Print | Interior Design Fall Market Magazine November 18 2014
Dimension: Blossom is photographed 9’1X12’1 and Static 8'X10', but can be ordered i54 sq ft and above.
Rugs are a central design piece that can be the starting point for building an entire room. Even a neutral colored rug can add to the warmth and comfort of a space, while a dramatic rug can transform it entirely. Whether you are looking for high impact or quiet unity in your rug, Rebecca Lurie and Brian Robins from Kush Rugs can help you select the perfect piece.
Both worked their way up in the rug world, Brian as a rug washer and Rebecca as a ‘flipper/shipper,’ in industry parlance. They “fell in love with the unconventional nature of the rug business, and with the timelessness, permanence, and complex beauty of the product.” We visited their showroom in Portland to learn more.
You both worked your way through the rug industry, what inspired you to start a business together?
Brian: Rebecca has been travelling for nearly half her life. She first left home for a year in West Africa at age 20, and has since visited countless countries on multiple continents over the years. Rebecca’s interest is in culture and religion, and the art forms that serve the purpose of expressing both. Rugs fit naturally into her sense of what’s important and inspiring, and after so many years of negotiating the developing world on her own, the idea to start a business seemed obvious and far preferable to working for someone else. Oh, and she loves math.
Rebecca: Brian loves film and photography. Composition and color plays a large part in both mediums and is applicable to rugs and interior design. When designing rugs he is comfortable reworking classical motifs, but is most energized by riffing off modern design and pop culture. And he hates math…
Brian: We have very different taste and perspectives from one another. Our yin and yang balance out the gallery. If we both like a rug or design, we know it’s a winner!
Your showroom is so open and feels like a luxury bazaar. What was your inspiration?
We looked for a gallery that had a rustic, industrial feel and beautiful windows, and we put in a glass roll up garage door for summer. Rugs are always the center of attention here. It’s a treat dressing up the windows and seeing people press against the glass to see in. Our design concept was to make to space feel approachable. People drop in to say hello and then realize they have been hanging out for an hour. Mission accomplished!
There are so many styles of rugs- how to you define what fits into the “Kush look”?
We divide our rugs into 4 broad categories. Traditional, transitional, modern, and custom. Our focus is on ethically sourced, handmade rugs. They are mostly new, although there are a few vintage and antique beauties that we couldn’t pass up.
To find your handmade rugs, you must travel frequently to some very inspiring locations!
The best work trip, hands down, is Turkey. Istanbul is the most beautiful and romantic city in the world; Anatolia is wild, vast, and ancient, and the coast is pure Mediterranean paradise. Turkish food is unstoppable, the people enchanting, and the weaving tradition is inspired.
And our favorite place to relax? Astoria, Oregon. We live in the greatest state.
Nothing beats being home! Speaking of homes, what tips do you have for someone who is rug shopping- maybe for the first time?
Take time to educate your eye. Visit at least a couple shops so that you can see the many different types of rugs available. You need to learn what moves you, and what works for the space- and then you look for a rug that does both. Start a relationship with a gallery that will allow you take rugs home on a trial basis. Seeing rugs in their intended space as opposed to a gallery setting is illuminating. Like fashion, everyone has a strong opinion about rugs. Ultimately the right rug is an expression of personal style.
What is an erosion rug?
The trend started in Nepal around 10 years ago, with Tibetan weavers working with Western designers to create abstract, raw-looking rugs with painterly expertise. Time and competition pushed the designs into more-sophisticated interpretations of this erosion concept. Traditional, tight patterns with entire sections erased—in etched lines, as if acid had dripped down the rug. We have a broad and growing collection of our own at Kush. We carry designs ranging from an abstract portrait of rust dripping down a cement wall to multitextured, formless contrasts in steel gray and lime green.
When I came to your showroom earlier this year, you also showed me beautiful sari silk rugs. Can you tell us how you discovered those?
In India, several years ago, I was knocked off my feet by the recycled sari silk rugs. Using remnant, re-spun silk from the mill ends of sari looms, skilled Indian weavers had managed to create brilliant rugs in interpreted designs ranging from Uzbek Ikats—those wonderfully tribal, narrow fabrics of Central Asia—to antique Agras with their formal and feminine abundance of florals, arabesques, and distinctively Indian design complexity.
Can you describe the Sari silk rugs for people who haven’t seen them before?
