Q & A with James Tufenkian | Tufenkian Artisan Carpets

The founder of Tufenkian Artisan Carpets shares how he built a rug empire
With a goal to revitalize the ancient art of Tibetan carpet weaving for modern tastes, James Tufenkian founded Tufenkian Artisan Carpets in 1986. In this endeavor, he took a bold leap: embracing high-end design and making corporate social responsibility the founding pillar of his business. From the start, Tufenkian provided artisans in Nepal, and later in Armenia, with work related to all steps of the rug-making process, from sheep herding to rug weaving. Thirty years and nine stores later, including an 8,000-square-foot showroom and outlet store in Portland’s Pearl District, Tufenkian Artisan Carpets offers hundreds of styles, designer collaborations, and a customization program. Tufenkian sheds light his company’s fiber innovations, his travel inspirations, and the Northwest’s unique aesthetic.

What role does the Pacific Northwest play for Tufenkian?
I grew up in Seattle and Salem, Oregon, and my brother and sister live in Portland, so I visit the Northwest often. It’s an important market for us—our Pearl District store is the company’s largest showroom and the adjacent Tufenkian outlet is the only one in the world. I’m also proud that our Portland showroom has the company’s most experienced sales staff, with a combined 50 years in the industry. I regularly purchase merchandise exclusively for the Portland shop and enjoy creating specialty pieces such as the ‘tiger’ rugs that have proven wildly popular in the PNW.

Have you noticed any design trends distinctive to the Northwest?
People in the Northwest have a strong affinity towards nature and color, and our wide range of rug designs offers choices that meet both demands. Certainly, we can’t overemphasize the importance of the maker culture here, which imparts a love for handmade pieces of all kinds.

How do your trips to Armenia and Nepal inspire your designs?
Even in our hyper-connected world where information is so accessible, we are constantly inspired by traditional folk culture. You can feel energy through playful brushstrokes and optimism through bold patterns. We include both in our collections, balancing them with soothing, traditional, all-over patterns.

What’s next for Tufenkian?
We have several new and exciting techniques, finishes, and materials in the works, including developing our own proprietary blend of high-quality bamboo silk, which produces exceptionally attractive carpets with a unique sheen and texture. We’re also launching new colorways in our popular Strata collection by Clodagh, which forges luxuriously thick Tibetan wool into rhythmic, linear, intensely textural rugs.

IMAGES FROM TOP: Luminance Rusty Slate, designed by James Tufenkian, is an example of a nature-inspired rug that’s proven especially popular in the company’s Portland showroom. A portrait of James Tufenkian, who founded Tufenkian Artisan Carpets in 1986. Tufenkian’s Shoreline Oatmeal rug in a residence designed by Claire Redsun.

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