by Marni Fogelson
Oriental rugs encompass floor coverings and wall hangings made in the “rug belt,” which includes countries in the Middle East and Asia and even northern Africa, such as Iran, India, and Afghanistan. With origins as old as the Silk Road, Oriental rugs are a hallmark in posh homes all over the world and create a cozy, yet impeccably styled, lived-in vibe. Carefully crafted by hand, authentic Oriental rugs maintain or improve their quality over the course of decades and their exquisite patterns and motifs add beauty wherever they are placed. That lux look comes with a justifiable yet impressive price tag, so we have 10 questions to consider when deciding if these textiles are right for you.
Where was it made?
The provenance of an Oriental rug is important and despite the fact that many use the term interchangeably with Persian rugs, Persian rugs actually refer only to those made in modern-day Iran. Each country that produces Oriental rugs (Turkey and Iran are two of the best-known) has a particular reputation and within each country there are specific cities, villages, and tribes known for their wares. Rugs made in other countries may have completely different dye, pattern, and knot techniques as well as having distinct and beautiful histories and traditions. Unless you have many hours to suss out the complex lineages, we suggest talking to a trusted expert who can guide you through the process.
Are you looking at this purchase as an investment piece?
Antique Oriental rugs can cost as much as a college education, so choose wisely. For such an important purchase, you will want to see plenty of options, so don’t be afraid to visit a few different shops. It’s preferable to see the pieces in person as opposed to online where examining the quality is more difficult. The person who sells you the rug should be able to tell you the city and country where it was made as well as a ballpark figure of when it was made. If you aren’t looking at the rug as an investment piece, then you can go with your gut a bit more and simply choose a style you like.
What is the rug made of?
Silk and wool are the best-known and favored materials for traditional rug making. Cotton is also commonly used. These three materials can produce an astonishing array of patterns, symbols, and motifs, typically in a design that has either floral or geometric roots.
What is hand-knotting?
Hand-knotting is the gold standard for Oriental rugs. A rug made using this centuries old technique is crafted by a weaver knot-by- knot, a painstaking process that accounts for the hefty price tag of most rugs. It can takes months or years to make one of these rugs, especially those with intricate designs! If you can flip a rug over and see the mirror image of the pattern on the other side, it was likely hand- knotted. A hand-tufted rug looks similar to a hand-knotted rug, but it was created using a less labor-intensive process and so is considered less valuable but is also more affordable. The back of a hand-tufted rug will have a different material such as burlap; the original pattern will not be clearly visible as with the hand-knotted version.
How do you know it’s “real” or authentic?
Hand-knotting is one litmus test for how the rug was made; another is the particulars of where the rug was produced. Some cities, such as Tabriz in Iran, are known for the quality and particular motifs featured on their rugs. But you may find a rug labeled as Tabriz simply because it was crafted in that style, not necessarily because it was made in Tabriz. Most novice buyers won’t be able to tell the difference so this is where a trusted rug expert comes in handy. At the end of the day, it’s going to be in your home, so you have to decide if your purchase is worth the purpose for which you are buying it. Since you are unlikely to have a rug appraiser at your next cocktail party, choose what you like and what fits your home’s aesthetic.
Do you have young children or pets?
When you’ve got little ones of any species, spills and accidents are inevitable. You don’t have to scout the carpet store bargain bin, but picking a rug that has a busy pattern or design that will hide stains will save you from frustration.
Is the rug going in a high-traffic area?
If the rug will see plenty of foot traffic, choose a high-density weave and a sturdier material such as wool. If the rug is going on the wall as a display piece, the density of the weave isn’t as important and you can pick a more delicate design. Whether on the wall or floor, expect some fading and color changes due to sun exposure if your rug is placed near a window.
Was it made by children?
Child labor for rugs is a real problem. Despite laws prohibiting this practice, hundreds of thousands of young children are employed at unfair wages (if any at all) and spend as many as 18 hours a day weaving. GoodWeave offers certified child labor-free rugs. If purchasing an antique rug, there’s obviously no guarantee how it was produced, but finding a rug that was crafted recently and that observes child labor laws should be a consideration.
How can I make a rug I love fit into my home’s aesthetic?
Oriental rugs can look at home in a surprising variety of varied decors; even minimalist homes can use a geometric or more modern pattern with less color variation. Layering an Oriental rug on a larger sisal or bamboo rug can effectively combine design schemes (and help stretch your budget since you can purchase a smaller Oriental rug). Placing a flokati rug on top of an Oriental rug gives a playful vibe. Using an Oriental rug as a wall hanging just like any other type of art is another simple way to keep your rug at the admiring eye line of guests; for antique or fragile rugs, this method will also help them last longer.
How often should you wash your rug?
This depends on multiple factors including the material, how much traffic the area sees, and how cleaning-obsessed you are. One Oriental rug expert we spoke to said that he had a customer who had his rug cleaned once every 10 years (although he
wouldn’t recommend that)! Once every two to three years should be sufficient unless your rug is the victim of a serious mishap, although sweeping the rug and vacuuming lightly on a regular basis is recommended. Many rug shops have preferred cleaners that they trust or even feature an in-store cleaner. Special care is taken to preserve the rug’s quality and fibers, so not all cleaners are prepared to tackle heirloom-quality and antique pieces.