Carol Piper has literally weaved together a professional life. As founder and owner of Houston-based Carol Piper Rugs, she recalls becoming entranced by weaving as a young girl while learning the techniques at a summer camp. By age twelve, she was weaving rugs herself at the loom, and by college, at the University of Kansas, she came as close as she could to the discipline by majoring in art, “weaving whenever I could in between classes,” she says. “I never fully understood what it was about weaving that is, and was, so much fun.”
While Carol’s existential questioning of weaving continued, so, too, did her actual weaving. Later, when her husband, Joe, was transferred to London, and the whole family moved there (which then included two children), Carol studied weaving at the Camden Art Institute. When the family returned to the U.S. after two years abroad, Carol met a Brazilian woman whose family had long been in the business of exporting beautifully rendered handwoven needlepoint rugs, notably to dealers and individuals in London, Paris, and New York. “I loved the colors of the rugs her family dealt with and the expertise that went into their making,” Carol says. “Suddenly, this woman said to me, ‘You could sell these in Houston—what do you think of that idea?’ I thought about that idea for two whole minutes before saying ‘Yes’.”
Carol launched into business in Houston, renting a desk in the back of a friend’s antiques shop. She later hosted trunk shows in private homes in River Oaks, West University, Memorial, and other Houston neighborhoods, while also designing rugs herself and having them made. Even though the needlepoint rugs she carried were popular sellers, she quickly discerned that there was an even bigger demand for Oriental rugs. “I had no clue about Oriental rugs. I went to the library, I bought books, I called on dealers in New York and Los Angeles to learn more. This was a time when there were very, very few women in the business. Rug dealers, especially of Orientals, were part of a closed group, but my enthusiasm overshadowed my, how should I put this, lack of knowledge.”
After opening her own namesake business in Houston in the early 1990s, Carol began selling everything from needlepoints and Orientals to Oushaks and Kilims. She recalls many pivotal moments in the early days of her enterprise, notably that of some local Houston interior designers who were pivotal in supporting her in her early days in business. “I couldn’t be here today without those people, who remain friends today. I learned early on that a good designer tells a story with her design. My job is to hear it. And I want to be able to give that designer the right rug that enhances that story she wants to tell.”
Despite her success, Carol recalls that she built her business “rug by rug, square foot by square foot, dollar by dollar.” Now, with another satellite location in Dallas, Carol continues to be one of the leading forces in the rug industry. “Growth is my middle name,” she says.
There are many reasons for Carol’s continued success, but one key element is the way she works as a person. “What I’ve done all these years is listen to my clients. In the early days, if they come into the store and I didn’t have what they asked for, it was more important for me to hear them tell me what was needed.”
As someone who has always been fascinated by fashion, Carol is keenly aware, too, of the interrelationship between clothing and décor. When asked what is fashionable now in rugs, she insists that the answer to that lies in what people are wearing now. “Fashion is very relaxed now. Very practical, and that’s the same in the interior design world. Just as in fashion you see the unexpected or what used to be considered unexpected—sneakers with a ball gown, diamonds on denim—there are no rules. The trick is to break the rules correctly, otherwise you’ll look messy. People want rooms that a family can live in.”
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WRITTEN BY SHANNON BOWERS
Images courtesy of Carol Piper Rugs