Harout Barin looms large in the London antique carpet scene. Sarah Gubbins takes up the thread.
I find Harout Barin just as I have imagined him: at his work-bench in the glass fronted window of his shop, pouring over a vast carpet.
Coming from four generations of carpet restorers, Harout has worked in London since 1976 providing specialist carpet expertise and services at the highest level.
Harout welcomes me with tea and begins to explain his journey into the carpet restoration business. "My parents owned a farm in central Anatolia. In winter, temperatures dropped as low as -20C, and farming ceased to exist. So, during the wintertime the whole village weaved and produced rugs." He gestures around the room. There isn't a bare wall in the workshop; stacked rugs, rolled carpets, hanging tapestries and shelves of bundled colored wool. "As a child, even when I was in the cradle I was surrounded by these colors".
Harout's family moved to Istanbul and opened a carpet restoration business there. While he studied, his parents made sure that he also learned the family trade. In 1976, after finishing his studies, Harout came to London and gained experience working for a number of prestigious international carpet dealers in Berkley Square and Mayfair. There he expanded his knowledge of European carpets and refined his craft. In 1983, he was ready to establish his own business - working with auction houses, dealers, insurance companies and private clients.
As a member of the Guild of Master Craftsman with over 36 years experience in the business, Harout has seen his share of masterpieces. I ask him what the most valuable carpet he has dealt with is. "There was a seventeenth century French carpet that came all the way over from New York; I think it cost more than four million dollars." Many of the best carpets are hundreds of years old, and the history of such pieces can be highly evocative.
For Harout, restoration is an emotive experience. "Every time I restore a carpet, I travel in it. I go back hundreds of years, I remember my parents, I see my childhood." In the hours spent meticulously working on a carpet he is consumed by it and transported to another world. "If it is a dull carpet, I feel as if I'm caught in a claustrophobic jungle of pattern. If it is a beautiful carpet I feel as if I am traveling in a paradise. I love it when a client brings me a carpet of sentimental value, that has been in the family for years and perhaps never been restored, it gives me great joy to save those rugs, so that they can be passed down to the next generation."
Carpets are incredibly durable and great value for money. With wooden floors increasingly popular in homes today, a carpet or rug can provide a perfect center piece for a room, acting as a piece of furniture rather than simply a floor covering. Easily rolled up and taken with you should you move home, a carpet can be handed down for generations. Antique carpets are also a lot more forgiving than modern fitted carpets where stains are concerned - those with small children take note!
Lot 271 catches Harout's eye in particular, a Mohtashem Keshan Rug valued at £6,000 - £8,000. "The quality is very good. Mohtashem rugs used the best quality wool available. This one is finely woven, beautiful colors, and the design is nicely drawn. It has an unusual boarder".
While carpets and rugs can be easily sold on through auction should you wish to upgrade, Harout recommends buying what you love. "I wouldn't recommend my clients buy solely for investment. If it goes up in price, that's great, but it's better if it is something that you really can use and enjoy. Investment is a different ball game, you need to use an expert or specialist to advise you, and you need to spend serious money."
The advantage of buying antique carpets at auction rather than new, is in the re-sale value. "The new carpets being made are good quality, and with new technology, the dying technique has improved. However, comparing new carpets and antique carpets is like comparing re-production furniture with antique furniture. A new carpet that has no history simply becomes second hand at sale. A rare antique carpet only becomes more antique."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com