Area Rug Styles
Handmade or hand-knotted area rugs are the Cadillacs of the area rug domain. Handmade rugs are manufactured from natural fibers, such as wool, silk and cotton and can be antique or brand spanking new.
Machine made rugs are modern, manufactured rugs that replicate some of the ancient patterns, but actually include many more fresh, contemporary designs. Machine made rugs are manufactured from natural fibers, too, but they also come in synthetics, such as nylon and olefin.
What Style, What Color, What A Fabulous Rug!
Rug styles often bear the name of the region of origin. That’s why we have Persian rugs, Orientals, Navajos and others. But this rule applies mainly to antique rugs.
Today, a Persian-style rug may have been made in India. If you are considering buying as an investment, it’s imperative to consult an expert who knows the real thing from the imposters. You wouldn’t buy a painting just because your neighbor said it was a Picasso, right? You would get an expert to verify it. The same is true of rug investments. Rugs have been made for thousands of years and constitute a whole academic area of study. This is no place for a DIYer.
However, if you’re looking to buy a new rug, you will have lots of styles to choose from. It’s entertaining to have some idea of the origin of the style. Here’s a quick way to increase your RIQ (rug intelligence quotient):
A true Persian rug is hand-knotted in Persia, known today as Iran, and features a wide border emphasizing the main pattern. There are over fifty different Persian styles woven in Iran. Persian-style rugs might come from India, Pakistan, China, or even some European countries.
This is a very broad and confusing category. It has become a generic label for any kind of patterned rug. Genuine Oriental rugs come from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, Turkey, some of the southern territories of the old Soviet Union (like Azerbaijan or Armenia), Balkan countries like Romania and Albania and some North African countries like Morocco and Egypt. These rugs are all hand-knotted in any of several styles. They are never made of olefin, nylon or polypropylene.
Traditional Chinese rugs are rich with color and very dense. Often woven from five-ply wool and sculpted, they are expensive and sought after. You might run into “Art Deco” Chinese rugs. Made in the 1920s through the 1940s, these designs are simple compared to most Oriental design and might feature a basic medallion in the center, sprigs of cherry blossoms, or maybe a cloud or three floating by — all surrounded by a wide border.
Chinese-style rugs, on the other hand, offer the same kind of motifs and are often hand-tufted and often wool. Some come with the Chinese style sculpting, but the price will be about half that of a true Chinese rug.
Nomadic weavers of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the province of Khorassan in northeastern Iran produce Turkoman rugs. Local tribes use them in their tents, just as they have for thousands of years. Their designs, now offered in Turkoman-style rugs, are distinguished by geometric patterns and the red to red-brown background colors, highlighted with white, blue and black.
This is just the beginning. If you are truly interested in the wide variety of styles from the countries and regions where rugs are made, find a professional to guide you to books and classes on the subject. In the course of your studies you will undoubtedly discover the geometric designs of the Caucasians, the vivid colors, the flat-woven Kilims, the large motifs of the Tibetans, or perhaps, the small floral motifs of the Indian rugs.
In the beginning there were no rugs. The Navajo, a Native American tribe found in the Four Corners regions of the Southwest, made blankets. The blankets were all wool, taken from the Merino sheep left behind by the Spaniards. The dyes were natural and the patterns were simple and geometric, for the most part. These flat woven rectangles kept out the cold wind and were so tightly woven, they were waterproof.
Once the American government got involved in the lives of the Navajo and forced them onto reservations, the Navajo needed a livelihood. The market dictated what they could sell. And the market was mostly the white man. Navajo blankets became rugs. And the designs became less traditional and more market driven. Today, the Navajo maintain weaving plants on their reservations to make area rugs using modern methods with modern dyes and materials, but with distinctively Navajo designs. The traditional weavers are still at work, but they are producing art pieces, not rugs.
To round out your RIQ and make sure you can run the flooring category on Jeopardy!, here are three more types of rugs for your consideration:
These are the rugs most often associated with the early days of the United States. Long braided material is laid out in a coil and then the coil is stitched together. Thrifty Colonials used whatever was at hand to make these large round or oval pieces. Traditionally made from wool, they were also made of chenille and even rags. In fact, they are often called rag rugs.
Today’s version is just as practical and beautiful and can be crafted in any size or shape. Some are still handcrafted. Most are machine-made from indestructible olefin and nylon. They are easy to care for and make a homey, rustic statement in your den or living room.
Those gorgeous, fluffy white rugs that simply made the 1960s were 100% hand-woven wool and originated in Greece 1,500 years ago. They are very contemporary looking by today’ standards and also can be handmade in Greece or machine made. The test for these inviting rugs is the weight of the wool used in their manufacture. Look for 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 gram weight.
There are four grass-like plants that are in demand for area rugs. Their attractiveness has increased as homeowners have become more environmentally aware.
Sisal rug fibers come from the leaves of the Agave Sisalana plant. Each leaf of the plant can produce approximately a thousand fibers. They range in color from straw yellow to a creamy white and are spun into yarn and then woven into carpet.
For a softer feel, the yarn is combined with other fibers, such as nylon. Sisal area rugs are durable, anti-static, naturally insulating and fire resistant. They do absorb water, so don’t use them near the pool or in the bathroom.
Jute fibers are stripped from their stalks, spun into yarn and typically used as the warp in knotted rugs — in combination with other natural materials, such as wool or hemp. They can be flat woven into handsome, earth-friendly area rugs in a variety of neutral colors.
Seagrass area rugs come in a variety of beautiful flat weaves, such as Herringbone and Basketweave. They are relatively non-absorbent and hard. Dirt is easily brushed loose from them and they resist staining. Seagrass rugs offer a low dust, allergy free, naturally humid accessory to your home.
The virtues of Bamboo have been known and well-documented for thousands of years. It’s a hardy plant — the fastest growing plant on earth — and its strength is legendary. Area rugs of bamboo are not woven. The strips of bamboo are, instead, laid side-by-side and kept in place by a webbed edging. Bamboo rugs can be as soft as silk.
All of these plant fiber rugs are sought after by the environmentally conscience because they come from renewable resources. In addition, they offer an attractive alternative to more traditional area rugs.
There’s an area rug that speaks to you philosophically, artistically, practically and fiscally. We hope we’ve given you some ideas on where to go and what to look for to dress up your address!