How a Persian-owned rug business in Nashville is keeping the art of weaving alive

Dereen ShirnekhiWPLN News

Abbas Taherian inside of Abbas Rugs

On a Tuesday at Abbas Rugs, the early afternoon sunlight is beaming in, and the faint, earthy smell of the mung bean soup the staff had for lunch that day hangs in the air. Off to the side is a seating area made up of classic sofas, decorated with its own perfectly-placed rug and coffee table. It feels like walking into the living room of any Southwest Asian household.

Dereen Shirnekhi / WPLN News

Inside of Abbas Rugs

But there’s one notable difference: there are hundreds of rugs.

Most are rolled up and off to the side, while some are draped on the walls or displayed on the hardwood floors. Here, rugs can cost anywhere from a couple grand to $30,000 — like one rug, a Persian Serapi, worth about $27,000. It spans nearly the entire height of the wall. It’s a deep, dark red with a geometric and floral pattern, adorned with colors like green, brown, orange and beige.

“The color combination, as you can see, is magnificent,” says owner Abbas Taherian.

His store is full of rugs. Rugs waiting to be washed, waiting to be repaired and waiting to be sold. He admits: it’s not too different from his own home.

“I don’t have more room to put rugs,” he says, laughing. “In the living room, there are three rugs. In the dining room there are two rugs. One on the table. One under the table. And there’s a bunch in the closet. There are a lot of rugs that I don’t sell.”

If Abbas chooses not to sell a rug, it’s because he doesn’t have the heart to get rid of it yet. Some rugs are too rare for him to part with, especially if he isn’t confident that he can trust the buyer to give it the care and attention it deserves.

He takes rugs seriously, to say the least. And it’s clear why.

“Most Iranians, they grew up with rugs because their homes are full of rugs. And they always get to know it somehow,” he says. “I was always interested in the art of rug making.”

He moved to the United States nearly 50 years ago for school, finishing his studies at MTSU. His original plan was to teach English, like his dad wanted. But Abbas decided that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps instead and open a rug store of his own. In 1996, after building Abbas Rugs, he opened the store’s doors to customers for the first time.

Dereen Shirnekhi / WPLN News

A rug being cleaned at Abbas Rugs

“I started the business from nothing, actually, very little,” Abbas says.

He was familiar with cleaning and repairing rugs, so that’s where it started. Then, he became more and more interested in antique rugs, and he started buying them at auctions and estate sales, even bringing in rugs from countries like Switzerland and Germany. Now, the shop continues to offer cleaning and repair services, but anyone can come in to buy a rug that might be 80 years old if it’s on the younger side, 150 if it’s on the older side.

Dereen Shirnekhi / WPLN News

An antique Chinese rug from 1870, depicting two dragons

He beams with love for the craft of rug making.

“If you know how much back and hand and eye and neck (this needs), then you appreciate every inch of it,” he says.

Traditionally, a lot goes into making a rug. The abridged version is that it starts with a farmer who shears their sheep and then takes the wool to market. From there, a buyer dyes the wool using plants or vegetables, and then sells that wool again to weavers. The weavers then construct the rug by following a pattern. It might be floral or geometric, and always woven in rich colors.

It can take two years to weave a 9-by-12-foot rug, even with a handful of people working on it every single day.

When customers come to the store, Abbas gives them a copy of a book titledOriental Rugs” by George O’Bannon, which thoroughly explains the process and the history of the art form. Each copy is already wrapped, ready to be gifted. Abbas says he wants to make sure that people can properly understand the significance of the art that they’re buying, even if they think it’s just meant to decorate their floor.

But these days, rugs are more likely to be made with new machinery, sacrificing vibrancy and careful, tight knotting for a cheaper product that can be made faster. Abbas won’t even call these rugs. He prefers the term “floor covering.”

“Those are the rugs that you buy (and) in the next few years, it’s going to wear out, and you’ve got to throw it away and buy another one. But (handwoven rugs) are always going to last for a long, long time,” he says, “and you’re going to always pass it down to the next generation.”

Dereen Shirnekhi / WPLN News

Abbas and his nine chickens who live on his lot

Abbas is keeping the tradition alive.

In fact, every service in the store is done by hand, including repairs. To wash rugs, they dust them, hose them down and use an olive-based soap to scrub every inch of the rug by hand. They’ll repeat the process as many times as needed. This preserves the wool’s natural lanolin, allowing it to live longer and be passed down for generations, like it’s meant to be.

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