For three months, local intrepid stylist and travel blogger Kaspia, will be transforming Sydney’s Yellow House into a pop-up shop and gallery. In collaboration with Afghan Interiors, the pop-up shop, Kaspia’s Caravan, will feature a unique collection of tribal homewares, … Continue reading
kaspia’s caravan: Before we set off on our next adventure this Friday, I have to share a prop-up shop my beautiful friend Kaspia has created. Kaspia’s Caravan is now open and jam-packed full of the most stunning pieces hand picked … Continue reading
Kaspia’s Caravan pop-up shop. KASPIA’S Caravanis the intriguing name of a new pop-up exhibition at Sydney’s Yellow House. The “hippie era” Potts Point venue was renowned in the 1970s as a “living” gallery (including walls, ceilings and doors) for an … Continue reading
Kaspia’s Caravan… What a beginning to 2015, for all of us… much energy moving around, can you feel it? Old energy moving out, new energy moving in, big changes in the air. I have many thoughts on it that I’d … Continue reading
Here is a tour of Kaspia’s last pop-up shop at Sydney’s famous Yellow House. You’ll have to come in to the new Kaspia’s Caravan in person to see the current shop, it’s for your eyes only!
Caravan of Furniture
The Swat Valley in Pakistan has become famous for all the wrong reasons of late. It’s a pity because this area of northern Pakistan is a natural paradise of lush forests, fruit orchards and glades covered in flowers during summer. The air is crisp and the surrounding peaks are stunning. While nature and the hospitality of Swat’s inhabitants should make it famous, it could just as well be the wood carving.
The traditional social role of the wood-carver in Swat is recounted in a folk tale about a ‘carpenter prince’, the son of a Swati king who wanted nothing more than to learn carpentry. He ignored his family’s expectation to engage in a more princely interest, such as gemstones. But he insisted on learning to carve wood and was exiled by his father. But soon, due to conflict (something Swat Valley is not unaccustomed to!) the king and his family flee. They become penniless, wandering about. One day they came across a marvellous carved wooden house whose owner proves to be the exiled son. The king admitted then that perhaps learning a trade like wood carving was not so bad a plan after all!
Chests & Trunks
Our recent container from Pakistan contained a beautiful collection of carved wooden chests from the carpenters of Swat Valley. It is not easy getting up to those parts recently, threats from extremist militants remains high. My business partner Michael Prato is one of the few men daring enough to go shopping among the carpenters of Swat nowadays, although I can’t wait to get back there myself. The risks involved in sourcing in that area makes these vintage wooden chests all the more special and rare. Indeed, these trunks are all decades old and have stories of survival and wonder etched into the wood. Swat Valley families historically store their valuables in these chests and take them wherever they move. It’s tradition in Pakistan (and indeed around the whole of Central and South Asia) for a family to keep their possessions in a chest. But in the Swat these chests are truly amazing! We have several at our home and I think they look stunning when cleaned up and bees waxed.
Swati chests are distinctive and cannot be sourced elsewhere. Look for the pieces which use no nails, some of the oldest pieces available. The carving ranges from the naïf to highly detailed motifs. These motifs have been handed down over centuries. The selection of eight chests/trunks at Kaspia’s Caravan are all different sizes and shapes with their own unique carving. You can choose to keep them rustic as they come, or we can clean them up and stain them to bring out their rich beauty.Prices range from $250
Camel leather chairs
There are several vintage Swat Valley chairs left and each is at least 30 years old and in impeccable shape. The intricately carved backrests are great examples of the Swati aesthetic. All their camel leather ties are in good condition and these also look superb when stained. If they don’t sell, I’m keeping them!
Charpoy rope beds
Within a week we have sold all but two of our popular Pakistani rope beds known and charpoys. We have one outside our own house in Birchgrove and recline on it all the time with our children. Pakistanis (and Indians for that matter) are experts at making beautiful beds like this. We have some lush mattresses and bolsters for these too so you can really feel like you’re an Ottoman emperor! The only charpoy we have left is an vintage one, my favourite, woven with durable camel hide and stained. It looks superb. Moreover, this particular charpoy was used in Russell Crowe’s directorial debut ‘The Water Diviner’, out now at a cinema near you! Price $1200
We have just two of these lovely coffee tables left in stock, and I never realised just how incredible they look on a nice tribal rug or wooden floor boards. At our home we have one of these, in our lounge room, and it’s just the perfect height and shape, the design details adding an irresistible orientalist charm to the room. We can arrange for these to be stained too, if you’d like to bring out the character of the wood.
