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Patti Cowger

Dear readers,

This column is just for you. Every other week, I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. This week’s question:

We’re looking for a large rug for our traditional and formal living room. You recently wrote that the term “Oriental rug” can mean different things. I looked online to sort things out but the information was confusing and conflicting. Can you give us a summary? This will be a substantial purchase and a forever rug.

Whenever I think of investment rugs, I think of the trip a colleague and I took to the Atlanta International Area Rug Market. It’s a trade show where hundreds of thousands of rugs from nearly 100 countries show their goods to potential buyers. Buyers are usually those looking for rugs to stock in their retail stores. Designers go with particular clients in mind or to get in a good 15,000 steps per day – the center in which it is held is about 500,000 square feet.

I relay this story because it is pertinent to you when you purchase your rug. My colleague and I patiently waited to talk to one of the dealers. He was quoting prices to another buyer and when he eventually got around to us, those prices mysteriously increased. We left, he asked us back, and the prices mysteriously decreased. My first tip is to trust the people from whom you are purchasing and to know what you are buying.

Online information is confusing and conflicting because the story of Oriental rugs could take a lifetime to learn. The patterns and colors within each rug are filled with symbolism, folklore, and tribal culture. These woven treasures have been passed down from family to family and village to village for centuries. Even the skill of weaving, itself, is a valued heirloom.

Today, “Oriental rug” is a catch-all term referring to rugs knotted in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China and Nepal. They are given names like Oushak, Tabriz and Sarouk after the areas from where their designs originated long ago.

Persian rugs are historically considered the finest of all Oriental rugs and are distinguished by their intricate curvilinear designs and superior wool, silk and dyes. Indian rugs are thought less valuable in terms of monetary investment because of their drier, thinner wool. Flatly woven rugs, usually pastel in color, are called “Dhurries”.

Pakistani rugs can be impressive versions of Persian designs. New pieces sometimes go through an antiquing process that gives them a welcomed, time-worn look. However, others can be thinly woven with a knotting scheme that distorts the designs.

Turkish rugs are some of the finest rugs on the market today. This was not the case 15 years ago when coarser wool, primary colors and simple geometric designs were used. Turkey makes a wool rug called a “Kilim”, which is similar to the Dhurrie. Chinese rugs are recognized by their deep piles, center medallions, open backgrounds, large borders (sometimes carved), and soft colors.

Since 1980, Tibetan rugs have typically been made in Nepal, designed by Nepalese or Tibetan businessmen or Western designers. Their patterns do not originate or relate to any particular provenance. Tibetan rugs are desirable because of their luxuriously thick pile — Himalayan sheep produce dense wool because of the altitude. Some Tibetan rugs incorporate New Zealand wool, which is the best in the world.

A rug’s price is based on country of origin, quality of fiber, intricacy of design, size, age, condition, and knot count. To confirm that a rug is hand-knotted, check the fringe. It should be the extension of the warp, not sewn onto the ends. The rows of knots should be irregular, and the overall rug size should not be as precise as a machine-made rug.

Your question inspires me to continue this topic in my next monthly newsletter. Send me an email to receive it.

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Patti L Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.