On buying a Turkish carpet

As far as travel experiences, going to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is right up there with visiting the Louvre in Paris. And buying a carpet at the Bazaar is like taking home one of the Louvre’s paintings…well, maybe a very very small sketch. By an unknown artist. What I’m trying to say is this isn’t a run-of-the-mill souvenir. This is a piece of artwork you will always treasure.

Having signed a lease on a new apartment mere hours before we arrived in Istanbul, we felt buying a carpet was the only way to celebrate. We headed to the Grand Bazaar with a vague idea of what we wanted. Four hours later, we left with a gorgeous, handwoven carpet and a better understanding of how the process works. So, here’s what I know.  Buying a Turkish Carpet 101.

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  1. Find the right seller. It’s well-known that a lot of the carpets sold at the Bazaar are machine-made in Asia– a.k.a. rugs you could buy at any furniture store in the U.S. Hand-woven carpets are much lighter in weight, softer in texture and have irregular patterns. The average traveler may not be able to tell the difference, so find a seller you trust. We used Şişko Osman and he is the real deal. I would highly recommend him.  No matter who you buy a carpet from make sure the seller provides authentic paperwork for the carpet.

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2. The more intricate the pattern, the more expensive the carpet. The most affordable option is to buy a simple, flat-woven kilim rug, but we were drawn to the more expensive pile carpets. Vintage carpets are more expensive than new ones, but it is illegal to buy and sell a carpet that is more than 100 years old. Also, the color green drives up the price!

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3. All carpets tell a story. What looks like meaningless pattern is actually a novel. The tradition of carpet weaving began with women making them as part of their marriage dowries. The carpet tells the story of the weaver’s hopes for the future: romance, children and prosperity. This guide is great for decoding your carpet. Or do what we did and videotape the seller explaining the meaning behind the carpet.

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4. Close the deal. Some bargaining is acceptable, but suggesting the seller to lower the price more than 15%-20% is considered impolite. Kilims run from about $100 to $1000. Small pile rugs begin at around $300 and can run up to several thousand dollars. Don’t pass up the sweet, apple tea that is served when closing the deal. It is all a part of the centuries-old tradition.

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So what did we bring home? An Anatolian, handwoven pile carpet from the 1950s. After seeing about 200 carpets, we kept coming back to this one. Again, buying a carpet is like buying a piece of art–you have to buy the one that speaks to you.

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Here it is! (Please overlook the lack of decoration, since we’ve just moved in. We’re embracing the minimalist look for now.) We’re excited to see its many incarnations in our future homes.

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I hope your holiday shopping is easier than carpet shopping… but for now, a few links:

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