Sought after for their artistic design, elegant materials and traditional hand weaving methods rarely utilized in modern carpet making, Carini Lang’s carpets grace the homes of bold-faced names such as Stephen Spielberg, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and architect extraordinaire, Lord Norman Foster. We caught up with Carini in his studio in Tribeca, located in a former Art Deco-designed bank, to learn more of his trade.
Wickham Boyle: How did you get started?
Joe Carini: Honestly, I became fascinated with carpets at an early age; my grandmother had some marvelous rugs in a sunroom on which I delightedly traced the patterns with my trucks. Later, I went to Pratt to study painting. During art school, I got interested in buying and selling rare and collectible carpets.
When buying and selling antique carpets at high prices, you need specific knowledge. So, I learned about designs, the provenance of works, original colors and materials so as to place them in historical context. I also worked with some Persian carpet repairmen in an attempt to absorb the integral workings of these carpets. By doing so, I immersed in the ancient culture, and by learning the repair, I began to absorb the entire carpet culture.
WB: How did you first become involved in the carpet making business?
JC: In 1990 I was introduced to someone starting a carpet company, and I wore many hats in this start up: design, specifications and often the sourcing of materials. I found there weren’t that many interesting contemporary rugs. Many companies were selling bad repros of traditional rugs, almost reproducing antique rugs slavishly.
I saw an opportunity to take carpets to a higher level by using traditionally trained quality weavers and the best sourced materials. I left in 1997 to start my own company. I wanted to go further with natural traditional vegetable dyes. My desire was to move away from commercial carpet production to an experimental and unique kind of work – a product where quality would be the main focus and would include a revival of many ancient techniques that, sadly, were beginning to disappear.
I spent a long time reintroducing the techniques into Carini Lang productions. It took a few years to get the process, materials and dyes to the level that I envisioned. After mastering that component, I began dreaming and designing a contemporary line, which is our signature.
WB: How did you become interested in and drawn to natural dyes and products?
JC: At an early age when I was studying painting, I became aware of and attracted to the physical materials of paint. For example, Fra Angelico ground lapis lazuli stone into his paint, and I feel it has a physiological effect. Rembrandt and Titian ground minerals and even sometimes semi-precious gems, all suspended in oil or egg tempera.
Carpets had compelled me by color and pattern. I was most attracted to old carpets; I wasn’t drawn to new carpets with synthetic dyes. The original colors were so luminous and fascinating. For me, the essence of the carpets was the color, just like in a Renaissance painting. If you regard that same painting in black and white, you only glimpse a small aspect of it. Like Renaissance work, carpets are a combination of color and geometry.
Five hundred years ago, color was the cutting edge of technology. Color used to be what set classes aside. Royalty was ranked by the value of their clothing; only the upper class could wear purple. This study of color led me to ask, “How did certain colors make me feel?”
I wanted to understand where these colors came from because I had a sense that their origins might unlock some secrets. I was intrigued with the stories of the revered dye masters who discovered these colors and passed them on as secrets, almost like alchemical secrets. The other aspect for me was that these magical colors appeared much more vibrant than colors made in modern chemical laboratories.
I was working in another country, in another culture. I didn’t want to make my living by making a negative impact on the environment;
I wanted to work responsibly. Vegetable dyes are one of the things we can do that leaves very little impact on the environment. The plants utilized in dyes, for the most part, are cultivated as herbal remedies. Thus, the surplus dye is just organic matter that dissolves back into the earth.
WB: What draws you to the culture of Nepal?
JC: Nepal’s charms come from a combination of the people, who are so smart and joyful and seem to relate from their hearts, and the opulent beauty of the physical surroundings. Kathmandu is in a fertile valley ringed by the majestic Himalayas. The raw materials, the cashmere, the yak wool available in abundance and the reverence for a tradition of carpet making are very clear when you come to Nepal.
Also, the ancient cities have architecture that leaves you agog, art that is on every street corner in some small way, and magnificent temples on the hilltops, such as Swayambhunath, the famous monkey temple. The religious traditions, Buddhism and Hinduism, make you feel as if you are in contact with another world from 1,000 years ago. This energy makes it very conducive for inner reflection.
WB: Did your interest in traditional carpet making and knot tying come before or after the business started to boom?
JC: I went into the business thinking that I would make everything with the best of all artisanal methods. Why throw out all the progress made over hundreds of years? Who makes better wine: the small batch wine maker on his great grandfather’s estate or the giant vats using chemicals to enhance and speed things up? Me, I am always going to want to taste from the small guy, not the new processed version. I took that vision into my carpet making.
WB: What is your favorite part of making magical carpets?
JC: Discovering something new that I didn’t know before. Making something that I didn’t think was possible. I’ve made colors that I didn’t think possible, and now people often ask for them.
WB: What are your clients like?
JC: My clients are usually people who collect fine art, and are interested in design and in furniture as art. They range from celebrities to people with a heightened sensibility for how finer things enhance lives.
WB: What is your personal space like style wise?
JC: Kind of a clean, ‘70s style – the ‘70s high style as that is the period of my youth. My home is decorated with good ‘70s furniture and Italian chandeliers. It’s not too cluttered; it’s homey and simple.
My office is now global style, but my spaces change often. I vacillate between a Victorian clutter and a monastic simplicity. I am now in a period of trying to declutter; I don’t want to be around too many objects. We’ll see how that unfolds.
Righty or lefty?
Drinks of choice?
Laughing Man Ethiopian coffee beans, made by drip with whole milk. Cocktail of choice is an Arnold Palmer (and he laughs).
Wild salmon or good Indian food (little on the spicy side).
Favorite food as a child?
Italian chicken cutlets, meatballs and lots of veggies. That’s what I cook for my three kids now.
Favorite local restaurant?
The Odeon, a Tribeca standard. I start with the calamari. For dinner, I have steak frites, and for lunch, a tuna burger.
Prefer intimate dinners or large gatherings?
Intimate dinners, and I am a pretty good cook.
Favorite dinner music?
I like to cook to Bob Marley, the Beatles and the Allman Brothers Band. Last night I made baby bok choy, sweet potatoes, snap peas, quinoa and broiled wild salmon. For dinner music, I prefer Beethoven piano sonatas, the middle to late period.
Most memorable dinner to date?
This may surprise people. I was flying to Vienna first-class on Austrian Airlines, and they served a five-course meal. The chef, Kurt Gutenbrunner, owns Blaue Gans and Wallse in downtown New York City. The wines, everything was perfect.
If you could have dinner with anyone from your past, who would it be?
My grandparents because I miss them.
If you could have dinner with anyone living, who would it be?
Oh, with the Dalai Lama. I imagine we’d have an amazing vegetarian meal in a fine Indian restaurant.
What do you do for exercise?
I am a walker because I find walking so meditative. Sometimes I ride bikes with my kids. I have a few wonderful vintage motorcycles, but I ride a Vespa for commuting.
If you could cook for anyone, who would it be?
My kids and their friends.
Joe Carini supports the Dalai-La Nepal Earthquake Relief. To make a donation visit www.gofundme.com/uszyf4