Let’s get Intimate w/Jürgen Dahlmanns
Let’s get Intimate w/Jürgen Dahlmanns

Let’s get Intimate w/Jürgen Dahlmanns

Platitudes have already been written about Rug Star, its outgoing and buoyant bon vivant founder Jürgen Dahlmanns, and the critically acclaimed and award winning carpets which bear the individually hand signed ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ of this now iconic carpet house. To belabour and restate any of his accolades would be to do a disservice to a man who, not unlike myself, sees the world through an intellectual eye that imparts a high degree of emotional context to his work. Unlike The Ruggist however, Mr. Dahlmanns enjoys several of the the benefits of his Teutonic origins. Brevity and efficiency drive his creative process, distilling the inspiration(s), the emotion(s), the reason(s) for being into concise and well formed carpet designs that, while still conveying the notion that ‘Beauty is Beauty’ do so without being overly heady. Punctuality is another trait for which all Germans are known, and sadly one The Ruggist, while appreciating when the train runs precisely as scheduled, is wont to forgo, in its stead favouring my own region’s far more casual approach to punctuality. It is under these circumstances of clashing ideas of ‘on time’ that after several years of email correspondence, I had the distinct pleasure of formally meeting Jürgen Dahlmanns, his staff, friends, customers, former lovers, and the like. Join me now as I get intimate with Jürgen!

‘White Monkey Ephos’ shown in situ as part of Rug Star’s ‘Intimacy Berlin’ photography series. ‘White Monkey Ephos’ is an early design of Jürgen Dahlmanns that was shown in colour for the first time at DOMOTEX 2016. | Image courtesy of Rug Star

Even after joking just the day before about  the need to be punctual when meeting a German, I found myself twenty (20) minutes late to my interview with Jürgen. ‘You are late. We had an appointment at nine (9)’ he begins in a tone that is an endearing blend of statement, mild displeasure, and concern. The impression of concern sticks with me most as I can tell Jürgen was genuinely excited to be talking with me about his carpets, and now, perhaps due to time limitations, may not be able to. ‘I’m very sorry’ I begin with no reason other than a laissez faire attitude toward punctuality as my defence. A few more quick exchanges of formal pleasantries to discuss scheduling and the imaginary crisis is averted. We’ll talk, I’ll observe clients, we’ll talk further later in the show. Done!

‘Eden Big Bird Head’ shown in situ as part of Rug Star’s ‘Intimacy Berlin’ photography series. Naked Jürgen optional. | Image courtesy of Rug Star

‘Now that I am turning fifty (50) next year…’ Jürgen says, one of the many times he would remind me of his age as if to humble brag about his age and time defying genes. ‘Now that I am turning fifty (50) next year I feel family is now more important to me than ever before.’ For those without the cultural background to decipher the inherent meaning of ‘family’ in this context, a bit of history. For gay men (and obviously others, but I speak from shared experience with Jürgen) of a certain age there is, for a long list of reasons best left for another day, the concept of family being not just those you are born and related to – your given family, but also those with whom you choose to associate – your chosen family. ‘He is my oldest friend’ Jürgen says while gesturing toward two (2) men working on the other side of his carpet stand. One is, I am guessing, of the right age to be an old friend, whereas Daniil certainly is not. Either that or Jürgen doesn’t have many long term friends, but I digress. The latter obviously is not true as I am later introduced to Damir, another well seasoned friend and former lover. Everything at Rug Star is about the connections, the emotions, persevering, and much like Jürgen’s design ethos, about ‘not being more ugly as it ages but more beautiful.’

‘I built a world from this wreckage.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, Dithyrambs of Dionysus.

