The designer needs to have enough appreciation of handmade rugs in order to educate their clientele on their worth and make the sale. This is the only way the handmade business can grow.   


Thank you Rob for sending me trotting across the globe!


IN MEMORIAM–Debbie Robins de la Bouillerie (1956-2015)

I want to pause to honor the life of Debbie Robins de la Bouillerie and how she changed mine. An established Hollywood film and television producer who worked with celebrities including Paul Newman, Cicely Tyson, George Segal, and Martin Sheen, she was also an accomplished author and Huffington Post blogger and life coach to countless executives and entrepreneurs all over the country. After meeting her in LA in 2007 through her husband, Hubert de la Bouillerie, film editor, producer and director, and family friend, we clicked immediately and became fast friends despite the distance between her Los Angeles home and ours in New York.

When she and Hubert were living in New York in 2009, we saw each other regularly. The economy had just fallen off a cliff and my decorative rug business was drying up. When I mentioned that I had a book idea on top designers decorating with handmade rugs, both she and Hubert said that they would pitch it to their in-house literary agent. After an encouraging meeting with the agent and submitting a proposal to Random House, I was awarded the contract to write The Decorative Carpet–Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors published in the fall of 2010. Throughout the several months building up to the contract, it was Debbie who shepherded me throughout the process and gave me the encouragement to keep on going. She worked magic behind the scenes and made it happen. She was indeed the “godmother” of The Decorative Carpet. Thanks to Debbie, I was able to make my dream of writing this book come true. It was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in my life–an experience that I continue to enjoy to this day.

It was Debbie’s indomitable “can do” energy and generosity of heart and spirit that made her so special. A dear friend and mentor, she will be sorely missed.

Ikats Bring Joie de Vivre Back to the Floor

Yes, the rug trade and aficionados will tell you that ikats (pronounced “ee-kats”) have been around for three years or so. True, but they have only come into their own in the last year hitting the US market with an abundance of bold patterns and colors the market. While they are all inspired from the age-old Central Asian textiles, they are far from being all the same with variations in their execution–flatweave or hanknotted pile–quality, and breadth of colors and patterns.

A vegetable-dyed ikat from Afghanistan

What ikats’ success tells me is that color is very much back and so are tribal-inspired designs. People are emerging from the washed out muted look of tone-on-tone neutrals that has dwarfed any other rug trend for so long. At long last! As the economy is slowly picking up steam, people want to re-energize their décor with a blast of color and –joy! The vibrant colors and patterns scream joie de vivre.  As the eminent interior designer Samuel Botero featured in my book The Decorative Carpet (Random House/Monacelli Press, 2010) has so aptly stated, “Nature is in color. Have you ever seen a beige garden?” However, those of you still wanting more discrete neutral tones, fear not. There are plenty of ikats featuring the subtler hues of the rainbow.

A handknotted pile ikat from Samad

If you haven’t already checked them out, explore the new world of rug ikats. They are produced in countries including Afghanistan, China, and India.  My first contact with ikats was with a very exclusive collection of Afghan vegetable-dyed pieces which are particularly artisanal in flavor. When judging at the Carpet Design Awards in Hanover, Germany in January, I was blown away by the variety of configurations of ikat designs in Samad’s Jazz Collection which won the Best  Collection–Modern award. Also tantalizing are French Accents’ ikats which are primarily flatwoven. Both of these are found at retail rug shops all over the country. Depending on the design, they range from being refined to casual and thus adaptable to a range of interiors from the sophisticated city apartment to the casual beach house.

An Aubusson-weave ikat from French Accents


Are Antique Rugs Back?

Not that one could say an antique rug was ever truly “out” of style, but it does seem that fashion-driven cycles make them more or less popular.  While in the 1990s and 2000s, requests for antique rugs were sky high, often for specific types such as Heriz or Sultanabad, the last few years have been more challenging. The recession was a big part of it with rug budgets having shrunk almost overnight. Also at hand has been the trend away from boldly colored and patterned rugs—especially tribal—toward the neutral and “washed out” look.  Not to mention the enduring popularity of sisals. During this time, I almost had a double take when anyone did vaguely suggest that there might be some interest in an antique rug.

I’ve always said that things can change on a dime—one day you’re in, the next you’re out and vice versa. And so it goes with antique rugs. The last few weeks have indicated that the wind maybe shifting again favoring a return of beautiful antiques.  A sign that the economy is picking up some steam? For sure, people are feeling more confident and those antique rug buyers—repressed by the recession–are re-emerging on the scene.  Also, these buyers are often finding them more affordable as prices may have softened while new rugs have gone up with increasing production costs all over the globe.

