Early in 2020, a carpetmaker in India received a design brief for a colossal project that sounded near-impossible: make a hand-tufted rug to cover a floor size of 12,000 square metres.
That’s the size of almost two professional football pitches — which would probably have been easier to cover in carpet because of their simple rectangular shape. But this project was for the Nur Sultan Grand Mosque in Kazakhstan, the biggest in Central Asia and among the largest in the world.
“There were pillars, there were cuts and curves. For handmade, this is a big challenge,” Pranay Patodia, a director at Hands, the luxury carpet manufacturer that made the piece, tells The National.
“It's like a puzzle, one piece goes wrong, and the entire carpet is at stake."
The company was competing with other manufacturers for the Kazakh project. “There were companies from the US, Europe and Thailand,” Patodia says. Three companies were eventually shortlisted — the other two were from China and Turkey — but India’s Hands eventually clinched the bid.
“There came a point when we were the only ones offering both manufacturing and installation,” Patodia says, adding it was the ultimate deciding factor for the client.
A prototype of the carpet — a 110 centimetre x 395cm model with the same design and material — will be on display at Dubai Design Week, which is taking place from November 8 to 13. Hands will also stock pieces from its collections EmpireX and Forma II, which play on asymmetry and irregularity in keeping with contemporary carpet designs.
As for the actual rug, more than 1,000 craftsmen were enlisted to create the carpet in six months. About 80 tonnes of New Zealand wool were spun and dyed for the majestic piece, which weighs 110 tonnes.
Next came the installation, which Patodia says was an equally, if not more, challenging part of the project.
“We don't have a team in Kazakhstan; it is a new country for us. We didn't know how things are over there. The temperature goes down as low as -15ºC,” he says. It also did not help that the Covid-19 pandemic was ongoing.
Hands assembled a team from India and Dubai to install the carpet in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, which had to stay there for 45 days. “We were on call all the time, discussing the challenges, which area of the mosque the team was having trouble with."
The Nur Sultan Grand Mosque spans an area of 68,062 square metres, and can accommodate up to 235,000 people. This is three times the size of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Although Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is still home to the biggest hand-woven carpet in the world — measuring 5,630 square metres — the Kazakh government has applied for the record of world's largest carpet for its 12,000-square-metre rug.
Hands completed the installation of the massive carpet only a few days before the mosque opened to the public in August this year. “When we looked back on how we did it, it is a matter of great pride,” Patodia says.
Hands only opened its Dubai showroom in 2018, but the family business has had a UAE presence since the early 1990s, with some of its work featuring in Burj Khalifa’s Armani Hotel and Burj Al Arab among other high-end properties.
“We were always active in the wholesale markets abroad, in Europe, the US and Australia. In the early 1990s, my father got into a lot of specialised custom-made work, and that is when our business in Dubai started,” says Patodia.
The brand's venture in the competitive carpet market in the Middle East is backed by more than a century of experience in India, particularly in Bhadohi, a rural community that is considered the carpet manufacturing centre of India, where its factory is located.
The company initially catered only to the hospitality segment, later pivoting to the luxury residential market. Patodia, who began on the factory floor himself, says: "Customisation plays a very important role when you talk about the luxury residential segment."
Other carpet brands to check out at Dubai Design Week
Also based in India, Jaipur Rugs is showcasing some of its famed designs at DDW — including Manchacha, which merges design innovation and social impact, as well as Sthir, which features minimalist lines and primary colours.
The family business dates back to 1978 when Nand Kishore Chaudhary quit a bank job and borrowed $60 to start his carpet business. The company started with nine weavers, but eventually grew to include a network of 40,000 artisans across five Indian states.
A company big on artist collaborations, Iwan Maktabi, is showcasing an exclusive carpet collection during design week.
Called Terminal G, the curated line-up will include carpets designed by local artists from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
Like other luxury carpet companies, the eponymous Lebanese brand has a long history under its belt, dating back to the 1920s. The Maktabi family owns a private collection of rare carpets, and has since helped develop people’s appreciation for woven arts in the region.