Magic carpet ride

Dream weaver … collector Gail Broadbent with her first carpet purchase, a Tekke Turkoman rug dating to the 1880s.
Dream weaver … collector Gail Broadbent with her first carpet purchase, a Tekke Turkoman rug dating to the 1880s.

Ahmet Solak's workshop is full of the follies of rug connoisseurs. His stories run through tales spun by wily dealers, corners cut in factories and the artfulness of interior designers.

He pulls out a rug that was not crafted individually but mass-produced, cut off a larger cloth like a finger of toast. It is clear from the edges, which do not curl over as they should and fray when he worries at them with his finger.

A Moroccan carpet, slumped against the wall, was exposed for not using a setting agent to hold the dye when Solak's roof leaked on it and leached away the colour. A third came at a good price because the weaver had run out of thread, and finished the carpet in a darker hue.

The last belongs to Solak, the rest to his clients, who have brought their treasures to the Persian Carpet Repair & Restoration Company to be mended. Solak went into the business of carpet repair as a 16-year-old in Turkey in 1975, and knows well the potential pitfalls in choosing a rug.

''It's not difficult if you're looking for a small item, couple hundred dollars' worth,'' he says. ''But if you're looking to spend thousands of dollars, you have to look [around].''

For him, the most important things to consider are the age, material and dye.

Antiques are more valuable. Silk is most luxurious and will cost more, but wool is more resilient and will hold its value better than cotton. Natural dyes have a softness and do not run but are more expensive, so buyers beware. ''Ninety-nine per cent of dealers will tell you it's natural dyes,'' Solak says.

Rugs and their trappings are draped on the walls, floor and furniture in the home of Gail Broadbent, the vice-president of the Oriental Rug Society of NSW.

Her most valuable item is a horse cover dating from the 1880s, which she bought for $20,000 about 15 years ago. She fell in love with it for its beauty, the balance of its design and its rarity.

As the prize piece in a collection assembled over 30 years, it encapsulates her advice to carpet buyers: ''Do the research, and price is determined by the age of the piece, the condition of the piece and the rarity of the piece - and to a lesser extent, the beauty of the piece.''

She recommends going to expensive shops to see what the good items look like, but to shop around for dealers. Be wary of those who tell too many stories about the designs. ''There are a few dealers around that know what the stories are but, generally speaking, they will just tell you anything that sounds good.''

Solak warns against places that offer huge discounts. His 18-year-old son, Emre, mentions one store that had been having a closing-down sale his entire life until, recently, it finally did. ''They just try to make you think you're getting value for money,'' says Emre, who also has a bugbear with interior designers. He knows of one who bought a carpet for $50,000 and sold it to his client for $100,000.

The only active museum collection of rugs in the city is at the Powerhouse Museum, where Christina Sumner is the principal curator of design. She has been immersed in the rug collection since 1986, and is still learning. ''It's not an easy study,'' she says. ''There are often rugs that the dealers will argue about.''

Her principal rule is simple. ''Trust your eyes and go with what you love.''

From that sagacity, all else flows. Do your research and go with your instincts. ''Look at it. Feel it. They don't have to cost a fortune. Look for colours you like. Don't be frightened of buying something new.''

Five questions to ask a dealer

1. Where was the carpet made?

2. What material is it?

3. How old is it?

4. What sort of dyes are used?

5. Can I take it home to test?

This story Magic carpet ride first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.