When writing my book The Decorative Carpet, most of the 32 leading American designers I featured confessed a soft spot for antiques because they bestow an interior with a soul and a sense of history hard to replicate in a new rug.  One of these designers was Vicente Wolf who proclaims: “For me, the value is that it [an antique rug] has lived and its worn spots are its badges of courage. Also, there is no risk in buying a worn rug as nothing more can happen to it!” He is among those who cleverly integrate antique rugs in contemporary settings showing how even the most traditional antique rugs can take on a modern flair.

Conversely,  a more tribal-looking rug featuring a bold geometric pattern can a traditional room a contemporary twist as does Samuel Botero here with this beautiful Serapi.

Antique rugs are a work of art by their very nature scarce yet infinitely more reasonable when compared to paintings.  I always try to tell clients that, yes, they are looking at a floor covering but they should always keep in mind that that a good-quality antique rug is first and foremost a work of art.

Cast-off Carpeting on the Curb–Is Spring in the Air?

As I drove to my yoga class on an unusually balmy February evening last week,  I  could see that spring was already on people’s minds. Rolls of carpeting were unceremoniously cast off onto the curb in front of their former abodes… An eyesore for the neighborhood no doubt until these mildew-impregnated bundles will be mercifully removed by the local sanitation department.  “Good riddance!”

And then what? Out of sight, out of mind. “I don’t care!” This is the typical response I get when I first bring up the issue with many clients or anyone who will care to listen.  Actually, carpeting waste accounts for five billion tons of waste a year which represents 1% of U.S.  landfills, according to Sustainable Residential Interiors by Kari Foster, Annette Stelmack,  and Debbie Hindman  (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

While carpet recycling programs are beginning to emerge, the journey to progress is a long and expensive one.  If you are “guilty” of having committed the above-described “sin,”  think and plan ahead before jumping into the next carpeting purchase for your bedroom or stairs for instance. You can effectively help save the planet by buying a handmade floor covering that is intrinsically green and recyclable.  We are talking about rugs that are handknotted—such as oriental and contemporary Tibetan rugs;  flatweaves (including kilims, sumaks, needlepoints,  Aubussons, dhurries; and handcrafted all-wool sisals. They are made with all organic materials, such as wool, cotton, silk, and hemp—no synthetics—that are easily cleaned which means they last at least a lifetime and handed down to the next generation.  We are not talking about handtufted rugs, many of which feature the more difficult to recycle latex backing.

“Oh, but  I need my stairs carpeted NOW!” is the instant reaction when you find out that you will have to wait several months for handknotted stair runners  made to your specifications. As states Irish-born Clodagh, the grande dame of sustainable design (see The Decorative Carpet—Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors published by The Monacelli Press/Random House, 2010), it’s a simply a question of good planning. Don’t wait to the last minute to decide—several months is nothing when put into perspective. Rather than blanket the floor with disposable machinemade carpeting, she asks, why not give the floor a good polish and place a beautiful handmade rug or flatweave over it? Just think of all that carpeting rotting in the landfill. Every bit helps. Yes, it does.

Rugging in Florida

The world is made up of all kinds which you might say makes it go round.  I recently came back from a home design show at a design center near Naples, FL. I guess it was coincidental that my judging experience at the Carpet Design Awards competition in Hanover, Germany in January was still very fresh in my mind.  I have said how struck I was by the avant-garde out-of-the-box approach to new rug design orchestrated by mainly non-US producers.  The restrained traditional rug styles espoused by West Coast Floridians came in complete contrast with the often outrageous color and design combinations emerging from Europe.  Never before had the gulf—no pun intended since I was on the Gulf of Mexico!–in rug tastes seemed so wide.

On the west coast of Florida, people are not looking for any in-your-face excitement—just soothing Peshawars with open Sultanabad or Oushak pattern or Persian city-weave reproductions. On the more contemporary front, they will venture into quiet Tibetans in monochromatic tones or restrained patterns.

I got a feel for how conservative trends tend to be here as an elderly man glanced at my book, The Decorative Carpet, and was shocked to see an image featuring a very elegant Tabriz placed in a contemporary living room with modern art. I tried to explain to him that was the point of eclectic design but he only replied “Very odd!” as he stalked off to his next venue.   I wish I could have shown him images of the more far-out finalists in Germany and gaged his reaction.

