So, too, the chaotic markets of Afghanistan and the nomadic tribes of Iran.
Yet, at Rugs Oriental, the stories of the Middle East are never far away, trapped in the intricate threads and brilliant colours of the store’s exotic carpets.
For Diana Quin, director of Rugs Oriental, these mysterious tales are what she loves about the rugs, and indeed about her job, which involves sourcing the products and helping people to choose the best carpets for their home.
“Every single rug tells a story,” Diana explains, as she perches among the towers of rugs in her Seven Mile Beach shop. “A lot of time and effort has gone into every piece, whether it’s a small piece or a huge rug. They’re very intricate.”
Diana and her New Zealand-based business partner, Delia Barnes, source most of the products from Pakistan, where Delia can often be found rambling about the markets with her dealer.
Diana, who calls herself an “enthusiastic amateur” when it comes to oriental rugs, visits London several times a year, working with a number of carpet dealers to find the best rugs for Cayman.
Together, they share an avid passion for oriental rugs, a love Diana says is inspired by the vivid culture and narratives that can be found in the rugs’ rich tapestries.
“There’s a real difference between the tribal pieces and city pieces,” Diana explains. “Each region has a different style. The colours in the rugs and the type of pattern can show you where the rug is from.
“An expert could come in here and point at a rug and tell you the year it was made, where it was made, where the pattern comes from, who the people were.”
Diana points to a style of rug known as Gabbeh, which originates from nomadic tribes in the Zagros Mountains in Iran.
“These tribes made the rugs for use, it’s very much a matter of necessity,” Diana says. “They use the sheep and goat wool from their flock to make the rugs. They’re lovely articles but they’re also very functional. They make cushions, blankets, eating mats.”
Diana rummages around in her stock, picking up what looks to be a long, fringed piece of rug.
“This is a camel neckpiece, but we also have donkey bags and we used to have a goat neckpiece. [The tribes] don’t waste anything.”
The oldest carpet at Rugs Oriental is around 75 years old, which is considered semi-old in the rug world. Oriental rugs more than 100 years old are antique, while up to 25 years old can be sold as new. Diana says although patterns have changed slightly over the years, most rugs are still made using the same methods that were developed centuries ago – knotted or woven on a loom.
“The making of the rugs has probably become slightly more sophisticated, depending on whether they are made in the city or in the country, but the way of making them hasn’t changed,” Diana explains. “They still use the loom, for example. They now use a combination of natural and synthetic dies and the wool is mostly machine spun, not hand spun.
“So, you have pieces that look old, but are really new,” says Diana.
“Some people like the really old pieces because they love the history, the story of who used to own it and where it has been. But others hate that thought and just want a new rug.”
The Western market has driven the appetite for oriental rugs, Diana believes, influencing the colours and patterns used by dealers. However, she says the popularity of different designs and tones can vary from place to place, depending on the climate, landscape and location.
“Blue, turquoise, teal and aqua are very popular in Cayman, I guess because of the ocean,” Diana says. “But these teals and blues are not natural colours, so they’ve really been brought in for the Western market. It’s very strange, because they’re so popular here, but in New Zealand, the rich red rugs just fly out of the store.”
Diana says Cayman, and the Caribbean in general, has a longstanding connection to oriental rugs, which may come as a surprise to most customers. She traces this relationship to the influx of British, Spanish and French settlers to the Caribbean centuries ago, who brought their furnishings over from Europe.
“If you look at any books about Caribbean housing, you’ll see that oriental rugs are not a new thing to Cayman, or to Britain. They’ve been around for a long time in the Caribbean,” Diana says. “For the British, I think it’s the proximity to Europe and to the Silk Trail. In the Caribbean, in the French, Spanish and British-influenced islands, they would have had rugs and they would have brought these with them to their new home.”
In these hard economic times, Diana knows that oriental rugs are considered a luxury good. But she believes the quality and design makes rugs great investment pieces. The way to decide whether a rug is right for you, she says, is to look at as many pieces as you can and allow yourself to be swept away in the romance and history.
“It’s not just about the rugs, it’s the memories they hold,” Diana explains, with a somewhat wistful look. “Some people can look at a rug and tell you where they were when they bought it, how much they bartered for it.
“It’s your own personality that determines whether you will like a rug. It sounds a bit silly, but the pieces just speak to you.”