They're Not Just for Floors Anymore

A local designer’s rugs look and feel great underfoot, and they sure can dress up a wall.

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John Kurtz with daughter Josephine and family pooch Dutch, in their Trolley Square showroom. John’s traditional and contemporary designs are woven via time-honored methods in Nepal. Photograph by Phil FlynnYou won’t find sheep at the JD Kurtz Gallery—unless you count the Tibetan wool in the one-of-a-kind rugs sold there.

Founder and designer John Kurtz has cultivated a following among those who don’t want to follow the flock.

“Once you’ve lived with wonderful things, you never want to go back,” he says. “Somehow, you can feel the difference.”

Kurtz grew up with antique rugs only a few blocks from the gallery on Delaware Avenue in Wilmington’s Trolley Square neighborhood. When he was a boy, contemporary rugs were threadbare shadows of their illustrious predecessors. Those awful things were marked by unstable chemical dyes and undistinguished designs—“copies of copies of copies,” he says.

About 25 years ago, a great rug renaissance was born in Turkey, where weavers began working with natural vegetable dyes developed by a German chemist who loved beautiful carpets.

“Collectors began to realize these rugs were really good—and you could walk on them instead of hanging them on the wall,” Kurtz says. “They filled an important gap.”

Kurtz, who had been collecting and dealing antique rugs, began designing his own rugs, pieces meant to be handed down through generations as antique carpets are. He partnered with Sulochana Shah, a human rights activist and businesswoman in Nepal, who put together a team of artisans who would work in a large, airy compound at her home in the Asian mountains rather than at home, where conditions are typically dark and cramped.

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