Admittedly, we are talking about a region in the U.S. whose major population consists of retirees or “Snowbirds” from the more traditional Midwest who are particularly averse to decorative change.  Yet, however decoratively creative other segments of the US population may be—in large urban areas on the East and West Coasts for instance—I had to recognize that what I saw in Florida represents mainstream America.  Beware then to the trendy avant-garde—the welcome mat is limited here!

The over-dyed rug craze trend—what’s next?

Ever since over-dyed rugs started appearing in the market a couple of years ago, I’ve been wondering: “How long can this last?”  I have to confess that I was a bit aghast when I first beheld  old traditional oriental rugs—mostly  worn down to the bone—often patched up and over-dyed in neon blues, greens, purples,  yellows, and more.  My immediate reaction was “This over-dyed rug craze is sure to die soon!” No pun intended, of course!

While some of us may be indeed tempted to say “Basta!” and move on, cutting-edge rug designers are proving that they are taking this trend to the next level.  Three finalist rugs featured at the recent Carpet Design Awards at the Domotex trade show in Hanover, Germany, were over-dyed. So why were they finalists?  Take a look and see!

Jürgen Dalmann’s Rug Star’s ’ “Cross Over” Collection

Jürgen Dalmann’s Rug Star’s ’ “Cross Over” Collection

This rug from “rug addict” Berlin-based Jürgen Dalmann’s  Rug Star’s “Cross Over” Collection—a finalist for the “Best Innovation” category–dramatically combines a very striated abrash with variegated greens and electric blues as the backdrop for a traditional pattern whose outlines are bleached out.  The rug is finished off with a silk pea-green long fringe.

Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan

Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan

Consider India’s Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan—a finalist in the “Best Traditional Nomadic design under 150 euros/square meter” where the rug pattern seems to evaporate into some painterly mist. Here the concept of dissolving any traditional barriers is indeed compelling but I can’t pretend to like this particular colorway. While I applaud this daring feat, I would like to see this concept executed in more pleasing—dare I say livable—colors.

“Bidjar Trilogy”

“Bidjar Trilogy”

What about the German Jan Kath designer’s “Bidjar Trilogy”—a finalist for the “Best Modern Design over 200 euros/square meter” category? Here you have a set of three over-dyed rugs where the pattern progressively disappears from one rug to the next. Again—very intriguing concept but I would like to see a more inspirational rug design as the base. This particular Bidjar design conjures thoughts of moth-eaten rugs rolled up in a musty old attic…I have seen photos of the “Trilogy” in more appealing colorways than this yellow and green. Does the disappearing pattern signify the decay of our society engineered by the passage of time?  Yes, European angst was present at Domotex.  Also, I wonder:  how viable is it to sell three rugs as a set in this challenging economy?

Are these rugs simply over the top? Will they sustain the test of time or end up rolled up in your basement in 10 years? I’m all ears for your thoughts!

Are US Rug Buyers Stuck Inside the Box?

Having just returned from DOMOTEX, the world’s largest rug trade show which takes place every  January in Hanover, Germany,  I can only say how blown away I was by the avant-garde colors and designs emanating mainly from European carpet designers.  As one of the five judges for the Carpet Design Awards competition, I was fortunate to see the most exciting and innovative rugs to hit the market this year. With 10 categories featuring three finalists each, there was a lot of rug deliberating! The undisputed winner for 2012 emerged from the Best Innovation category– “Tagged” by Jan Kath Design, the German-based contemporary rug designer.  The rug combines a traditional hand-knotted Mamluk-inspired design with fluorescent pink modern hand-tufted graffiti—with repeated slogans such as “Make Rug not War” and “Sex, Rugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll”–a feat that would have been considered heresy by rug purists only a few years ago.

Tagged by Jan Kath

"Tagged" Jan Kath Design

“Prisons” by the Paris-based Chevalier edition, featuring multi-colored panels, was another eye-catching contender among the 30 finalists.

Prisons by Chevalier edition

"Prisons" by Chevalier Edition

How likely will American interior designers and homeowners spring for these bold and graphic floor coverings? Yes, some will argue that these rugs are hard to live with –being more attuned to Halloween than everyday life.  Some are dark, deeply depressing and evocative of the angst currently engulfing Europe. You could say that about the UK-based Tania Johnson’s  “Glow” and  “Phoenix,” the unorthodox black-and-white interpretation of a normally brightly colored tribal Caucasian piece from Reuber Henning’s “Casablanca” collection in Berlin.

Glow by Tania Johnson

"Glow" by Tania Johnson

Phoenix by Reuber Henning

"Phoenix" by Reuber Henning's Casablanca Collection


Still, like these or not, they provoke with their in-your-face energy that’s not the mainstream in the US which used to be touted as the engine of creativity.

