There are a select few experts in the world who can walk into a room, flip up the corner of a rug, and say more than “It’s old, woolen, black, and from India.” With more than three decades in the rug business, Evansville native Terry Lewis has become a trusted authority in the trade.
Opening Midwest Carpet Supply in January 1970, Lewis found himself intrigued by the artistic aspect of oriental rugs. “There are only so many beige plushes you can look at until you fall asleep,” he says. That’s one reason he opened The Rug Merchant, a division of his original carpet store, in 1980. The Lincoln Avenue location has been open for 27 years, and with 9,500 square feet of inventory, it has rugs for any budget and purpose.
If carpet is an inexpensive commodity you throw down on anything, Lewis says, rugs are more of a finished product. His wife, Lynne, has been with The Rug Merchant for 15 years. “Rugs are artwork for your floor,” she says. “You want them to mirror your personality and taste, and also (to) make sure they fit your needs.”
Knowing how a rug will perform at what price and quality is essential. “If you’re buying something for a guest bedroom that gets little traffic,” Lewis says, “you’re looking for something entirely different than a rug that will go under your dining room table.” Rugs can be identical when it comes to pattern and color, but what matters is the quality of the weave and material used. Wool, for example, is more expensive, but it has an advantage over synthetic nylons and sealed polypropylene. “Because wool is porous,” Lewis says, “a coffee spill will go through it, as will a cleaning solution.” Lewis has 100-year-old rugs that look as clean as synthetic ones, but that doesn’t mean a good nylon material is better than poor wool. “You have to take the details into perspective,” he says.
You can’t find a rug merchant on every corner, which is something Lewis found out when he started as an apprentice. “I had to search out good rug dealers, and eventually went to New York University for rug studies,” he says. He still does continuing education twice a year with the Oriental Rug Retailers of America in Richmond, Va., and has assisted teaching the appraisal exam for eight years at the rug appraisal school at the Atlanta Market, where rug experts from across the country take tests and seminars to garner their expertise to the point of telling which country, province, and village a particular rug is from.
As one of about 75 certified appraisers in the country, Lewis has the credibility to back up his skills and offers rug repair in his store. “The real way to learn about rugs is to start repairing them,” he says. “If you don’t know how to fix them, you have no business being in the business.” Whether a vacuum cleaner de-fringed a hall runner, or a rug needs restoration, Lewis says he owes it to his customers to take care of their purchases.
The Rug Merchant is located on the East Side at 1019 Lincoln Ave. For more information, call the store at 812-423-2338 or visit www.therugmerchantevansville.com.