Squeezing in a game of billiards in the back of his 5,000-square-foot Mount Laurel showroom, Richard Rothstein offers an observation. “If you were cool and hip in 1780, this is the thing you would own,” he says, gesturing toward an Oriental rug. “And my generation seems to have lost that.”
Wearing fashionable jeans, a button-down shirt and a baseball cap, Rothstein is hardly the archetypal vision of an antique rug dealer. Just 43, he’s the married father of three school-aged children—who, he concedes, give functionality priority over design in the family’s Haddonfield home.
But he’s also a lifelong student of antiques, one whose passion for the decorative arts has made his business, Rothstein and Co., the housewares dealer of choice for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, John Simpson (architect for Queen Elizabeth and Buckingham Palace) and White House designer Michael Smith. Former Flyer Derian Hatcher’s South Jersey house was outfitted thanks to Rothstein’s keen eye, while current team member Chris Pronger and wife Lauren decorated their Haddonfield home with items from his collection. There are plenty of other high-profile clients, too, who prefer to remain anonymous.
“It’s certainly great to have plasma TVs and season tickets to the Eagles,” Rothstein says. “But there’s something to be said for fine furnishing.”
His own unique mash-up of modern sensibilities and classic tastes undoubtedly contribute to Rothstein’s success as a dealer of antique rugs, as well as of needlepoint pillows, antique furnishings and wall décor including hand-carved girandole mirrors and Bellamy wall sconces, all derivative of 18th- and 19th-century designs. It’s a distinctive taste, but Rothstein preempts any misconceptions about how a room adorned with these items needs to read.
“Owning one of these pieces doesn’t mean a space needs to look like George Washington’s living room,” he insists. “I don’t sell anything that can be categorized as ‘modernism,’ no. But keep in mind that the Federal era led to Classical, which led to Neoclassical, which led to Victorian and then [the] Arts and Crafts movement.” Antique rugs and furnishings, then, can fit in among—complement, even—any one of the styles that descended from the Federal era, or for that matter, styles that don’t.
“Half of my business is regionally based; the other half is from out of town,” Rothstein says. Most of his handmade decorative pillows are sold by way of his website, NeedlepointPillows.com.
His specialty rugs are similarly split: Many are original antique Orientals, meaning they date back to the 19th or, at latest, early 20th century. Displayed alongside these genuine antiques on the walls and floor of the showroom, though, are upscale re-creations—available exclusively through Rothstein, who works with a group of weavers in Azerbaijan, the ancient carpet-weaving center of Eurasia, to secure them.
“I started off calling the re-creations ‘replications,’” he explains, “but stopped doing that, because they’re not copies. They’re re-creations. We’re re-creating the rugs and producing them the exact same way they were made hundreds of years ago—with the same materials, methods, techniques and traditions.”
His relationship with the descendants of Azerbaijan’s early rug weavers started some 13 years ago, when he and wife Katrina set out to decorate their Haddonfield residence. Baffled by their inability to find a convergence of quality and design, he turned to historians and experts, who led him to the small group of Eurasian weavers that are using hand-spun wool and all-natural dyes indigenous to the region to create Oriental floor coverings that, to the untrained eye, are indistinguishable from the originals.
“Today, 99 percent of new Oriental rugs come from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Historically, though, those are not places that made Oriental rugs,” Rothstein says.
For all his enthusiasm and knowledge, Rothstein was at first reluctant to enter into the antiques industry—the residue of growing up in his Lexington, Mass., childhood home, in which you “couldn’t paint with a paint roller, because there were no paint rollers in the 19th century.” While friends vacationed in Disney World, the Rothstein family visited Sotheby’s, he recalls. And weekends were spent scouring antique shops for the perfect find.
“Some fathers are into golf, others are into Mustangs. My father was into antiques,” he explains. “I didn’t go to Red Sox games, but I did help my father dye trim in the sink for the drapes.
“The truth is, I didn’t like it very much. In fact, I resented it. There were times I felt like my parents’ interests took precedence over other things.”
But absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder, and it was only after he’d moved to the Philadelphia region to attend the University of Pennsylvania that Rothstein gained an appreciation for the things of his youth.
“My sister jokes I didn’t develop a very good curveball growing up, but did develop a highly developed aesthetic in terms of understanding design and American decorative arts,” quips Rothstein.
Still, Rothstein has other interests. Among them, he’s an aspiring screenwriter, who worked on the 1997 film Fallen and is still represented by the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. But in his showroom, he saw an opportunity for his inherited taste and artistic eye to converge.
“I still write. I’ve written a lot on spec. But this,” he says, referring to his showroom, “this is also a love; it’s what I grew up with. It’s not a family business, but a family passion.”
He knows the price point isn’t for everyone: Re-creations start at $80 per square foot, while antique rugs can range into the six figures depending on size, design, materials, rarity and condition. But for those capable of the investment, he promises a product whose value goes beyond basic math.
“If you buy a great pair of shoes, they can be re-soled … they last longer. The same is true of furniture. If you buy a good rug, it’s going to outlast the people that walk on it. There’s intrinsic value there.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (November, 2011).
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