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How Rug & Kilim became New York’s trove of magic carpets

Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal has spent more than four decades immersed in the world of rugs – and in doing so has built Rug & Kilim, an internationally renowned source of carpets both ancient and new

Nestled in the heart of Queens in New York is a veritable treasure trove of carpets and rugs. At any one time, up to 6,000 pieces are found within its walls: colourful rugs are hung amidst a jungle of potted plants beneath vast skylights in the showroom; still more are stacked high in the storage rooms, and countless samples showcasing different fibres, hues and weaving techniques fill every corner. This is Rug & Kilim, one of the most celebrated dealers of rugs from around the world.

“There’s just something magical about carpet,” says Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal, who founded Rug & Kilim more than four decades ago. “It’s a beautiful business – it’s about colour and design, and wool is a fibre that gives the carpet life.”

Nazmiyal grew up in Tehran, and came to the United States in 1978 as a student at the American University in Washington D.C. While his education was in computing, he had a passion for rugs and he founded Rug & Kilim in 1980, opening his first showroom in Short Hills, New Jersey. “I never wanted to work for anyone else, so I did it on my own,” he says. “We started with a very limited inventory and because our space was so small, we kept replacing things with better and better carpets – and that’s how I excelled with antique carpets.”

There’s just something magical about carpet. It’s a beautiful business – it’s about colour and design, and wool is a fibre that gives the carpet life.

Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal, founder of Rug & Kilim

From the beginning, however, the business was about more than dealing rugs. “We would hold seminars and exhibitions to share our knowledge with people and create interest,” recalls Nazmiyal. “That period was like a renaissance in the world of carpets, with new designers and dealers. Our aim was to educate people.”

Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal, founder of Rug & Kilim, in Effect Magazine
Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal, founder of Rug & Kilim

This inspiring focus on continued growth and education is a reflection of Nazmiyal’s own desire for lifelong learning. Over the years he has immersed himself in areas as diverse as Chinese Art Deco carpets, 18th century French Aubusson tapestries, flat woven kilims, and Berber ushuaia rugs. This eclectic, wide-ranging passion is reflected in the sweeping product offering from Rug & Kilim, which today covers everything from antique, vintage and Mid-century-Modern carpets to Scandinavian, Moroccan, and European.

“I’m a student of my craft and at some point have visited every type of carpet that has been made in the last 300 years,” he says. “My aim is to see as many as I can and I’m always attracted to the rarest and most unusual ones. I’ve sold so many beautiful pieces – and each one comes from a different part of the world and has a different story to tell.”

Around 25 years ago, having established himself as a prominent dealer in rugs, Nazmiyal decided to expand his understanding even further and delved into the fascinating world of rug production. Since then, he has built a talented in-house design team and produces the Rug & Kilim collections and bespoke rugs primarily in India and Nepal. “Our team is made up of very educated and enthusiastic designers from around the world,” he says. “Pattern is just one dimension of the rug – it’s also about colour, texture and yarn. We have a very rich archive that we draw on and it seems like we are coming up with something new every day.”

For the first three decades, the business of Rug & Kilim was equally split between contemporary and antique rugs. Since the launch of the in-house collections and a growing interest in vintage pieces from the past 70 years, however, antique deals have dwindled. Although, Nazmiyal’s keen eye for the unusual and rare has only sharpened and the pieces he does sell are exceptional – take, for example, an enormous 11×16-foot Tabriz red and blue wool rug that originated in 1880s Persia, currently available for $135,000.

Of the new designs, the Rug & Kilim Scandinavian collections have proven particularly successful. Since launching eight years ago, their popularity has only increased and there are now eight collections and over 600 different designs. While these new rugs take inspiration from the Scandinavian classics, they are far from copies – using new textures and yarns to transform the original intent into pieces that complement contemporary interiors. Nazmiyal describes the way the geometric patterns are defined with piles of varying heights as “a new language in design”.

Whether it’s a strikingly minimalist Scandinavian-inspired rug or a detailed reimagining of an iconic pattern, attention to detail and the skill of an experienced weaver is essential. Larger custom rugs take from four to six months to create and Nazmiyal himself visits his producers in India and Nepal several times a year, discovering new techniques and producers – an essential consideration given that almost 20% of business now comes from bespoke orders

Just as the style of carpets found in the showroom has evolved over the years, so too has Rug & Kilim’s business model. In the early years, there was a retail focus with a showroom that was open to the public. As the business grew, Nazmiyal made a successful shift towards wholesale and trade dealing, staying ahead of ever-shifting consumer trends. Today, the business is divided into three parts: trade, wholesale, and online sales. “You need to be able to adjust yourself to the way the market changes,” he says.

And, the newest element of the business will be a formalisation of the sensitive restoration and cleaning work the team does, a process that Rug & Kilim pioneered in New York more than two decades ago. “As rugs become worn, they get more beautiful,” explains Nazmiyal. “It’s difficult to make them more beautiful, and so you have to be very careful as to what you do to them.”

While each part of the business continues to grow and develop, Rug & Kilim – just as in the early days – is about much more than sales and is firmly cemented as a leader in both celebrating the past and building the future of the world of carpets and rugs.

“I’m always looking for collaborators and I want Rug & Kilim to be a hub for people who are searching for something exciting,” says Nazmiyal. “If I had one wish for the business I have built, it would be that it will continue for another 100 years from now – I like to consider ourselves as an institution.” Rug & Kilim