‘So, ask me a question!’ Jürgen says with an imperative tone. ‘There are no real questions’ I reply. ‘I like to listen and observe, let you tell me what you want to tell me, but if you insist.’ I say coyly as I hit him with one of my few prepared questions. ‘You trained as an Architect, yet here you are as a very successful rug designer, how did that happen?’ We’re standing in front of a carpet from his ‘Embrace Me’ series which he has just explained is a ‘study in self-reflection and the beauty of destruction, contrasting beauty and destruction’. Jürgen further cautions ‘we must be careful’ when exploring the relationship between the two (2), he said partially referring to the carpet, but also philosophically to life. ‘When I was a young man I was in this relationship that ended with the death of my former lover due to HIV.’ he says, as note taking on my part suddenly becomes far less important. ‘We were together throughout my twenties and during the time I was studying to become an Architect. He died around the time I became an Architect and though I was young and successful, managing large projects such as the Vienna MuseumsQuartier, I was not fully happy. How could I honour his life, if I was not living a life I was happy with?’ he asks in a slightly rhetorical manner. So it was that at the age of thirty-five (35), four (4) years after the death of his love and at the beginning of a promising career as an Architect, Jürgen changed his life and turned his apparently boundless energy toward carpets.

It’s not as though this was an abrupt change however, more a realization that to be truly happy in life, one must follow ones heart and passion – if we are permitted to use that overly chichéd do-what-you-love sentimentality. Jürgen first visited Nepal on a trek in his early twenties and – like many others – in doing so, saw his first Tibetan weave carpet, fell in love with the work, the people, and ‘the handicraft’ of it, he says. Though the literal translation of the german ‘Handwerk’ might be more apt at describing weaving carpets in a modern context, the inherent beauty embodied in something made by hand is what brings Jürgen’s past architecture training and enduring carpet ‘addiction’ as he likes to say, together. ‘As an Architect I realized people are symbolized by their homes, and that handicraft is the best solution to bring family together and foster connections. We need handicraft so that some people can simply be and so that others may have.’ he says with the overt implication that all of this – in broad intellectual terms – is interconnected. ‘Carpets are for families, for places to stay. They [carpets] give rooms atmosphere and light, and I wanted to be part of it.’ he says reflecting on his impetus for creating rugs. ‘Rug Star is like a family, once it was started you cannot leave.’

Several seconds of silence now pass in that slight awkwardness of conversation when suddenly Jürgen says ‘I have to pee!’ and so needing to urinate myself, err rather, also needing to urinate, I say ‘I’ll join you.’ as we continue talking and joking as we walk through the halls. ‘What do you think of these carpets?’ he asks me as we approach another stand. Wondering if he is ‘testing’ me, I explain my like of the carpets via some eloquently nuanced statement that attempts to mask my love/hate relationship with the marketing of high end, luxury, upmarket wares. Jürgen interjects, condensing my ramblings, ‘Don’t sell status, sell beauty.’ I nod in agreement exclaiming ‘Exactly!!’ as if we’ve both just discovered air.

Languishing on a single subject or taking a long time on a given task are not personality traits of Mr. Dahlmanns. This becomes apparent as we’re walking and talking, jumping topic to topic, discussing how the aforementioned Daniil – who designed the Rug Star ‘Heart’ Rug – had taken much longer to colour the ‘Eco’ version of it than perhaps Jürgen would have done himself. ‘I like to do things, get them done, and move on.’ he says. ‘Heart’ which won the ‘Best Modern Design Deluxe’ Carpet Design Award in 2015 is the key motif of the the concept ‘God is abstract.’ Geometric shapes represent the main themes of life, with the ‘Heart’ rug symbolizing the pursuit of love; a concept Jürgen holds most dear. ‘All is love.’ he says as our excursion ends and we return to his stand.

‘Heart 01 Eco Colouration’ shown. Heart (in a different colouration) won the Carpet Design Awards in 2015 for Best Modern Design Deluxe. | Image courtesy of Rug Star
‘One day I will be a father.’ he says, again reminding me that he will soon be fifty (50). ‘Now that I have once again found love, I think about being a family, about having a child.’ I interrupt him for moment to ask some cursory details about his new love, sensing in him – or perhaps projecting – the same interest in younger men I possess. ‘How old is he?’ I ask, and then in rebuttal to his reply conclude ‘Good for you!!’ with a wink and a pat on the shoulder. At this point I am a little lost for words said The Ruggist never, and so I’ll pretend to resort to the only question left in my prepared repertoire: ‘So is this desire for family, and enduring values, and love what inspired you to produce this new photography series ‘Intimacy Berlin’? ‘Oh yes!’ Jürgen begins, ‘I wanted to show carpets in real homes, with people’s real things. We visit the homes of friends [whom he later adds have been most generous in allowing him into their homes and for whom he is very grateful] and I get an idea of which carpets I would like to use in their home. We then arrange for the shoot, show up and for one day take over their house. I forbid my friends from cleaning before we arrive. You get to know a lot about people when you have to handle their dirty laundry.’ he says in a literal sense, but also with the tacit acknowledgment of his philosophical good/evil, learn from your experiences approach to life.