Antique Doors & Arches
The carpentry tradition of the Swat Valley does not stop at furniture. In fact, the first carpenters were more interested in making doors and window arches look as fancy as they could. Many of these old buildings are falling down, and we are doing our bit to prevent these marvellous works of art being used as fire wood. I can’t tell you just how spectacular these doors and window frames look once they are beautifully stained. Let’s just say, if you have the space, come in and choose the best one before they all sell out. These doors and frames make for stunning display pieces in a spacious and beautiful home.
Balinese Day Bed
What can I say about this day bed apart from ‘I want it!’. Here is the ultimate in bohemian luxury, a four-poster day bed from Bali. I’ve had incredible fun making and decorating this bed every day in the shop. It is truly stunning, so much so that I’ve made it the centre piece of the whole place. Heap up pillows, hang flower tendrils from the cross beams, this bed has a thousand possibilities. It can easily be taken apart and reassembled in your villa. Bring a bit of tropical luxury to your home. Or, as my husband often says, ‘Live life like a holiday!’
Many people have asked me about the beautiful dining room table we have on which we display our wares. Yes, it’s for sale. But moreover, our friend Geoff Belanger, a Canadian/Australian carpenter and paramedic who works with my husband Benjamin, is the man behind this. His talent is unsurpassed and he has got the most incredible wood, sourced from the roof of the old Tempe tram sheds in Sydney. This is Douglas Fir wood, which made up the Tempe tram sheds for 100 years and was, prior to that, 500-600 year old trees on the Pacific North West Coast of North America. It is very special wood that Geoff uses and he can make you something out of the same. He custom builds furniture at reasonable prices and I don’t know how he does it, but everything he makes kind of glows. Table price $3200
There’s plenty of fun to be had on the road with children in Cuba. Crumbling aquarium visits, strolls through the vibrant streets and long rides in cycle rickshaws. But, more than anything else, we came to Cuba for the music. And the music’s here, everywhere. No street is silent. Mambos and cha chas and son cubano emanates from every nook and cranny. Havana sweats rhythm. And those sounds are what we want Paloma and Romeo to appreciate as much as we do.
Stopping at the Hotel Sevilla in downtown Havana for another refreshing Cuba Libre, a band is playing beside a fountain in the corner of a chequered courtyard. Paloma and Romeo dance and play hide and seek behind the double bass and conga drums. We watch them and when our drinks come we make a toast to the band and throw some coins in a hat that’s passed around. Afterwards, we befriend the guitarist who has the most encouraging name, Jesus, and invites us around to tea. How can we say no to Jesus?
Later, in the modest home of Jesus and his wife and daughter who is slightly younger than Paloma, my husband Ben proposes that Jesus and Paloma record a version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. A Bossa Nova, he says. Bossa is not Cuban, but Ben’s obsessed with it and Jesus plays it all the time and agrees. As for Paloma, Twinkle Twinkle is ‘too easy, Mum’.
Within a day or so we’re in the home studio of Carlos, a friend of Jesus, to record the song. Paloma is a little shy at first, but it’s not long until she’s got the whole way through the song and we’re cruising home in another ’59 Chevvy after paying Carlos with a large bottle of vintage Havana Club. It’s gone so well we decide to come back and do a whole album, or at least another song! Ben is already composing an original piece.
So here, for starters, is our 4 yo daughter singing the ‘Twinkle Twinkle Bossa Nova’ we recorded in Old Havana. There’s always fun to be had on the road with your children. You are only ever limited by your imagination.
You are what you wear. While my specialty and training is in jewellery, I don’t think it’s possible to love jewellery without loving fashion too. It’s all about adornment and wherever I have travelled I have been inspired by local fashions. Maybe except for the neo-gypsies of Macedonia who prefer Adidas tracksuits to the old spangled skirts! Whether its nomadic dresses found on the Pakistani frontier or Mexican village dresses, if it catches my eye and looks good when I try it on, then it joins my collection. Here are some of my finds that are for sale for the first time in Kaspia’s Caravan.