While a minority, there were finalists from North America which take rug design to a new level. I could easily say that about the innovative “Sand Dollar,” an exquisitely designed and executed hooked rug hailing from Nova Scotia’s Red Spruce workshop and yes, it’s actually produced there.

"Sand Dollar" by Red Spruce

"Sand Dollar" by Red Spruce

I found the painterly “Ruby Room” from Jaipur Rugs and “Reflection Sky” from Wool & Silk to be both innovative and livable.

“Ruby Room” by Jaipur Rugs

“Ruby Room” by Jaipur Rugs

“Reflection Sky” by Wool and Silk Rugs

“Reflection Sky” by Wool and Silk Rugs


Less perhaps “innovative” was the ikat-inspired “Jazz Collection” from Nexus Rugs but wow what beautiful colors!

“Jazz Collection” by Nexus Rugs

“Jazz Collection” by Nexus Rugs

Rugs can only progress with innovative forward-thinking designers. Whether you are steeped in tradition or not, explore what’s new out there and should I say dare to be different?…

22 Nov 2011, 11:46am

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Handmade Rugs—The Orphans of the Decorative Trade?

Ever since my return from my Turkish sojourn in 1978-80, I have been immersed in the rug world first working for the British magazine HALI, primarily destined for rug collectors, and later The Oriental Rug Magazine. Early on, I became frustrated that handmade rugs’ decorative application was basically ignored. This is amazing when you think that rugs are designed for the floor—either as the focus or as the backdrop of the room’s décor—but until recently rarely featured in their decorative context. Instead, they were typically displayed as isolated objects hanging on a wall or on the floor.  Yes, there are plentiful and admirable books on rugs’ history, construction, and designs but these are geared to the rug aficionado, not to the decorative buyer or user focused on finding out what rugs would work best in their home or their client’s.  Moreover, shelter magazines feature beautiful handmade rugs, both antique and contemporary, but how often are they mentioned in the article or even in a caption?

And so, you may ask, why should anyone care? Actually, the decorative application of handmade rugs does matter. For one thing, they represent one third of the usable space and are the first element that catches your eye upon entering the room. Secondly, aside from furniture, they outlive any other furnishing in the home—including window treatments, wall paint and coverings, and upholstery.  Their resilience to wear-and-tear and virtually all forms of human abuse, including children and even pets,  is second to none  essentially guaranteeing that they can not only move with you from house to house but also be passed down from one generation to the next.  It would not be a stretch to say that they are among the most-effective furnishing investments in the home. Last but not least, they are the greenest of floor coverings being produced with renewable organic materials such as cotton and wool, and free of from adhesives and petroleum-based products, present in most machinemade carpeting products that produce off-gassing. Still, despite these attributes, handmade rugs have been treated as the orphans of the decorative trade.

When editor of The Oriental Rug Magazine and later consulting editor on AREA Magazine, I sought to redress the image of handmade rugs as important elements in the décor with an ongoing article series featuring  the country’s most prestigious designers’ use of handmade rugs in their work.  I knew I was onto something when they all responded with unquestionable enthusiasm. “Finally! It’s about time to publish articles on how rugs are actually used in interior design!”  they exclaimed.

When helping my clients buy rugs, I always was a bit at a loss when trying to recommend books helping them identify rugs they would like to buy.  Most found rug books too intimidating. Some sent me photocopies of illustrations of rare collector’s items that they wanted in oversizes.  Not surprisingly, they were frustrated when I told them these did not exist in the market and were only in the hands of a few collectors and museums.  Other clients, desperate for a visual guide, created their own “look book” with ads and images of rugs in rooms torn out of magazines.

And so, buoyed by the encouragement of my clients and featured interior designers, I took on the project of The Decorative Carpet—Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors, a monumental but very rewarding task.  I was lucky to find Monacelli Press/Random House who believed in the project. My 32 featured celebrity designers—including Pennie Drue Baird, Samuel Botero, Clodagh, Jamie Drake, David Easton,  Suzanne Lovell,  Juan Montoya, Bunny Williams, and Vicente Wolf—were overwhelmingly as enthusiastic as I about giving decorative handmade rugs at long last their deserved place in the interior design world.  Today, handmade decorative rugs are orphans no more.

The Decorative Carpet–Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors (Random House/Monacelli Press, Fall 2010)

In upcoming installments, I will be offering rug decorating tips gleaned from my rug consulting with the interior designer trade and private clientele as well as from the celebrity designers in my book. I will also give you my thoughts on the latest trends in the decorative carpets.


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