Veracity and authenticity thusly describe the ‘Intimacy Berlin’ series of photographs of which ‘Eden Big Bird Head’ as shown above, is a part and which makes its global début here on The Ruggist. ‘So did you have to bring in things to stage the homes you are shooting?’ I ask, having been part of many a shelter publication photoshoot in which everything is staged and nothing is as it really is on a daily basis. ‘Oh yes. Of course we have to style the objects. Move things around, make it look just so. But we don’t bring in anything except the carpets.’ Jürgen clarifies. ‘It’s about showing carpets in real family situations.’

‘Circle 01 Cream on Red’ shown in situ as part of Rug Star’s ‘Intimacy Berlin’ photography series. | Image courtesy of Rug Star
Everything about the ‘Intimacy Berlin’ series is appealing to me. Real authentic places – as much as those exist, used to showcase the exceptional range of work of a true carpet addict, set in a city I fondly love, with a range of objets d’art and tchotchke suitably eccentric enough to endear even the most die hard critic. Beyond the haughty philosophical mumbo jumbo however is the decidedly – though not original – beneficial sales aspect. By amassing a comprehensive collection of in situ images of his carpets, styled by the man himself, Rug Star is creating a wonderful sales tool to compliment the quality of his carpets. No longer must a would be client (or their designer) need wonder if a Rug Star carpet is right for them. When they can see a variety of spaces, some of which may resonate very personally with them and their family, they are better able to realize that the crazy ‘Big Bird Head’ (with or without naked Jürgen) might just actually be for them. Whether this photography is used in direct advertising, as showroom sales materials, or as fodder for a future monograph, the benefits are certainly apparent.
‘Brain Turquoise Abrash’ from Rug Star is a favourite of The Ruggist. But do the brains go on the right or on the left? Discuss! | Image courtesy of Rug Star
Looking around the Rug Star booth Jürgen and I continue chatting about a variety of topics not fully related to rugs and carpets. I tell him a bit about myself and my life, how my own failings personally and professionally really, if you’ll pardon the language, fucked up my life for a bit too long. He asks about my boyfriend and how we met. Then, with a bit of wisdom advises that ‘Some boxes are better left unopened’ as if The Ruggist has the ability to curb his curiosity enough to avoid such entrapments. ‘This carpet really speaks to me’ I say in an effort to avoid discussing pitfalls while looking at ‘Brain’ in Turquoise Abrash. ‘I love the field colour and texture, and I really enjoy the way the brain motifs appear to be screen printed onto the rug. But as for this…’ said while gesturing toward another carpet, ‘the design is beautiful, and I think the blue colouration is more striking, but it’s not for me.’

‘You can question my designs, but you cannot question the quality.’ he says as we look more closely at the carpet. It’s hand soft and inviting. ‘I make the product, that is my part.’ The rest of course is up to consumers, clients, friends and family and anyone with an appreciation for Jürgen’s work to buy into his ideals and aesthetic. They must also further realize that handicraft is not just about making recherché luxury items for western families to have, but also about providing a way for eastern families to simply be. ‘All is love’ and we’re all in this together.

The Ruggist wishes to personally thank Herr Jürgen Dahlmanns for his time during DOMOTEX and for providing ‘Eden Big Bird Head’ w/Naked Jürgen for exclusive premier here on The Ruggist. Special thanks to Rug Star’s staff for their quick and timely assistance with photography. – All images courtesy of Rug Star by Jürgen Dahlmanns.