Inside the St John’s Wood home of one of London’s foremost rug and textile dealers
PUBLISHED: 13:29 01 April 2016 | UPDATED: 17:05 01 April 2016
As the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair returns to Marylebone for its sixth year, we get a tour of Aaron Nejad’s textile-filled St John’s Wood home and find out what to look for as a rug-buying novice.
Inside Aaron Nejad's home
17th century Portugese embroidery in the master bedroom. Nejad and his wife decorated the room around the colours of the piece.
An early 20th century henna-dyed Moroccan shawl. "I like this one because it resembled Mark Rothko paintings," says Nejad.
The living area with an 18th century Aubusson carpet from France (on the floor) and a cushion made from Congolese fabric. According to Nejad, there used to be many workshops making kilims and tapestries in that region of France. "I've never seen a carpet from here with these types of colours," he says.
A 19th century Uzbek silk scarf, probably a turban cover, in the living area
18th century Moroccan sash, silk on linen
Cushion covers made from fragments of old kilims in the living room
The living area in Aaron Nejad's house in St John's Wood. "I like to use my textiles no matter if they're valuable," says Nejad.
Cushion covers made with textured fabric from the Congo: "Really graphic, beautifully worked from the 1920s."
“You can track the whole history of a region through their rugs,” says antique rug and textile dealer Aaron Nejad.
“There’s a group of carpets made in Turkey called Medallion Ushaks, which have been made since the 16th century. The earliest ones were made under the Ottoman Empire and the colours are amazing – they look like grand carpets made for the Ottoman court.
“But the design remained popular over hundreds of years, even when the Ottoman empire ended there were still workshops in Turkey making the same designs or designs that were based on the great Ottoman originals,” he elaborates.
“The design degenerates as it gets copied over time, over and over and over again up till even today. It loses its magic, details are lost, scaling is lost, the meaning of the motifs are lost.
Aaron’s guide to starting your collection
Always buy something you like. This is something that you’re going to use around your home that you can touch. Choose something that appeals to you and then with any luck you may find it’s made a bit of money.
If you’re spending a significant amount of money, seek the advice of an expert. Befriend a reliable dealer or go to an auction house: auction houses have good expertise and they ought to be able to guide you.
Come to a fair. It’s much easier if you’ve got 10 dealers with lots of things to look at it helps focus the mind and it helps focus your choices.
Read a lot. I write for a specialist magazine called Hali, which is a good place to start.
Travel. You can understand the culture behind the making of textiles if you visit the countries where they’re made. Sometimes it’s all a little bit academic until you set foot into the Istanbul bazaar.
Suzanis from central Asian are very much in vogue at the moment. They’re colourful, dramatic and they can be used very flexibly because they’re quite soft they can be used as bed covers or as wall art or as curtains. They can bring a monochrome room to life.
Collectors are very hot for early Turkman rugs at the moment. The Turkman were a nomadic tribe that lived in the steppes of central Asia and produced these incredible carpets that are extremely finely woven. They feel like velvet they’re so beautifully made. There are several Turkman tribes and each of them has subtle differences in its palette and in the motifs that they use.
“You can trace the development of a certain design from what we consider its origins hundreds of years ago and how it has developed over time.”
Or at least you can if you’re an expert like Nejad, who has been dealing antique rugs since his student days in the 1980s – buying up Baluchi rugs in Camden Market and Islington antique shops, cleaning them in the bath at his student digs and then selling them on to his father, an import-export businessman with a passion for antique rugs, in order to help finance his studies in politics and philosophy at the LSE.
What was intended as a sabbatical spent working in the family trade on completion of his PhD in 1986 increased Nejad’s interest in business and connection with the textile world and he has never looked back. Not only does he exhibit at fairs and via his website and Manor House showroom but he also founded the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair (LARTA), now in its sixth year near Church Street’s antiques shops.
Academia didn’t fall by the wayside entirely though, as the study in his St John’s Wood townhouse, lined with books about textiles testifies: “I’ve got the same number again in my office in Manor House and I’ve read them all.”
For novice carpet buyers though, Nejad suggests the best way to increase your knowledge, alongside reading up on the subject, is to look at and handle as many specimens as possible and to talk to trusted experts if possible. This is where LARTA comes into its own in the UK.
“I started the fair because I felt that the UK rug and antique textile world was in decline in the sense that people didn’t realise that there were very good dealers in London and in the UK with incredibly good expert knowledge,” he says. “I felt that it was time for us as a trade to let people know that we’re out there and we’re active and that we can give very good advice on how individuals can use these beautiful textiles in their homes.”
Nejad certainly follows his own advice when it comes to actually using textiles in his home. Showing us around his living room he draws our attention to the beautiful rust and mauve patterned rug beneath our feet. Turns out it’s an 18th century Aubusson rug, a rare example of that colourway and highly prized.
“It’s getting a bit damaged actually, I need to send it to my carpet restorer,” says Nejad. I instantly tip toe my way off the precious antique, especially since it’s been raining and my shoes are still slightly damp.
The house, which Nejad shares with his wife and grown up daughter who is currently away studying, is filled with the finest examples of everything from Portuguese tapestry hanging above his bed, to 1920s Congolese utilitarian weaving, which has been turned into cushions in the living room. A Moroccan henna-dyed scarf (“It reminds me of a Rothko painting”) and an Uzbek turban cover can be seen hanging on the walls, while Nejad keeps a panel of 17th-century Safavid embroidery in his study, just to hold and look at.
With the current tensions in international politics, Nejad does fear that people in the West are being turned away from Middle Eastern culture, in particular pieces pertaining to religion.
“Interest for Oriental textiles and carpets has declined over the last 15 to 20 years, in my opinion. People may not talk about it openly but I feel that’s a very important point that because of the political relations we have with some places in the Middle East we don’t look favourably at the product and material culture of those places like we did before that.
“All those places weave prayer rugs, for example, they’re often the most prized assets of a weaver and he or she puts a lot of effort into producing something because it means a lot. But for us in the West, prayer rugs may have negative connotations and we may not appreciate the effort and the beauty that lies in these things,” says Nejad.
“Hopefully that will change. I want to do an exhibition of prayer rugs one day. It’s one of my projects for the future.”
The London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair will be at The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, NW8 8PQ from April 14 to April 17. larta.net