Disclaimer: The following story was told to one of our professional rug cleaners by a long-term customer and appears in our blog in its original text.
Purchasing A Masterpiece
When most people hear Dubai, they think of the breathtaking skyscrapers, the Burj al Arab, the magical blue sea, and the artificial islands. But those who know better would tell you the real gem of the place is the Old City with its narrow winding streets and the unmistakable atmosphere of the old Orient. In its small picturesque artisan shops, you may find wonders and hidden treasures that are unavailable in even the most prestigious and luxurious boutiques in Western Europe and the US.
On one of my business trips to Dubai, I went on a shopping trip in the Old City. To be honest, I had received a tip from a close friend of mine who knew my weak spot for Oriental rugs. He gave me the address and directions to a small rug store and warned me not to judge by appearance. My friend had counselled me well – when I got to the place I found myself in front of a shabby looking wooden doorway, leading to a dusky pathway, flanked by sandstone walls. Little did I know that I was in for one of the biggest surprises in my life.
Once I crossed the pathway, I felt like I had walked into an imaginary world – lavish Persian, Ottoman, and Afghan rugs were hanging from large pavilion walls, creating an indelible impression upon the unprepared customer. I met with the shop owner Ahmed, a 60-something short and bald-headed man with intelligent eyes and soft manners. Within five minutes, we had immersed ourselves in a conversation, ranging geographically and historically from Moorish Spain, through Persia to the Far East and handmade Chinese silk rugs.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a devoted rug aficionado and have been for the better part of the last two decades. I started collecting high-end pieces, and my first big purchase came during a trip to Turkey in the early 2000s. But nothing at home could compare to the magnificent pieces in the Dubai shop. One rug immediately caught my eye – a large hand-woven Persian masterpiece or luxurious blue wool with stylised overlapping floral elements. It was a piece of simple, unadorned beauty – and I knew I had to own right away. Then came the tricky part, the stage of the purchase that every Oriental trader lives for – the bargaining. Most Westerners are utterly unprepared for it and do not understand the rules of negotiation. What they understand even less is that arguing on the price is a part of a ritual, and if you decline to take part, you are in a way offending the seller.
Fortunately, I had grown used to the ways of the East. The more passionate the argument grows the more pleasure for your counterpart – and the closer you get to making a deal. After thirty minutes of going back and forth, we settled on ten thousand pounds, which in my opinion was a great bargain. It was also the most significant single rug purchase of my life.
I do not believe in collecting for the sake of collecting and then storing your treasure in a hidden vault only for you to enjoy. All the rugs I’ve purchased are either in my Seven Oaks country house or in my urban flat in Kensington – or were bought as gifts. The Dubai rug (as I began to call it) was no different – it found its place in my library room in Kensington and became a favourite topic of conversation for my friends.
A few months later, I was having a business lunch in Fitzrovia when my phone began to beep frantically. It was my housemaid, who was on her scheduled weekly cleaning visit. I had given her strict instructions not to call me during working hours, so I knew right away something serious had happened.
As it turned out, my neighbours in the flat above were doing some major renovations. The workers not only managed to bring large parts of the library ceiling paint down but must have punctured a pipe in the floor heating system, and drops of hot water were leaking on my precious rug! I did not have time hyperventilate, because I knew that time was of the essence. Fortunately, being a connoisseur of rugs means you must have a reliable rug cleaner on speed dial – which I did. Three hours later the guy knocked on the door with his heavy-duty equipment parked beside him.
“Phew, a close call!”, he said and then turned with a soothing smile on his face. Had I not noticed the problem (or my maid, but that’s not the point), the damage might have been severe, he judged. First, he carefully moved the rug away from the dropping water and took something that looked like a hair-dryer. He began to blast the pieces of paint away, drying the wool fabrics in the process. After a close and meticulous inspection, he went for a thorough deep clean with his hot water extraction machine. The pampering had an almost immediate effect – the steam removed all the dust and paint, and the rug looked fluffy and full of colours again.
With a huge sigh of relief, I could go back to my daily business. What would have happened, though, if my maid had her appointment on another day? She had earned a nice little bonus regardless, I judged. As for my neighbours, they avoided a lawsuit for property damage, even if they had to pay for the library ceiling repainting.