Weaving a spell
The design and crafting of Persian carpets or rugs follow principles that run from Turkey to India. When shopping for a Persian carpet you will probably be attracted to a piece from Lahore or Kabul.
For an idea of pricing, a carpet of medium quality, which can be a fine carpet measuring 7 by 41/2 feet, may cost HK$10,000. A tightly knotted carpet with a smoother feel and more elaborate design may cost HK$25,000. This is just an illustrative slice of pricing for the probable budget of a buyer wanting a rug for the living room of a 1,000 to 1,500 sqft flat.
There are tribal carpets that size, rougher and more basically geometric in design but with charm, which can start at HK$3,000.
There are also carpets from Turkey or Iran made of wool and silk measuring the same which will cost HK$100,000. You do not have to pay quite that much to have your visitors staring at the carpet all evening, but one of those makes that a certainty. There are many factors involved in the quality of a Persian carpet. A basic and important guide is knots per square inch and the denser they are, the better.
Rokhan Shah, managing director of Persian Carpet Gallery at 44 Wyndham Street, has been selling carpets there for 30 years.
He says a tribal carpet can have as few as 200 knots per square inch (this is called a jufti knot).
A 'city' carpet, probably made in a factory by a small team of weavers, will have at least 300 knots and will be at the bottom end of the price range. A carpet priced at HK$25,000 will probably have 600 knots and up. In Iran, this would be a feature of woollen carpets from Isfahan, silk ones from Qom and better carpets from Tabriz.
The differences are clear to the naked eye - just count the number of knots along the inch and square it. Many carpets have a fair approximation of their knots per square inch marked on the back.
Mr Shah sounds a cautionary note. Sometimes a 200 knot carpet can cost more than a 400 simply because of the design, the material used or the dye.
'Chinese reproductions of Persian carpets look pleasant, but they are no comparison to the Iranian ones because the dyes they use are chemical. This does not apply to Tibet which is not a mass production area. Those carpets are expensive and hold their value,' he says.
Mr Shah is keen on carpets as an investment, but says they should not be treated as antiques or art pieces. They are a great emotional investment because even a modestly priced medium carpet will be around for your grandchildren to walk on. 'A good Isfahan will last forever,' he says.
The value appreciates because the main component is pure labour and the cost of that never goes down, Mr Shah says. 'About 100 people can be involved in the making of a good carpet from the shepherd to the wool sorter to the weavers to the dyer. When you sell a good carpet, you are selling on what that will cost today. You may even sell a carpet back to the shop you bought it from for a profit.'
He is sceptical about claiming carpets as antiques. He says a carpet is not old if it is under 35 years. Pointing to an interesting Mongolian carpet on the wall he says: 'That's 60 years old. That's an old carpet.' Next to it is a Turkish carpet from Hereke in the early 18th century worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and not for walking on.
Mr Shah says carpets should not be put on the wall of a home. He says they are a living material, they suck moisture from feet and get better with use. He does not believe in cosseting them either. 'Even in a heavy traffic area a good pile will last 100 years.'
Four doors along Wyndham Street at Mir Oriental Carpets, which is on three floors, are carpets for boardrooms, hotel lobbies, palaces and the home.
There are rugs made to order, reproductions of classic designs and stock quality contemporary designs made with old techniques. General manager Miriam Mir likes customers to ask questions about carpets. She is happy to let a customer take a carpet home for a few days trial - a common practice among dealers.
She says that local buyers are keen on silk carpets and, where traffic in a family apartment is concerned, she will counsel against putting an expensive silk carpet in the dining room where chairs will drag on it. She enthuses over the appreciating values of carpets, their heirloom potential and the importance of cleaning them infrequently but thoroughly.
Have your carpet thoroughly hand-washed by a professional once every two to three years. Do not try this at home. If a carpet is damaged Ms Mir and Mr Shah have weaving experts who can take it back to make repairs - a good reason for never buying a carpet during a shop's 'closing down' sale.
What do you do with a carpet when you get it home? Big rugs that fill the room from wall to wall with the furniture standing on top of it are out, it seems.
You probably have pricey polished hardwood which you do not want to hide. The trend is to have an 8 x 5 foot carpet in a focal position with the seating around it and your feet on it. That will account nicely for a 12 x 8 foot space. If you want two rugs in a room, let one be in charge and the other about two thirds of its size. Do not clone them, rather have different patterns in the same colours.