Reza Sattari and Jila Kilantari

November 19, 2016

“We don’t sell rugs. We work to help our customers find what they’re looking for—no more and no less. If we do our job well, the rug will sell itself.” 

Reza Nejad Sattari reclines in his office chair and offers up a shock of silver hair and a winning smile that brightens the entire room. It’s a smile borne of genuine love for his work, and for the culture that informs it. That culture is everywhere on display at Oriental Rug Mart—on the floors, on the walls, in stacks and rolls—in the very air itself. 

Carpets are layered chest high in neat stacks that defy immediate understanding—there’s just too much to grasp; it’s impressive, mysterious—overwhelming. Jila Kalantari, co-owner and wife of Reza, nods in understanding. “We pride ourselves on the size and diversity of our inventory. But we don’t really have enough space.” Jila is a classic Persian beauty, with porcelain features and brilliant baby browns; at once penetrating and disarming. “This is the largest inventory in New York state, save one or two places in New York City. It can be a little overwhelming.”

The sheer size and diversity of the inventory at Oriental Rug Mart is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that customers are likely to find exactly what they want, regardless of size, style, or budget. The curse is that they are unlikely to find it on their own. At the young age of 70, Reza betrays the energy and physique of a much younger man. “We spend a good part of our day flipping through stacks for our customers. It’s one of the reasons why rug men live long, healthy lives.” He smiles. “That’s the theory, at any rate.” By way of illustration, he throws back a few 8x10s, and in the space of two minutes, one is graced with Turkish, Pakistani, Tibetan, Indian, Iranian, and Chinese carpets; floral designs, tribal designs, transitional and art carpets aplenty. It’s a feast for the eyes and the hands.

“The biggest challenge we face is to demystify the industry” says Reza. “People in this country are unfamiliar with oriental rug-making culture, and there is a great deal of misinformation.” Neither Reza nor Jila hail from rug-making dynasties, per se, but weaving culture is woven deeply into their respective family histories. As a young man, Reza was a chess prodigy in Isfahan, Iran, and his grandmother made him a finely-knotted carpet that he designed for use as a chessboard. It sits near his desk, and he shows it off whenever he can. Jila’s grandmother made small carpets for use in the home and as gifts—a commonplace practice in that part of the world. To some extent, the business is in their blood.

After thirty years in the rug business, Reza and Jila have seen pretty much everything—changes in styles, tastes, and in the business itself. “Unfortunately, our industry has developed a bad reputation. For a long time, rug dealers felt that they could be more successful with fire sale techniques—relying on impulse purchases, and obfuscating the nature of the product itself. We do precisely the opposite.”

It takes only a few minutes in the Victor showroom to begin to understand what he means. Even a casual stroll through the store is accompanied by a wealth of information—about origins, structure, weaving techniques—knots and dyes and designs and even fashion trends. “Rug making is an ancient art,” says Reza, “and it is difficult to grasp it all in detail. Different regions emphasize different motifs and weaving styles. A design might originate in one place, and then migrate elsewhere and change over time. Dyes can be natural or man-made. Wools can be of very different grades. And the cost of a rug might have no relationship to its actual quality.”

It is this last bit that causes Jila to shake her head. “It is easy to become confused about this, and even easier for rug merchants to take advantage of people. This is why our industry has a bad reputation. As responsible merchants, we view our job as correcting this state of affairs, and improving the reputation of the industry.”

Over the years, that approach has generated a fiercely loyal clientele. Most customers are repeat customers, and they will often bring in their rugs for regular cleaning and repair, even years after the initial sale. “We don’t just sell, we specialize in the care and feeding of oriental carpets,” says Reza. “Over time, most carpets will become dirty from ordinary use. Regular professional cleaning is important. That said, a well-made rug will last for generations, and even inexpensive machine made carpets will last for many years if they’re properly cared for.”

It’s clear that he means what he says; the entire rear area of the showroom is dedicated to cleaning and repair. Both are performed by hand, meticulously, and the techniques required vary from carpet to carpet. But the results are spectacular. Repair, in particular, is demanding, artful work. The repair specialists at Oriental Rug Mart hail from the Weaver’s Guild of Rochester, and offer a wealth of knowledge and experience with patching, reweaving, wools, dyes, and rug-making techniques. 

“Our customers know that they can rely on us over the long term,” says Jila. “We try to build lasting relationships beyond the initial sale. When we do, they always come back.”

They come back, and the carpets sell themselves.

_B.

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