All about carpets
by Annalisa Merelli
24 February 2010
The Carpet Cellar
1, Anand Lok, Khel Gaon Marg, Delhi
There are many places you can buy a carpet from in Delhi. You can get it for a couple of hundred rupees from a street vendor, for just a little more from Sarojini Nagar, or you can buy it in a proper carpet store. But there's only one place where you can get a carpet and, at the same time, be sure of its quality, get a master lesson on the history and tradition of carpet weaving and check out the second largest carpets collection of Asia: The Carpet Cellar.
Mr. Sheel Chandra has been collecting carpets for the past 35 years, and his personal collection counts about four hundred museum-quality, precious carpets; in Asia, only the Sultan of Brunei owns more carpets than him. While his project of setting up the first carpets museum in India is still in progress, Mr. Chandra keeps his collection inside The Carpet Cellar, free for the eyes of customers and the curious. Everyone in the store is happy to explain all about carpets - the old and the new, the precious and the current - so a visit there is a great way (probably the best in Delhi) to learn one thing or two about rugs.
In our case it was Dhruv Chandra, nephew of Mr. Sheel, who showed us his uncle's collection, introducing us the differences between floral decorative carpets - made in urban workshops following a design, and normally produced in more than one piece, and tribal carpets - made by families in rural areas for personal use, and therefore irregular but amazingly unique.
His preferences go to the rare tribal pieces, says Dhruv while he shows us amazing carpets coming from places such as fairy-tale sounding 19th Century Samarkand. But the florals have their charm as well - a huge antique Persian carpet coming straight from a Maharaja residency is unrolled on the shop's floor and we don't know whether it is its beauty, or its value (50.000$), that almost makes us gasp.
Just like the rest of his family, Dhruv definitely enjoys passing on his knowledge about carpets. Spending some time with him we learnt so much about them; for instance, we discovered carpet weaving was introduced to India by notorious Mughal king Akbar as a form of education for prisoners and because of that most of the historical weaving centres in India have been in prisons. We also learnt that a natural dye lasts much longer than a chemical one, and that you can easily recognise it from the many shades of the same colour present in a carpet.
But old carpets are not all The Carpet Cellar is about. The Chandra family has a new production line (with a very wide price range, for low as well as very high budgets), and it still tries to make carpets in the most traditional way, using natural dyes rather than chemical, hiring the most expert weavers around, and trying to treat carpet making as an art rather than a mass production.
The Carpet Cellar is also promoting an interesting social program - they train women from disadvantaged backgrounds in restoring ancient carpets and hire them in their workshop, giving them the chance of achieving independence through their work.
And, as if all this weren't enough, for those who want to know more, The Carpet Cellar organises free educational workshops once every two months (the next will be on March 10th, 2010); but while you wait for the next one to come up, we’re happy to share with you Dhruv Chandra's tips to the inexperienced carpet buyer:
1. Don't buy from a "wala", buy from a regular store. The price you are paying to the "walas" might seem very low, but they only sell what is rejected by the market, so the quality they offer is never good. A carpet should be an investment, and if you choose a good one, it will last for over a hundred years.
2. Buy the oldest carpet you can get within your budget. Old carpets were made with better materials and better dyes by better weavers. There is no way you can get the same type of work at the same price today, so an older product is guarantee of a better quality.
3. Always get the best carpet you can buy - what is cheap is so for a reason. You need to understand that someone had to spend one, two, sometimes several months of his life to make your carpet. It's a precious object, not just something you walk on.
4. Don't think an antique carpet won't go with your modern home: tribal carpets and kilims can match your contemporary furniture surprisingly well.
5. Always buy carpets made with naturally dyed threads and look at the quality: the more the knots, and the more the shine, the better the carpet.
6. Educate yourself, but trust your eyes. Carpets are a little like art: you need to see many before you understand them, so you have to be patient and spend time going through as many options as possible. However, that only works up to a certain level - after that, the only way to choose a carpet is following your instinct and going for the one that "talks to you".