Kuchi Wedding Dresses
Let’s give you the most spectacular fashions in our shop first. Because it’s a nice day for a white wedding, er, I mean, nice day for a crazy-psychedelic-gold-glitter-spangled wedding! Afghan style. Makes our wedding fashions look just a little dull, don’t you think? Gone are your preconceptions of conservative Afghans! This collection of Kuchi wedding dresses we have had in our house for over a decade which we first uncovered in the Peshawar bazaar, some in 2001 and some around 2007. The Kuchi are mainly nomadic peoples, although other clans also wear equally colorful robes for weddings. I remember seeing many a flash of sequins in the headlights passing through Afghan refugee camps south of Peshawar back in 2001. These dresses, each unique, has the finest beadwork and embroidery with silvery thread. There are medallions individually made and attached and there are sequins and bright vintage fabrics, all woven into these collectible pieces of amazing character and beauty. Kuchi wedding dresses I think look most stunning on the wall, hung as we have done. Or, perhaps, you could just ditch the whites and get married in one of these! Prices range from $300 to $700.
Sindhi Wedding Dresses
We have just a couple of these amazing dresses left in our collection. Both are from the Sindh area of Southern Pakistan and both are made from vintage and some antique fabrics, such as old trade fabrics. Many are embroidered with tiny mirrors. You will see similar work on dresses worn by tribal women who roam the desert in Gujarat, India. This is because the Rann of Kutch is divided by the India / Pakistan border. The people of Sindh also produce amazing textiles, like the rali blankets and throws we have, many in luminous patchworks. What I love about the Sindhi dresses are that they are not just worn for weddings, but equally for fetching water from the well or milking the buffalo! And people accuse me of over-dressing…. Prices range from $600 – $700
Guatemalan Embroidered Tops
Around Lake Atitlan in central Guatemala are small villages and each has it’s own unique customs and style of dress. A few months ago we spent many days crossing the lake in public boats visiting each village to check out the unique embroidered tops the women wear. In some villages they fancied fabulous hand-embroidered birds around the neckline, others preferred a string of rainbow flowers. These tops look truly amazing on, either with a belt or worn as is, which is how I prefer them, much like a poncho. We brought back just eight of them, each carefully selected by me on the banks of Lake Atitlan. These are no doubt the only eight tops like this in Australia. So they won’t last long. I suggest you come down as soon as you can and take your pick of the best one to wow people with this summer. Prices range from $120 – $250
Shawls are worn by just about every culture worldwide. In much of Central Asia shawls are worn by both men and women. In India, Pakistan & Afghanistan shawls and blankets are the equivalent of jackets and coats for many men, keeping them snug in vicious winters. For the mountains, all you need is a warm shawl and you’ll survive, inshallah! From many trips to India and Pakistan we have a selection of yummy cotton and wool shawls and blankets. Most recently, in Guatemala, we picked up some beautiful green, pink and blue hand woven shawls we saw the women making on town verandahs, the loom held between their knees. Their use of tassels and silver and gold thread woven into the mix tempted us to bring some home. Kaspia’s Caravan has a wide selection of amazing shawls from around the world. Prices range from $25 – $55
Love my husband in one of these. He looks dangerous. These pure wool hats are the traditional winter hat of Afghans, at least those who want to leave their turbans at home for the day. They are super warm and comfy, contrary to what it looks like and what Hollywood does in ‘orientalist’ films, the edges of the Pakol hats are not rolled down. I have included a picture here of how they should be worn. While not many women in Afghanistan or Pakistan wear these hats, they do look equally amazing on ladies. Sydney female fashionistas have been the best customers of the Pakol hat since we opened. We’ve got a few snow white Pakols which look grand, almost regal, like a soft crown. And if you’re heading for the hills, remember to ‘pack a Pakol’! Colours brown & white $25
It’s written in both history books and fairytales. A lady needs a cushion. Always.
