When Aelfie Oudghiri was 17 years old, she sat in a Turkish rug shop and negotiated with the dealer for six hours. She bartered so long her brother fell asleep, and the store closed while they haggled. “It just felt really natural and fun,” recalls Oudghiri, who’s half Turkish on her mother’s side. Bargain concluded, she parted with two prizes: a flat-woven tribal rug, or kilim, that now decorates her Bushwick showroom, and an admirer. “The owner sent me Christmas cards for years!” she says. “I think we connected because I’ve always loved talking to people, be they Upper East Side doyennes or old Middle Eastern dudes.”
This gift for gab serves Oudghiri well, along with her innate ability to sort through heaps of tapestries from around the world and pick the distinctive pieces best suited for a New York market. “I buy partly what I like, but also think in terms of what will most match an American couch,” she says. In business for only two years, the Columbia University grad has already established her reputation as an accomplished kilim dealer. Stacks of folded carpets made in Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Morocco, Mexico, the former Yugoslavia, or the Caucasus fill her spacious 12,000-square-foot Varick Avenue studio.
“Everything’s from everywhere, because every place has weaving,” she explains. Some were acquired through travel, others bought at estate sales or from associate vendors, and 20 percent of inventory arrived via Valerie Sherif Justin, a 90-year-old former textiles legend who launched Oudghiri into the industry and still serves as a mentor. Clients love the extensive selection—and the costs. “Bushwick rent is very fair, and I’m a one-woman business without too many crazy expenses,” explains Oudghiri. “That means I can charge wholesale prices sans markup.”
Turkish kilims start at $150, while a stunning 1970s prayer mat is available for $350. The most expensive items currently in stock are a $5,000 tent divider from Mali, and a huge $5,500 mid-century Yugoslavian covering crafted with a special “eccentric tapestry weave” technique.
Those unsure of their stylistic preferences needn’t worry. The 26-year-old dealer has an uncanny ability to match customers with their perfect rug-mate. Hobbies, careers, favorite boutiques, and iPod playlists are all revealing personality indicators. “If someone’s listening to Beach House or minimal electro music, I know they’ll want something muted, as opposed to a crazy sequined runner,” says Oudghiri. And because vintage isn’t universally admired, the Williamsburg resident has now come out with her own line of designs, called AELFIE. “The styles I’m creating have more general mass appeal, because I learned not everyone wants an antique carpet once used to cover camels.”
Inspiration comes from references as obscure as Josef Albers’ painting Homage to the Square, which Oudghiri saw at MoMA and used as the muse for her own ochre-and-amber-toned floor throw. “If business continues to grow well, I hope to one day expand into pillows, then bedding and drapes, then desks, and eventually even furniture,” says Oudghiri. “Each rug tells its own complicated story, and I feel mine is just beginning.”
41 Varick Ave #401
631-603-5574 (By appointment only)