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Introducing: Kea Carpets and Kilims

  • We’re happy to introduce Kea Carpets and Kilims, now available at our new Home Shop in Tribeca. Partners Susan Gomersall and Azy Schecter have been in the business for decades, traveling the world in search of unique, handmade rugs and learning about distinctive tribal patterns and techniques from local weavers. Susan and Azy spoke with us about their trade and travels.

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    {A selection of Kea carpets at our Home Shop}

    How did you become interested in carpets and kilims?
    Susan: I fell in love with carpets and kilims when I started traveling in the Middle East. The world was going through a period of relative calm, slowly recovering from two World Wars, and my generation were “revolutionaries,” anti war protesters of The Vietnam War, seekers of peace and enlightenment, hippies. In 1973 I was an Art Student on a two-year scholarship to study sculpture in Greece, during that time I met up with people who, like myself, had abandoned our safe worlds to explore other cultures and live an alternative lifestyle. We had limited funds and lived pretty much like the local people in the countries we traveled to. It seemed perfectly natural to become traders, as that was the culture that we were living in. In the beginning we bought small easily transported stuff – jewelry, embroideries, ethnic artifacts – which we would sell in Europe in order to fund the next overland trip to India, where we hung out in the winter. As the “merchant gene” developed I realized that the major commodity of the Tribal people were their weavings, beautiful works of art which were everyday objects to them. They had huge flocks of sheep and every family had a loom. Trading rugs was how they earned a living. They traded their rugs for wheat and other commodities and very happily sold them to us for American Dollars.

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    {Susan}

    Azy: My love for textiles started as a young child, spending many hours along side my mother at the costume institute at the Metropolitan. She was a fashion designer, and this was her favorite place to go. As a college student I wanted the freedom of an apartment in Manhattan, so with the help of my mother, I started doing freelance textile design, which eventually led to a full time career. I started out in the garment district, working for large manufactures, designing, styling and overseeing the production. From designing fashion textiles, I became interested in the home furnishing market, hand printing fabrics for sheets and pillows. About 25 years ago a good friend of mine who was designing carpets and I decided to put together a line of fabrics. We really loved working together and soon we were both designing the carpets. My background in textile production really help in my new found career. I started traveling to India and Nepal to oversee the execution of the carpets. I learned the traditions of carpet design working with the painters and the weavers.

    Susan, when did you bring your expertise to America, and how did the two of you decide to go into business together?
    Susan: My rug business fully developed when I left Greece after living there for fifteen years and moved to America in the early 80’s. Tribal rugs were relatively new to the American market but their aesthetic, and price point went wonderfully with all those hard wood floors.
    Azy: In the summer or 1998, before going off to India a friend of mine asked me to meet her new friend, Susan. Susan was also about to leave for Pakistan. We spent the night talking about our similarities in life and work. Through Susan, my life took yet another course. I saw the beauty in these fantastic tribal rugs. The rich patterns of these rugs started to work into my designs. And of course eventually I left my job. We decided to combine our work and open the gallery in 2001.

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    {Azy and Bouboulina}

    You’ve now been in business together for over ten years. What are each of your roles within Kea?
    Susan: We are partners in life as well as in business and Azy was the first person in many years to travel with me on buying trips. I may be the merchant but she is the artist and rug designer who has an amazing sense of design and color.

    The carpets and kilims are so unique, and come from all over the world. What are some of the most interesting techniques and processes you’ve encountered, and is there a particular region you find especially inspiring?
    When we buy carpets we only buy pieces that we love, often ignoring trends in the rug business. For example, we have never dealt in patchwork rugs or overdyed carpets. Whether it’s good or bad “business” we only buy the genuine article. The rug doesn’t have to be an “antique” but it has to be the product of the weavers’ imagination. This of course has its complications as more often than not these rugs come in sizes that seem odd to Western taste. I always tell clients, beware of a tribal rug that comes in a classical 8′ x 10′ size. The weaving techniques are so fascinating and varied. Often each tribal group has developed its unique style and we can identify the tribal group that the rug is from by its weave as well as by its design. This knowledge only comes from years of experience, which is why we give a small information sheet with every rug we sell. It’s such a high to pass on the knowledge learned from the tribal weavers and merchants to our clients.

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    Having traveled extensively, you’ve undoubtedly had some interesting adventures along the way. Are there any particularly vivid experiences or encounters that have really stuck with you?
    Susan: I had so many life altering experiences during the first years of my travels, but the genuine hospitality of tribal people is the most amazing thing. Once you are invited into their home you are treated with respect and genuine friendship. Also as a woman I was invited into the kitchen and met and interacted with the “soul of the family.” I also incidentally learned to cook some amazing food.

    If I have to pick one amazing moment it would be on a trip to Sistan, an area prone to devastating earthquakes, with a group of Pashtun dealers that I had been working with for many years. We had spent many days bargaining for a collection of Persian Kilims and we had just completed the deal when the room started shaking. Hannif, the elder of the group, picked me up and ran into the open street for saftey, while barking some orders at his younger brothers who eventually joined us carrying the rugs we had just bought. When I asked Hannif what he said to his brothers his reply was simple: “I told them not to leave one rug behind as you had worked so hard to buy them.”

    Is there a place you haven’t been that you’re eager to explore?
    Susan: The one place I have not explored is Peru. I am fascinated with Peruvian weavings and we now produce Azy’s custom carpets there so we have a great reason to go.

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    {Moroccan Berber carpets}

    Walk us through the design process for your original custom carpets.
    Azy: The custom carpets that I design are hand tufted in Peru, made of the highest quality Peruvian Highland wool and alpaca.
    We work directly with the client and/or the designer on creating the carpet. The designs come from my portfolio and are customized with each project. Each carpet I make is unique, one of a kind. First, I do a color rendering of the carpet. On approval, the rendering is sent to Peru and a sample of the carpet is made. Once the sample is approved it takes 12 weeks for the carpet to be made.

    felt-rugs-from-taurus-mountains-turkey_blog
    {Felt rugs from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey}

    Are there any marked shifts (positive or negative) that you’ve observed in the international rug business over the years?
    Susan: One of the major shifts in the international rug trade is of course the internet. There are pages and pages of sites for rugs and for sure you can find some good deals but you can also buy something that is not so good. A smart buyer can educate themselves about rugs and get some idea about the fair market value of the type of rug they are looking for, but I don’t believe that buying a tribal rug online can compare to going into a good Rug Gallery, with its many choices of rugs from so many different cultures, or speaking with someone who has hands on knowledge of the weaving and the provenance of the rug. An old time dealer once told me never to buy a rug until you feel it and smell it, and believe me, I’ve lived by that rule ever since. Rugs are a fashion but I try not to be influenced too much by trends. For me the most important thing is its uniqueness and skillful artistry.

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    Is there a favorite piece in your personal collection at the moment?
    Susan: It’s very hard to pick a personal favorite, but I do have some pieces that I will never put our to sale. These are the rugs that are given to me as gifts by my pickers. They are always very personal, usually fine examples of their own tribal group and given with respect from the guys that I work and travel with.

    What are some things we should look for when shopping for a carpet?
    Susan: The most important thing to look for when buying a rug is to find something you truly love. The women, and the weavers of tribal rugs are always women, weave a little piece of their lives into every textile, and if she has done it well the rug will speak to you.
    Azy: Don’t be too concerned about the size. If you love the piece you will always find a place for it.

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    {Zebedee}

    Many thanks to Susan and Azy! Come by and check out the selection of carpets they’ve curated for us at 158 Franklin Street.

    This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 7:26 am and is filed under Home, In Stock, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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