But one is never enough. No. Nothing less than a dozen, thank you very much. At Kaspia’s Caravan (pictured above) you’ll find some delicious cushions, some that are just about unattainable anywhere else in this country.
Afghan Saddlebag Cushions
These loomed pile cushions are actually saddlebags for horses, donkeys and camels that have been split, stuffed and sewn up. They are extremely soft and luxurious and considerable handiwork has gone into them. One pillow, or one half of the saddlebag, might take a woman several weeks to make on the loom. Most of these pieces we have in saddle-bag form and if you like a piece we can separate and fill them, leaving you with a matching pair of amazing rug cushions.
Taimani saddlebag cuchions price from $60 – $260
Then there are our great handmade kilim cushions which we have in a host of classic patterns and motifs and in colours ranging from browns, creams and purples to bright pinks and oranges. Yes, you’ll find a pair or a stack to fit your lounge or daybed. Our place is piled high with these kilim cushions and they’re well priced enough to walk out with a dozen, the perfect number of pillows for a lady dreaming of 1001 Arabian Nights.
Kilim cushions priced from $25 – $60
If you’re more entranced by the fine work of Indian and Pakistani embroidered cushions, such as the ‘rali’ or ‘kantha’ pillows, we have a few of these left in our pink textile room. There are severel amazing examples actually, and some vintage pieces, in various sizes. They have all been selected for their bright pop-colours and tassels etc. Those who know me can vouch for the fact I can’t say ‘no’ to the tassel, and neither should you!
Embroidered cushions priced from $60 – $350
For me, rugs are in the same category as literature and art. Rugs are the medium of expression of creative people with stories to tell. Stories of harsh mountainous existence and the ravages of war and the beauty, for example, of Afghanistan’s interior. On my many journeys to remote parts of the world I always look out for rugs because of what they say about the people who live in these locations, their history and their present day, all woven into the carpets. I love that rugs are unique, one off works, some of them created on the loom over a year or more. No single carpet is the same as another. Those who know me know how much I love the transient, fleeting aspects of life. Along with that comes passion for rarity, for things that will never be repeated. A rug is like this, a life woven, documented in moments and motifs. Our rugs are the history books of Central Asia. And all of them I have collected I have selected for both the stories they tell as much as their beauty.
Mick Prato of Afghan Interiors is a carpet expert par excellence with whom I am working and he has more than twenty years experience sourcing amazing rugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan and right up through Uzbekistan (where I also travelled two years ago). I have learned a great deal from Mick already. He will be joining us from January 2nd 2015 for the last month of our pop-up but I already have a fine collection of Afghan Interiors rugs on display in the rug bazaar of our shop.
For this post I will review some of my favourite rugs which we are selling, give you a rough price guide (although do come in a chat about this) and tell you why I love them so!
Senneh kelims are woven by Kurds settled in urban areas in Iran. They use a slit weave technique with cotton warps and the weft is pure wool. The senneh differ greatly from other Kurdish kelims produced in Iran, as they are influenced by Persian and Indian textiles with repeated floral patterns dominating the designs. Most tribal and nomadic Kurdish kelims contain large bold geometric patterns in crazy pastels and the detail give them a kind of washed out, impressionist look that I adore. Looking at these rugs is like looking through fog at a sunrise over a bustling harbour of boats. At least that’s what I see in some of them. In others it’s a forest of fantastical creatures dancing. In fact there are three main designs. First, a repeated floral pattern surrounded by a series of narrow borders; second, a field of small floral motifs contained in a central medallion; and third, a mihrab design mainly found in the prayer rugs which are rarely made by other weavers in Iran. The floral emblems include flowers, vines, stems and leaves. So, there is my fantasy forest!
