At Orient Handmade Carpets, Recep Sefer, a fifth-generation carpet dealer, stocks more than 40,000 woven masterpieces from Turkey and beyond, some of them dating to the 17th century. Follow his tips to shop like an insider.
1. The most important step is choosing a reputable shop, Sefer says. Research places online and in guidebooks before you arrive. Look for ones that have a long history. In Istanbul, ignore the advice of your hotel concierge and taxi drivers. Everyone will say he has an uncle or a cousin who’s a carpet dealer, according to Sefer, but that’s usually a kickback cover. When you’re walking around, only visit shops that have fastidiously arranged carpet displays outside and organized interiors.
2. When you enter a store, tell the dealer what you’re looking for. Having a size, color, material, or design in mind will help him sift through hundreds—sometimes thousands—of options. As he shows you examples, he should be knowledgeable about where they came from. “Every carpet has a story,” Sefer says. “You’re buying the history, too.”
3. Once you pick out the ones that catch your eye, carefully examine them. For wool carpets, press your fingers into the surface. If there’s little resistance, the wool isn’t very strong. Take a close look at the colors; even pastels should be vibrant—an indication of good dyes. Next, flip the carpet over and examine the knot density. The more knots, the sharper the design on the front and the finer the carpet.
4. When you’re ready to buy, the dealer will name a price. To start bargaining, ask for a discount without mentioning a number. You can also politely say that the amount is over your budget. Once you sense that the dealer has reached his final number, Sefer suggests asking for another 15 or 20 percent off. If he gives you 10 percent, don’t keep pushing.