Sari silk is very inconsistent and varied; the yarns often carry with them the wild residual colors of the saris they would have been. These tones, offset by the high sheen and the often very subtle patterns create a stunning, unbelievably soft, indescribably abstract rug. Viewed from one end, they are a vivid explosion of color that I’ve never seen outside of India; viewed from the other, they are a wash of indeterminate pattern—a seemingly ancient design that you must work to see, putting together the patterns in your mind and filling in the blanks where the motifs are practically invisible.
Where do the designers at Kush get its inspiration for creating unique rug designs?
Inspiration is everywhere; the work is to recognize it. For instance, one night many years ago, I was driving across the 405 bridge toward northeast Portland when I noticed for the first time ... the white-painted columns supporting the highway’s upper deck. They had begun to peel, revealing cold, gray concrete underneath: patchy, industrial blotches spaced beautifully in white with a balance only time can create. I desperately wished I could pull over somewhere; to pause for a moment to take a picture, and turn that picture into a rug. It would be a beautiful erosion rug, I thought. And I continue to think it, every time I drive across that bridge.
Can you address the intersection between new rugs and repurposed rugs? Why do you think people are attracted to repurposed rugs?
They say necessity breeds invention, and in the world of rugs this theory has been instrumental over the last decade. A shortage of weavers, the dizzying rise in material costs, and a glut of out-of-fashion, but well-made, old rugs all contribute to the rise of the repurposed, reimagined rug. These are economical, capitalistic reactions to the modern world and businesses far and wide have responded with aplomb. What’s fascinating to me is the way the most successful repurposed rug collections are made to not obscure their former incarnations, but rather underline the forgotten glory. The old, the sense of history, is accentuated and made irresistible.I believe that as we are propelled ever faster forward into a digital age, we are more urgently drawn by a need to be connected to our earth and our human past. We yearn for significance, timelessness and history because all around us everything seems so finite, and so fast. We’re all looking for a human connection in a digital world. Handmade rugs are the ideal conduit—inherently linked to history by the strands of culture and craft while they grace our modern homes.
Gold silk sari rug, hand knotted in India.
Manhattan 8' X 10' hand knotted Himalayan wool, silk, and nettle.
Metallic silver sari silk rug with oxidized wool design. Hand knotted in India.
The corner of NW 10th and Davis in the Pearl District is a busy crossroads. People walk, bike and drive by in all four directions. West Burnside is only a couple blocks away. There’s a sushi joint on the corner; a catering company across from it; the imposingly grand, gray, rusticated stone walls of what used to be the Armory but is now the Gerding Theater, complete with stone benches and plantings to linger by; and, on the fourth corner, the huge windows of a red brick garage that now houses Kush Handmade Rugs.
Inside, the store is a crossroads as well, because Kush sells rugs from all over the world. While its windows look out onto the street and all the people each with their own story, inside the shop, each rug has a story, too. The rugs in Kush might sit in a pile for months or years before they start their next chapter in someone’s home for what can be expected to be a rich, long life. They wait patiently for the right owner, shopkeepers Rebecca Lurie and Brian Robins taking good care of them.
Rebecca and Brian are the founders and co-owners of Kush, and they have their own ongoing and unique story too. When they started the business some ten years ago, they were married – to each other, as well as to the business. Now they’re amicably divorced, remarried, and have a better business partnership than ever. Travis, the mellow 12-year old shop dog, is their child, as is the business, which they sometimes refer to as their “Kush baby.”
It’s understandable that one might think of a rug business this way, because the more you learn about each rug, the more they seem like children. Each one is your favorite. Which is also why it’s not unheard of for a rug to sit in a pile for years before the right owner comes along. Each rug is unique, has its own style and story, and either speaks to a person or not.
Plenty of the rugs speak to me, but my pocketbook isn’t quite ready to carry on the conversation! Thehandwoven rugs from Turkey, India, Nepal and elsewhere are long-term investments, heirlooms of the future. Sizes vary from small to humongous, though, so there is generally a starter rug (or blanket or other handmade creation from Turkey or Nepal) within reach.
Kush Handmade Rugs
205 NW 10th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209?
Custom Tibetan runner with silk design.
Classic collection with hand carved texture.
Custom color dining room rug with wool & silk tweed.
Starburst bedroom rug.