Senneh price guide $175 – $2700
These a traditional pile rugs and take many months to make. Taimani are one tribe of four tribes known as Chor Aimaq. ‘Chor’ means is four in Persian and ‘Aimaq’ is actually the Mongolian word for nomad. The rest of the four tribes are the Firozkohi, the Jamshidi and the Qala-I-Nau Hazara. The Taimani and the rest are Persian-speaking semi-nomadic people. Some of them are sedentary farmers or traders who move between Herat and Kabul and the inaccessible mountain areas of the Hazarat in central Afghanistan. It’s a harsh life for the carpet maker! But this is their bread and butter. And the Taimani tribe that make these pile weave rugs are yurt dwellers. So long as it’s not too cold, I could quite fancy living in a yurt as we once did in Uzbekistan. The Taimani are distinguished weavers, often borrowing techniques and designs from neighbouring peoples, such as the Balouch. These pile rugs have rougher, longer pile than the neighbouring Balouch, but represent some of the last truly nomadic production in Afghanistan, so are becoming more rare. While the pile might be classified as rough, to me they are the softest rugs we have. Their rich colours are mesmerising and vary from deep purples, reds and oranges to natural creams and browns (see above).
Taimani price guide $400 – $7500
Uzbeks have settled densely in Northern Afghanistan, where they now comprise the majority population, although there are plenty left in Uzbekistan, let me tell you! Maimana, the capital and market town of Faryab province in Afghanistan is the centre of production for a distinctive slit-woven kilim, which uses coarse but durable Hazaragi or Ghilzai wool. Sometimes you can see that horse or goat hair is used in the fringing! Those are my favourite! The women weavers use a palette of earth colours, some of which are natural dyes, although aniline dyes are more common. A number of ancient designs are repeated across the rugs and some of these motifs we have recreated on the wall of our rug bazaar room in the shop. These patterns are often connected to the idea of family and security. Interestingly, the ‘S’ shape patterns are used to ward off the evil eye. While the common ram’s horn patterns are derived from ramparts indicating security of the home.
Maimana price guide $150 – $1400
One of my all-time favourite rugs, and a rug that has graced the living room floor of our place in Birchgrove for the past three years, is the brilliant wool Mushwani. Like many rugs, these are named after the tribe that make them. The mushwani are a displaced Pashtun clan from the eastern Afghanistan now living a semi-nomadic existence in Badghis and Herat provinces. The Mushwani are noted for the production of extremely elaborate and good quality kelims. They employ a variety of techniques such as knotted pile, weft-wrapping, weft-facing and over-embroidery, on the same kelim. And that is exactly what makes these rugs so special! It is hard to see from these photos, but the mushwani’s have a certain three-dimensional look about them due to the raised pile weave among kelim knots. Equally great is the tribe’s use of rich dark blues, purples and reds, sometimes with central designs in ivory. They can be really vibrant. Made from natural wool, these kelims have been made to withstand the rigours of a lifestyle in one of the harshest climates on earth. They are intended to last a lifetime. If our Mushwani still looks stunning after three years with two toddlers running over it, then I’m sure your mushwani will hold up just as well!
Mushwani price guide $750 – $2700
Jallah Khis, or ‘kiss me rugs’ as I like to call them, are flat weave kelims with long shaggy pile woven into them. Lush beyond belief! Afghans use them to sleep on, such is their lushness. Guess you could all it an Afghan mattress. This is not surprising, as the length of the pile can exceed six inches. Kiss me rugs are woven in narrow strips which are sewn together to make larger rugs. They are made by Turkic nomads, which, in the case of Afghanistan, means they are made by Uzbeks and Turkomen tribes, who are mostly based in the north of the country. These same Turkoman tribes make much of our amazing jewellery and really know how to keep these traditional techniques alive. We have several amazing Jallah Khis in our collection, many with really cool seventies browns and oranges as well as more luminous rose pinks. The ‘lozenge’ motif is one of the most ancient designs in existence and is featured on almost all of our kiss rigs. Kiss them!
Jallah khis price guide $350 – $1600
We have two amazing varieties of Moroccan rug in stock. Azilal rugs are from a region of the Atlas Mountains and are woven by Berber woman, mainly for domestic use. The deigns on these rugs are wild and brightly coloured, and I guess you could describe them as both ‘abstract’ and ‘minimalist’ and indeed they are a great example of an ancient technique that look really contemporary. The hanbale wool-on-wool rugs have a more ordered geometry, but with equally bright colours and tassles and sequins. Although they can be used on the floor, just come in and have a look at our one and only hanbale rug and gaze in wonder. You’ll want to hang it up and never take your eyes off it again. Let’s just say if no one buys this in a week, I’m keeping it forever!
Hanbale price guide $1800