When Doug Lay brought home a Persian carpet as a souvenir from a research trip to Iran, he had no idea it would lead to a family business— thriving more than 40 years later. That first, $15 carpet led to a growing interest in hand-knotted oriental rugs, not just for Doug but for his wife, Nelda. Many trips to the Middle East ensued, with the Lays buying carpets for friends as well as themselves.
In 1976, they were asked by a friend to offer their rugs in the corner of an antiques shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Doug was a professor of anatomy in the medical school. “I think we started with 25 rugs,” says Nelda, who runs day-to-day business operations. “Now we have six or seven thousand.” Today, The Persian Carpet works with artisans and designers in India, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Afghanistan, and other countries to produce fine, hand-knotted rugs in wool. They also import antique rugs. “India is our main source right now,” says Doug, who has been visiting the subcontinent every year since 1991. “They’ve been making rugs since Mogul times.”
Nelda and Doug became interested in Arts & Crafts design after attending the annual Arts & Crafts Conference in Asheville. When they realized there were few options for rugs in styles of the period, they launched the Arts & Crafts rug collection.
Initial offerings included copies of English Arts & Crafts textiles and some early “Mission” designs. Although the collection has evolved in the 25 years since, “clients still like the traditional designs,” says Cynthia McLaren, Doug and Nelda’s daughter and the company’s manager of marketing and wholesale. “Some of our earliest patterns have had a resurgence and are becoming very popular again.
“Most people don’t realize how small a company we are—all together, about 10 employees. When people call, they know somebody is going to take care of them.”