Handmade rug retailer Breuckelen Berber, located on the Columbia Street Waterfront, offers far more than an in-and-out shopping experience. Owners Nathan Ursch and Brin Reinhardt have created a space in which vintage Moroccan Berber carpets and other furnishings find a true home in a Brooklyn storefront. They had looked for a spot on Atlantic Avenue when expanding their business a year and a half ago, but Columbia Street was more affordable and, fortuitously, has since become a walking destination in its own right.
Visits to the shop at 145 Columbia Street are by appointment only and this is necessary, Ursch says, because Berber carpets are not something one pops in to buy. Each beautifully hand-woven item they sell — hailing from tribes throughout Morocco — has a story behind it. Ursch likes to have the time to unfold each rug and tell about its history, what makes it unique. “The customers take that with them and then they have a really fun story to tell their friends when they are showing them their carpet,” he says.
Inside the shop, Ursch and Reinhardt offer a full range of original Moroccan weavings crafted in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s by tribes such as the Beni Ouarain, Azilal, Chiadma, and more. The carpets soften the floors as well as the walls, where they are hung like tapestries and light from the store windows catches their lush texture and patterning. On their trips to Morocco (they travel there three times a year) Ursch and Reinhardt have also been collecting Berber cushion coverings, woven in the same way as the carpets, and have fashioned them into pillows backed with Maharam fabrics.
Other store items include a collection of hand-molded paper maché light fixtures by an artist in Marrakech and slippers, called babouche, sewn with different fabrics and made by the best Moroccan craftsmen.
In the garden behind the shop, Ursch and Reinhardt take the experience one step further. Here they’ve installed an authentic Berber living room and eating tent transported from Morocco and have created a comfortable lounge area inside. The tent is woven from goat hair, which is more resilient for outdoor use and provides shade as well as rain protection, since water rolls off the hair’s natural oils. Ursch admires the decorative knots the weavers included for their color and festive quality.
On the floor of the tent, Ursch has placed Azilal carpets from the 1980s that incorporate fluorescent yellow and pink t-shirts in their motifs. Weavers like to take strips of different recycled fabric, called boucherouite, and integrate them using the same Berber knot they use with the natural sheep’s wool.
The origins of Breuckelen Berber come in part from a visit the couple made to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water in Mill Run, Pa., a number of years ago. Ursch has always been a fan of the architect’s work. “We started walking through and there were Beni Ouarains in every room,” he recalls. The curator told him that Wright made several trips to Morocco to bring back carpets for his clients. Whereas the house itself was cold and cave-like, the rugs provided that necessary warmth and comfort. “You’d make it to the carpet and feel safe, like you’re not going to trip and fall,” laughs Ursch. “Upon research I realized that a lot of other modern architects of the time used these carpets, to add history, warmth and a rustic quality to their designs.” More and more, the same logic is being used today in homes in Brooklyn and beyond.
Design Brooklyn is an occasional column featuring Brooklyn interiors, both residential and commercial. The column is written by Anne Hellman, with photographs by Michel Arnaud. They blog at Design Brooklyn and Abrams just published their book of the same name.