Two decades ago, passion drove Zachary Nitzan to share an ancient art with the modern world.
He launched a website, starting a business and a renaissance—an artistic revival that would carry him and his work around the world, and, eventually, lead him to join the architectural restoration of historic Midtown Harrisburg.
Nitzan is the owner of ModernRugs.com, a global, online curator of contemporary area rugs. Last summer, Nitzan, along with his business partner, Tahirih Alia, moved all operations from Washington, D.C., to Midtown after falling in love with its urban landscape.
“Harrisburg is such an organic city with so much beauty,” Nitzan said.
They purchased much of the 1400-block of N. 3rd Street across the street from the Susquehanna Art Museum, including the old Volunteers of America (VOA) building, the adjacent, three-story building that once operated as Midtown Paint & Hardware, two smaller storefronts at the end of the block, and two empty lots behind the properties.
Renovations began shortly after closing on the century-old properties last winter, a project that proved to be an enormous undertaking.
“There was a lot that we couldn’t salvage due to so much intentional damage and neglect,” said company Media Director Brad Moody of the newly remodeled, 8,000-square-foot headquarters of their operations.
The interior’s exposed brick creates a modern, urban feel while preserving the building’s authentic character. This was the perfect project for Nitzan and Alia, as the idea of blending antiquity with modernity is central to their business.
“The process of creating a rug—of knotting the handspun, naturally dyed fabrics together in a precise pattern—is an ancient and beautiful art,” explained Nitzan, who has dedicated much of his life developing his expertise. “Ancient rugs tell the story of life.”
In addition to ModernRugs.com, Nitzan and Alia own and operate Christopher Fareed Design Studios, an exclusive design label serving commercial designers and developers. The label’s high-end, custom-designed area rugs possess remarkable attention to detail, employing organic materials and, when possible, natural dyes. Christopher Fareed rugs decorate the floors of some of the world’s most exclusive properties, including palaces in Dubai and VIP suites in Las Vegas.
“I’m constantly pushing the boundaries of design and materials,” he said, describing his design process as an evolution.
Some clients request an original design while others alter an existing one.
“The rug evolves to perfectly reflect a precise part of life,” he said.
While many of the designs are commercial pieces, several Christopher Fareed collections are sold on ModernRugs.com. Moody added that the custom, commissioned business is expanding into commercial spaces and upscale shopping malls—more evidence that the movement that Nitzan helped start is taking hold.
With increasing demand, Nitzan and Alia both emphasized the importance of maintaining a clear set of ethics to guide their business decisions.
“There is a danger in art becoming a commodity,” Nitzan said.
He and Alia frequently travel the world, searching for high-quality materials and developing personal relationships with the artisans to monitor ethical production practices and support the regions where the rugs are produced.
Despite visiting exotic locales, Nitzan and Alia decided on Harrisburg as the perfect location to relocate their operations, noting that several rug designs hanging in the showroom were inspired by walks along the capital city’s streets.
The showroom is currently open by appointment. However, Nitzan and Alia said the renovations, which should be completed by fall, will allow them to further immerse themselves into the local art scene.
The two small, dilapidated buildings at the end of the block will be torn down to expand the three-story, 9,000-square-foot building at 1408 N. 3rd Street, once a hardware store. The first floor will house an urban showroom open to the public, and the second floor will function as an industrial-style workspace, complete with pendant lights made from repurposed flood lighting that Nitzan acquired from Camp Hill borough’s pool. ModernRugs.com and Christopher Fareed already employ a team of 10, and that number is expected to double.
Alia said that she and Nitzan are committed to supporting the local art scene, and they plan to utilize the top floor to host community events. Future plans also include the transformation of the empty back lots into an outdoor gathering spot.
“Our vision is to create a space where artists can thrive,” Alia said.
They expect that they will build upon the foundation in Midtown already pioneered by such places as the Broad Street Market, H*MAC, Midtown Scholar and the Millworks.
“We are in good company,” Nitzan said.
He added that the community response to their relocation and renovation project has strengthened his appreciation for Harrisburg.
“The city has been so welcoming to us—from area businesses to the mayor’s office,” he said. “We love it here.”
Author: Jen Fertenbaugh