It feels peculiar, even in Washington, to connect foreign policy to home decor, but President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal will affect American rug sellers, interior designers and lovers of Persian carpets. As part of the withdrawal, U.S. dealers will once again be banned from importing these richly colored and patterned rugs from Iran.
“It is sad and unfortunate for such a priceless product — that is made from the heart of master artists and the hands of master weavers — to be kept from people living in this country,” said David Bani of Pasargad Rugs, which has been importing and selling Persian rugs in Washington and New York since 1904. “The Trump administration’s reinstitution of the sanctions will hurt our business.”
The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury Department, says on its website that U.S. rug dealers must wind down their Iranian imports by Aug. 6. They will not be allowed to import Iranian-made rugs from other countries either, even if those rugs have been out of Iran for decades. Dealers will still be permitted to sell Persian rugs that are already in the United States.
Earlier this month, the online marketplace Etsy informed Persian rug dealers that it was removing their listings, even if the rugs are already in their U.S. inventory. “On May 8, 2018, the U.S. President announced his decision to re-impose certain sanctions relating to Iran,” Etsy said in an email to Persian rug vendors that use its site. “As a result of these recent developments, Etsy will no longer be able to permit transactions of Iranian . . . carpet products.”
“This is a slight speed bump for our business,” said Katie Mahjoubi Koshy of Jahann and Sons Persian Rugs in Kensington, Md. “It may prove more hurtful to smaller rug stores, as they have fewer rugs in inventory and are less equipped to cushion the blow from rising wholesale prices.”
The United States has imposed sanctions against Iran, including trade embargoes affecting Persian rugs, on and off since the hostage crisis that began in 1979. The most recent trade restrictions were imposed in 2010, after the United Nations found Iran secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In January 2016, the Obama administration, in cooperation with other countries, removed those sanctions. Free to trade once again, U.S. rug dealers made up for lost time, reportedly bringing in $56 million worth of carpets from Iran in 2016 and $97 million in 2017.
That vibrant inventory means that even though the pipeline of Persian rugs is about to dry up, prices may not rise for quite a while. “I do not expect Persian rug prices to go up any more than they already have,” said Richard Amatulli of the Oriental Rug Retailers of America.
Interior designer Skip Sroka of Sroka Design, who buys Persian rugs for his more traditional clients, thinks price hikes may be three to five years away. “There is a good selection of Persian rugs in the marketplace at the moment,” Sroka said. “Depending on design trends and the amount of time sanctions are in place, that will determine whether there is scarcity.”
However, rugs on either end of the spectrum — the most popular and the unique — may get more expensive sooner. “We do expect prices of some of the most popular sizes and styles of Persian rugs to increase as it becomes harder to replenish our stock,” Mahjoubi Koshy said. Unusual shapes, sizes and colors could be even more scarce as dealers sell the few they have and are unable to import replacements.
There are alternatives. Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey are Iran’s main Oriental carpet competitors. “Nowadays, people have other choices of finding a perfect rug for their home,” Bani said. But for purists, only Persian rugs, with their dense, intricate knots, will do. “True Persian rug enthusiasts rarely buy carpets from anywhere else,” Mahjoubi Koshy said. “They will either wait or pay more for what they want.”
If you are in the market for a genuine Persian rug, it could be wise to start looking now, especially if you want one of the most popular sizes or styles. The most popular dimensions are 8 by 10 feet, 7 by 10 feet, 6 by 9 feet, and runners less than eight feet long. The most popular styles are tribal and geometric, including Heriz, Karaja, Serab and Shiraz. More ornate, traditional styles that remain in demand include Kashan and Tabriz, named for the cities where they are made.
If you’re disappointed that you can’t find the rug you want at a price you can afford, consider the impact on the people on the other end of the restrictions. As many as 2 million Iranians are connected to the Persian rug trade. “A beautiful export like Persian rugs from Iran may not be available for a time,” Sroka said. “I have much more concern for the people who make them, as their livelihood depends on it. The little guy always suffers.”