Today we’re going back into the archives. Below is an updated version of an article that appeared in one of Daily Nutmeg’s first editions, published on February 3, 2012. Enjoy!
For New Haveners and nearby residents, it doesn’t take an epic pilgrimage to get to the oldest importer and dealer of oriental rugs in the United States. Indeed, Kebabian’s, at 73 Elm Street, is just off the green, between Church and Orange. “The store has always been in New Haven,” fourth-generation owner John Kebabian says, which is to say that it’s been in New Haven for as long as it’s existed.
It was 1882 when Kebabian’s great-great-uncle, an Armenian immigrant from Turkey, arrived to attend Yale. First he had to devise a way to pay tuition, and thus set up shop. In a remarkable story of mutual support, the uncle operated the business for several years while a younger brother attended Yale. Then they switched tracks, allowing the former to get the education for which he’d come so far. Meanwhile, their elder brother, John Kebabian’s great-great-grandfather, remained in Turkey, handling the buying side. “It’s the key part,” Kebabian reveals. “You have to buy right.”
Numerous trips to Northern Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in search of high-quality oriental rug artisans, who tend to do the work as families, has built his own knowledge so as to “buy right.” “You want to deal with a reputable dealer who knows what they are doing,” he offers, as a reason why people should come to him, simultaneously flashing some of the pride and dedication he brings to the work.
Discussing those artisans, who weave using looms, Kebabian’s admiration is clear. “Weaving is a lengthy and labor-intensive process that requires concentration and strength,” he says. (Also: “They let me try my hand at knotting on occasion, and it’s always good for a laugh!”) For these rugs, there’s no such thing as a typical price point, with retail costs ranging from fifty bucks into the tens of thousands of dollars. Production of a single oriental rug can take six months to a year.
Sometimes a rug can take even longer than this, such as a 20-by-30-foot tribal design he commissioned. “It took three years. It’s the only one in the world. They can never make another one like it,” he says.
I ask Kebabian how many rugs he stocks in-store, and he laughs. “Too many and not enough!” he jokes, adding, “Seriously, we have thousands on hand that are easily accessible.” He also accepts custom requests, including recreations of heirlooms or antiques, and translating a small rug into a larger one. Of the latter he says, “We have to get creative. Scale the design up. Find the right weaver, the right family, to recreate. Everyone knots differently. Uses different wools. Different dyes.”
He encourages vegetable-dyed, rather than chemical-dyed, wool and that’s reflected in the inventory: “Our real forte is all-natural rugs,” Kebabian notes. As you might expect in a business this durable, there’s an abiding concern for the client who is buying one or more of his rugs. “It’s a big decision. We want people to be totally comfortable, totally at ease and happy with the product and the service. Everything we do.”
In his store you’ll encounter a number of patterns, some inspired by textiles, others by architecture. Personal favorites (and also the most generally popular, I’m told) are the flower-filled designs, blooming and blossoming beneath feet or up on the wall. Says Kebabian of this style, “The floral elements represent the garden, which is paradise. The rug is paradise brought into the home.”
73 Elm Street, New Haven (map)
Written by Nell Alk.