Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bob’s Art Blog: The Threads that Bind

A display wall at Modern Rugs in Harrisburg

Art knows no boundaries in the many ways it presents itself to the world.

Beyond the usual mediums of painting, photography and sculpture, there is the ancient art of rug making. Historically the province of “exotic” Eastern lands like the Orient, Persia, Turkey and India, known for their reputation for making the most beautiful rugs in the world, the art now finds itself encompassed under one roof in Midtown Harrisburg at Modern Rugs. No one appreciates this legacy more than the owners and curators, Zachary Nitzan and Tahirih Alia, who hold the art form near and dear to their hearts.

Their professional relationship and personal lives are as intertwined as the exquisite rugs they sell. I recently visited their headquarters, and, in the most serene and sincere way, they divulged the ancient tales of rugs and romance, of exotic locales and enchanting people. From the very first moment, we were “hooked.” It was a privilege to go on the journey with them. Rugs tell a tale with no two alike. In fact, Nitzan shared that “ancient rugs tell the story of life.”

Dyed-in-the-wool purists, both embrace the mysteries and rich history of how rug making became elevated to the art form it is today. Their journey together echoes the tantalizing tapestry of textiles woven to create horizontal works of art. What evolved out of necessity for protection from the elements thousands of years ago has transcended mere functionality to become the main focal point in a room. Originally created for comfort from the hard ground, rugs became a crucial element in completing the look and feel of beauty in home furnishings. It’s an art form as old as time, dating back to the caveman and his depiction of hunt scenes on walls and animal hides on the floors. The original weavers were the shepherds. Centuries ago, they started knotting wool into heavy woven cloth that was later developed into rugs.

Zachary and Tahirih, inveterate world travelers with a love of beauty, speak often about their never-ending search for sourcing the finest materials to provide inspiration for the latest in design technique. An expert like Nitzan knows instinctively, after a quarter-century in the business, what intricacies go into the manufacturing of rugs and the workmanship involved in artisinally hand-wrought goods. In fact, he is a member of the International Society of Appraisers. Generally, the more tightly a rug is woven, the more detailed the design can be. The elements that determine the value of a rug are attributed to materials used, density of knots and the rarity of the design. Silk and wool fabrications aid in the absorption of the organic dyes. As rug connoisseurs, both Nitzan and Alia hold a tremendous appreciation for the labor-intensive process involved in one-of-a-kind creations. Their exclusive in-house rugs, Christopher Fareed Design Collection, allows for maximum customer input with selection from a grouping of over 40,000 choices. These rugs have adorned such ornate residences as palaces in Dubai and can also be found in boutique hotels around the world.

Co-owner Tahirih Alia in the showroom at Modern Rugs.

Given the distinction of being an international force in the industry, their love affair with Harrisburg and, specifically, Midtown, is all the more remarkable. Four years ago, Zachary and Tahirih uprooted their established business in Washington, D.C., to move the entire operation to the city and never looked back. The team’s core group, including sales director Tara Clugston and marketing director Brad Moody, made the move from D.C. The design director, Kayla Reimold, operations manager, Cherri Parks-Taylor and graphic designer Blen Asres complete the front line of key players crucial to the success of Modern Rugs. The trio hails locally, bringing homegrown talent to the mix. It is no wonder that the staff has become an extension of family, as personal relationships are the threads that bind. That strength is made permanent by forging an investment in the people they work with so closely.

There is nothing quite like seeing and touching the rugs in person. With vaulted ceilings and exposed brick walls, the showroom reflects an aesthetic that is more an art gallery than a rug store. An entire expansive room is dedicated to one-of-a-kind rugs hanging like the works of art they are, from floor to ceiling. It sets the stage of a museum exhibit in the art of rug making.

The online business at Modern Rugs is a global one. Rugs make statements of personal style and taste reflecting clientele preferences for color, patterns and texture. With the collection’s ability to shift gears for custom work, the sky’s the limit. The design is limited only by the imagination in terms of the creative process. In fact, their rugs have been made from rough sketches on a napkin. One example is an historical script from a Civil War soldier lifted from a poignant letter home to his wife and replicated in rug form. If you can dream it or draw it, the rug becomes your personal tale.

Opening their flagship location was the first step to help turn Midtown into even more of an art destination. For Modern Rugs, “collaboration and community” go hand-in-hand in that the entire area benefits from a collective of likeminded entrepreneurs. Restoration, revitalization and renaissance join their vernacular in the next breath.

They shared future dreams of expansion, already well underway in the next building. With ample space on the second and third floors, the owners see endless possibilities ahead. The build-out is already in progress. The couple envisions a presentation combining the artistic components of rug making to networking with neighbors and friends like the Susquehanna Art Museum and other merchants on the block. An overriding goal is to be able to develop production of all rug manufacturing in Harrisburg, creating 100 new jobs. Nitzan and Alia flipped over one of the showroom sample rugs highlighting The Modern Rugs label as the last step in the process, their forever business card, ensuring the rug has surpassed every facet of inspection.  The owners look forward to the day when the “green light” is given to reopen their doors. In the meantime, they are happy to meet by appointment following the guidelines outlined by the state.

One may view Modern Rugs as a lush garden in terms of nurture and care. From a deep appreciation of their staff’s contributions, Nitzan and Alia plant seeds in rich soil to produce a product that stands above the rest. And for the artists worldwide, that same philosophy applies, like helping to fund an orphanage in India. Civic and community-minded, they are good friends and neighbors both on a local level and a global stage.

In the space of two hours, we had sailed the Seven Seas to the Orient, strolled serpentine byways to Byzantine bazaars and traveled in “a passage to India,” all in a quest for a deeper appreciation of antiquities brought into the 21st century. We gained invaluable insight and came away richer from the experience. We were entertained, enlightened and enveloped in the very best of ways—like being wrapped up in the most special rug of all—we had shared in their story of life.

Modern Rugs is located at 1404 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their website.

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