Founded just over 40 years ago, Rug & Kilim has become a go-to designer source for high-end rugs — and boasts the largest international assortment of kilims in the world, as well. Founder Jahanshah Josh Nazmiyal still selects every rug that enters their sprawling New York showroom, whether it’s an antique or a newly made piece. We spoke with him about the history of Rug & Kilim, how the popularity of Scandinavian rugs has changed everything, and why he feels he’s just ready to make his biggest contributions now. See what he had to say, and be sure to shop their products on Chairish now.
Rug & Kilim was founded over 40 years ago by Josh Nazmiyal. Tell us a bit about how the company has grown over the years, and also about your new space in Long Island City.
The company started in 1980 as a retail business, until I came to the city in 1990 and started dealing with the wholesale side of antique carpets. It was a great time for antiques, and it was also when I was looking for a showroom in New York. Antique rugs kept me going until I opened up my place uptown 21 years ago.
We’ve always been about the highest end of carpets. We started our business in a time that I’ve always referred to as the renaissance of carpet—when there was an infusion of American rug designers into the market that kind of changed the whole scene, almost shifting it overnight from Europe to America. I loved to share Scandinavian in a big way, and also our contribution of many different yarns or weaves into the market made me feel comfortable with production, which we’ve really been doing in a major way for the last five years. It’s kind of taken on its own life, and it’s very exciting to keep up with both our high-end trade business and our lines that are more available to everyone in the market. We’re also learning about the online side of the business, which is an interesting new venue, so that’s really kind of how we’ve grown to be where we are. As I’ve said repeatedly, this is really where I think we’re just getting started in many ways. I have been a student of my craft, and I feel like I’m just getting close to making my own contributions.
You’re well known for your kilim business (naturally). How did you develop the largest international assortment of kilim?
Actually, we’re really more known for the variety and the different kinds of textures and the very rich yarns that we’ve always employed. Although our name contains “kilim,” it really kind of became a much bigger issue in the last few years with Scandinavian carpets. Yes, we do have the largest collection of kilims in the world, but that’s only one of the facets of our business. We are known for color—again, I’m into yarn, I’m into weave, texture—and rarity has always spoken volumes to me. A lot of people like to shop with us because they know the piece they buy is probably the only one that will be made like it. I mean, that’s how extensive our collections of samples are. We’re constantly developing, so we’ve accumulated a phenomenal selection.
Vintage and antique pieces are of course our specialty at Chairish. How do you go about sourcing older items? Which ones are the best sellers these days?
Traditionally I’ve had a whole host of colleagues that I work very closely with, in New York and around the world. People know my taste, and when there is a piece, they’re happy to show it to me. So yes, we’re evolving our buying as well, but we also enjoy having a very, very good collection of antqiue carpets. There are very few pieces that I see that [are] better than what we have, and unless they are, I won’t buy them. We may not have the biggest collection of vintage and antique rugs in the world, but I think our collection is very special, and I’m proud of the fact that I have confirmed every piece of it. Each one has gone through my hands, and that has a kind of uniformity and flow that I think is exceptional.
Scandinavian rugs are incredibly popular right now, and you have a full line of them. Tell us a bit about them.
I think of them as a new language in design. In many ways it’s a rebirth of kilim in a fabulous way—actually, kind of putting all kilims on the map. Because of Scandinavians, all other kilims have become more in-demand. At least that’s how it seems for us. They’re geometrics, they’re not European, they’re not Oriental, they’re young, they’re chic, they’re very, very versatile. They’re extremely affordable and very easy to live with. They can sit next to an antique carpet, a modern piece, or a traditional carpet. We probably have 600-700 samples in different textures, yarns, patterns, and colors, and I don’t think there have ever been as many. They’re unquestionably beautiful, and now there are so many variations, so many types, and so many different yarns. So many different versions of these pieces are made that it’s just fabulous.
How do you go about deciding on new collections to launch? What are some particularly exciting pieces that might be coming soon?
I think we’re being very, very honorable to the weave and texture. I’m very proud of the fact that I make very gorgeous carpets using very low knot counts. We’re very excited about what’s ahead of us because we could be using three times as many knots as we are using now. It’s how we’re making the Homage collection—it is just a category. There are 150 gorgeous patterns and colors in the same texture that have never been produced in this volume, shape, and form. It’s just beautiful. What might be coming soon for us? We’re into Deco. We’re very involved in mid-century. I would love to do Moroccan as well, and maybe sometime soon I will start with new designs. I’ve made textures, I’ve made carpets, but I don’t know that I’ve ever made my own designs. That’s really when I think I can call myself, if ever, an artist. I really say the best years [are] ahead of me because that would be a great thing if I can do that.
You also have custom rug options… what are some of the most common requests? What kinds of things are designers looking for?
The most common request is not [why] people come to us. People come to us because we’re really different. Nobody comes to me for gray. If they’re looking for the best shade of gray, you know, we have our own, but that’s not what we’re about. It is honestly amazing that every project that comes in is a different thing. We don’t sell the same thing many times. We have such a rich archive, and I purposefully make it rich. I mean, we’re doing wholesale and we have 145 patterns in one collection. Nobody has ever gone beyond 30. Even Mohtasham, or Haji Jalili, or going back to Voysey. Nobody has ever made 100 patterns in a collection. Historically [it] has never been done, and I’m very proud of every one. There are really so many great choices, and we like individuality. That’s why we have all these samples. That’s why we consistently make new things, new colors, new ways, new textures, new weaves.
It’s obviously been a difficult year for many businesses, particularly when it comes to sourcing. How did Rug & Kilim navigate that?
It has been one of the best years in the business for us, I’m happy to say. In addition to the organic growth because of Cyrus coming into the business—the motor, the energy, the leader in the business—COVID really saved our industry. The industry, not us, was almost in a recession for many years. There’s no question that it was the boost we all needed and we’re all enjoying it.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing right now in terms of what people are purchasing? And are you seeing a difference between what designers are buying vs consumers?
Well you know what, to me a good designer is usually the person that every time [they come] here, buys a different thing and is looking for something new. Of course you have to appreciate that busy designers do so many projects that it’s extremely difficult, and I know every designer is very much in control of how to keep things separate. But honestly, again, we do everything, but there’s no question that the overall attitude of most spaces is modern. Even country has a modern scent. So yes, modernism is huge, and it also kind of makes it a challenge to make everything marry modern, so it’ll be exciting to see what is next. I certainly hope it will be colorful.
What’s one design trend you’d like to see go away for good? What’s something that’s overdone these days?
Overdone is these abstract carpets that I find, for the most part, very uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s redundant, it’s repetitious, it has no life, there’s no language, there’s no conversation. It’s rare that they’re exciting, but I guess they’re easy to use. Everything has somebody for it, and part of learning the business is who you want to please.
Finally, what’s the first destination your team would like to travel to for inspiration when we’re able to travel internationally again?
I know that I am missing India. I don’t think it’s so much for inspiration as it is where I can get things done. Inspiration is everywhere, especially these days with all the pictures, and I’m sure everybody finds it their own way; we are really inspired. I really am.
All images courtesy of Rug & Kilim