From A Kensington Attic To Sotheby’s – An Incredible Rug Cleaning Story

updated: 25/01/2024

Large Persian woollen rug with floral motives

Embarking on an epic cleaning journey in Kensington, a seasoned carpet cleaner discovers more than just an old rug. A cryptic call leads him to a stately residence in a tale woven with mystery and heritage, unveiling an ancient Persian carpet steeped in history. He navigates the delicate task of restoring the priceless relic with precision and reverence, only to find that the rug is far more valuable than imagined.

Nestled in the heart of the city, Kensington’s inimitable aura holds something quintessentially “Londonish”. Its streets are a pleasant mixture of history, culture, and elegance. As a seasoned carpet cleaner, I’ve traversed these fabled paths for years, cultivating an enduring affection for the borough. Among its treasures lie not just grand residences and iconic landmarks but also quaint cafes, bustling bars, and restaurants where locals and visitors alike gather to relish moments that define the essence of London’s W8 living.

Ah, mornings in Kensington possess a certain allure, and there’s no better way to start the day than with a sumptuous breakfast at The Orangery. The ambience is enchanting, with sunlight streaming through grand windows, casting a golden hue over the elegant decor. Sitting amidst this refined setting, I relished a delightful breakfast – a classic order of Eggs Benedict and a freshly brewed flat white. The velvety hollandaise sauce draped over perfectly poached eggs atop toasted English muffins, while the aroma of artisanal coffee intertwined with the delicate flavours, creating a culinary symphony. What a bliss (cue a delightful sigh)!

The Curious Call from Kensington and a Cryptic Request

The day was like any other in Kensington, steeped in the routines of inspecting, cleaning, and preserving the borough’s cherished rugs. However, amidst the familiar humdrum, a peculiar ring pierced through the monotony of my workday. As I answered the call, a voice tinged with intrigue, and a hint of urgency crackled through the speaker.

“Good morning! How may I assist you today?” I greeted the caller in my customary professional tone.

“Yes, good morning,” a female voice greeted me with clearly discernible undertones of barely hidden excitement. “I have an urgent matter that requires your expertise. A rug, you see, but it may be something more.”

Intrigued, I leaned forward, my curiosity piqued. “Please, do tell me more.”

“It’s an old Persian rug if I am not mistaken,” the voice continued a mystery note lacing each word. “I need a professional cleaner to come and assess it. Urgently. I need to know if it can be restored and if it has any value.”

The cryptic nature of the request ignited my curiosity further. “Of course, ma’am. I can definitely help you with a cleaning evaluation, although a value assessment may be out of my expertise. But I can certainly point you to another professional if it comes to that.”

The Antique Persian Wool Rug

I quickly finished my breakfast and headed for the provided address – an apartment in a terraced house at Campden Hill Road. I knew the area well – it was green and leafy, with the quiet self-confidence of old money. I had barely parked my minivan when the front door opened, and a short, lively lady in her early forties waved hello. “Hello, my name is Lisa. We spoke on the phone. Please, come in.”

Lisa quickly told me that she and her husband had bought an apartment in the aristocratic-looking, brick terraced house a few weeks ago. Each apartment came with a miniature attic, which was supposed to be emptied by the previous owner – or so the estate agent had assured them. “Don’t get me wrong, the attic was not messy in any way, but we did find this”, and she pointed me to the living room. 

Spread across the floor of the brightly lit room lay an intricate tapestry, a Persian wool rug whose sheer beauty held me spellbound. Its hues, reminiscent of a sunset over the Caspian Sea, seamlessly blended crimson, azure, and gold in an ethereal dance of colours. The meticulously handwoven patterns depicted age-old tales of Persian mythology, each thread recounting its own narrative.

It didn’t take an expert to recognise a masterpiece – and I was staring at one. But for all its beauty and potential value, the rug was in a pitiful condition. 

Large Persian woollen rug with floral motives
Image Source: Wikipedia

Restoring the Time-Worn Masterpiece

Upon closer inspection, the once-resplendent Persian rug bore the marks of long neglect. Dust particles had nestled deeply within the intricate weave, almost becoming one with the wool fibres. Subtle stains from forgotten spills marred the rug’s vibrant hues. Its fringes, worn and frayed, spoke volumes of footfalls from generations past. Neglect had cast a shadow over its magnificence, yet within its aged threads lay a legacy waiting to be revitalised.

Assessment and Preparation

I carefully unfurled the rug, allowing its patterns to unfold like chapters of an ancient tale. A meticulous examination revealed areas of vulnerability where the delicate fibres bore the brunt of time’s erosion. Using a blend of specialised dry solvents, I targeted the ingrained dust particles, coaxing them to release their grasp from within the fibres.

Precision Cleaning Techniques

Armed with industry-grade equipment and a profound understanding of the rug’s composition, I embarked on the intricate cleansing task. Employing low-moisture extraction methods and pH-balanced cleansing solutions tailored for wool, I meticulously navigated the surface, coaxing each fibre to relinquish the burden of accumulated dirt and stains. The controlled application of moisture ensured that it did not saturate the delicate wool and lifted years of grime without compromising the rug’s integrity.

Fringe Restoration and Drying

Addressing the fringes, weathered by time’s touch, demanded delicate precision. Carefully securing the loose threads, I combed and trimmed the fringes, restoring their original finesse. Post-cleaning the rug embarked on a phase of meticulous drying. Employing specialised air movers and dehumidifiers, I ensured a controlled environment, safeguarding against fibre distortion and preserving the rug’s shape.

Final Inspection

As the rug lay dried and rejuvenated, I carried out one final inspection. Each pattern once covered in dust, now showed its true bright colours. A gentle yet thorough brushing restored its natural lustre. A protective stain protection treatment was delicately applied, safeguarding the rug against future soiling without altering its inherent beauty. 

Lisa stood next to me, speechless. “I knew it was a beautiful piece, but I never imagined it would be so magnificent”, she finally uttered. “But I don’t think we can keep it. It should belong to someone who will appreciate its beauty. But how do you find a buyer for such a gem?”

“I think I may know the right person”, I interjected and took the phone out of my pocket. My friend Henry works as a carpet and rug assessment specialist for Sotheby’s – if someone could put a price tag on the rug, it was him. 

The Shock – Assessing The Wool Treasure

I took Henry to meet Lisa the next day, and when he entered the room, he stopped dead in his tracks. “Dear God! Where did you find it?” When he heard the story, Henry could only shake his head. “I am willing to bet my right hand that we are looking at a late-17th or early-18th-century wool rug produced in Isfahan. The style and the mastery fit the period, although it will need further inspection. If I were to speculate, I would say the rug was initially purchased in India, where the Persian carpets were immensely popular. To answer your question before you have asked it – you are looking at a treasure. Easily a high five-figure sale, under certain circumstances, it may go for six figures.”

Lisa and I gasped. Who could have thought an excited phone call during breakfast would end up at Sotheby’s? 

PS: Lisa and her husband decided to hire Henry as a consultant, and he ran the auctioning process for them. In the end, they pocketed a 6-figure sum for the wool rug that carelessly laid in their attic. 

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.