Tove Bormes is the seller behind Rug & Relic, one of the best sources for vintage and antique kilims in the country. Sourcing directly from Turkey, Tove (a one-time attorney and college professor) has developed some serious skills for tracking down one-of-a-kind rugs. “A good carpet or kilim is far more than a floor covering. It is history, creativity, love, and a glimpse of the infinite, all woven into one,” she says. Here, Tove lets us in on some insider tips for how to shop (and haggle!) for kilims at both a Turkish market and Stateside. Scoring that killer kilim has never been easier!
When in Turkey…
Few things can compare to bringing home your own kilim, direct from Turkey. That said, there’s a lot to think about, both before you hit the markets and when you’re in the thick of it. Ahead, Tove breaks down how to make the most of kilim shopping in Turkey with four easy tips.
1. Set Your Dims
When you’re dealing with new rugs, you typically have the choice of a few sizes. 5′ x 6′, 8′ x 10′, and 9′ x 12′ rugs are some of the usual suspects. However, vintage Kilim’s rarely come in stock sizes, so it’s best to have maximum and minimum dimensions in mind. One thing to note is that if you need an especially large rug, it might be best to save that for a stateside purchase. As Tove points out, “Even if a small carpet or kilim purchased in Turkey isn’t quite right in the spot you’d envisioned, it can be used almost anywhere in your home. The same cannot be said of large carpets. Even worse, there’s no way to return a piece when you’ve purchased it overseas.”
2. Make a Budget (And Keep it Conservative)
While not the most glamorous thing to think about, budgets can make all the difference between a rug shopping experience you recall fondly and one that makes your cringe. “The easiest rule of thumb is to treat carpet shopping in Turkey like you would a trip to the blackjack tables in Las Vegas,” says Tove. “Don’t throw more money on the table than you can afford to lose. That’s why I advise setting a budget before you get caught up in the sights and sounds of the market.” What is a reasonable budget, you ask? “Even if your means are substantial, I don’t recommend spending more than $500,” says Tove. “Very few people have the expertise to find the needle in the haystack, by which I mean the ability to find the quality rug amongst the thousands of production carpets being thrown your way.”
Accept That You Don’t Know It All
As Tove points out, it’s possible to get a PhDs in rugs. So even after doing a few laps around the web, your chances of correctly ID-ing a reproduction kilim your first time out are low. With that in mind, Tove recommends embracing whatever you happen to love. When asked if there is something for first-timers to know, Tove says it’s good to be aware that no kilim motif or color is more valuable than another. “Carpets and kilims come in as many colors and designs as there are weavers,” says Tove. “There is no such thing as a ‘more valuable’ design. It’s all about the skill of the weaver. Let your creative side out to play, and find what you like. There are no ‘wrong’ answers here.”
4. Ready, Set, Haggle!
When asked what the main difference between buying a rug in Turkey versus the United States is, Tove is quick to reply: “Haggling! In Turkey, the first price you hear is never the final price, except in a restaurant. But it’s a fine line between haggling and being insulting, so tread with caution. Kindness goes a long way. It’s easier to get the price you want if the person likes you! Also, do yourself a favor: leave your fancy jewelry and designer shoes at home. A dealer in the Grand Bazaar once told my husband, ‘There are three prices for any carpet. First, you look at his or her jewelry and their shoes.’ He wasn’t kidding.”
When in the U.S. …
Thanks to dealers like Tove there’s no need to jump on a plane to get your hands on an authentic kilim. If you are buying a kilim stateside, embrace the luxuries that come with it. Here, Tove outlines three “dos” for buying a kilim at home.
Do The “Wet Paper Towel” Test
Buying a rug stateside allows you to be a bit more investigative with it, and Tove recommends using that to your advantage, especially when it comes to checking a rug’s color fastness. To do this, Tove says, “Simply dampen a paper towel, and press down gently on the surface of the kilim. If colors show up on the paper towel, the dyes aren’t colorfast, which can indicate cheap wool and cheap dyes. This also means the piece will be extremely susceptible to stains and next to impossible to clean without all the colors bleeding into the others.”
Ask The Hard Questions
“Many of the handmade carpets sold in America are made by slaves or children,” explains Tove. “This is particularly true of carpets from Pakistan and India. No matter what anyone tells you, child labor is NOT a cultural tradition in the rug world. Factory rugs, typically rugs that come in various sizes and color combinations, are particularly likely to have been made by children. Ask where your carpet was made, and by whom. If the answer is evasive, or the person doesn’t know, you may want to take your business elsewhere.”
3. Embrace Returns
Another luxury of buying stateside is that you should be able to be able to “try it on for size” (i.e. give it a whirl in your home before committing). “Be sure to check the return policy on your carpets before you purchase,” says Tove. “Any reputable dealer is going to allow you to try a piece in your home before locking you into a sale. If the policy is ‘no returns,’ that’s exactly what you should do: run and don’t return.”
3 More Turkish Delights to Love!
Tove shares other Turkish goodies to be on the look-out for, whether you’re headed to Turkey, or visiting your local imports store or Turkish market.
“They’re not vintage, but they ARE spectacular!” says Tove. “Turkish Towels bear no resemblance to the thick cotton towels we typically think of when we envision bath towels. True Turkish towels are handwoven of linen and are very thin. Not only are they stunning, but they work better than you can imagine!”
“Another item you’ll find throughout Turkey is pottery, from primitive olive jars to exquisite Iznik Ceramics,” says Tove. “I lean towards the primitives in most things, but the intricacy of Iznik pottery is intriguing.”
“In terms of treats, you’ve never had anything as good as Turkish ice cream, called mado,” says Tove. “The strawberry is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten, and I’m old and rather pudgy, so that’s saying something.”
Lead photo courtesy of Humboldt House