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Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

Guide to Buying an Oriental rug

Choosing an Oriental rug

The most important factor when choosing an oriental rug is the reason “why”  the rug is being bought.  This may seem self-evident, but it is not unknown for people to purchase extremely attractive and reasonably priced rugs only to find, when they take them home, that they are the wrong size, or that the color and design clash with their decorative scheme.  Equally, some rugs which represent extremely good value as furnishing items, are not suitable for long term investment, while rugs with the highest investment potential may be out of place as decorative items in the home. Some rugs are also more durable than others, and you should remember to take this into account when choosing the type most suited to each room or function.

Decorative Considerations

The vast majority of people buy oriental rug in order to enhance the decorative integrity of their homes.  They are not concerned with investment potential or collectability, and the fact that rugs may appreciate in value over the years is a bonus, rather than the main reason for which they are bought.  Consequently, the prime consideration are color, design and size.

  • Color
    Today, rugs are an important export for most producing countries, and many weaving groups have consciously broadened their palette in order to appeal to Western tastes.  This is particularly true of India and Pakistan, where traditional Persian and Turkoman designs are now produced in a range of pastel shades. Chinese rugs have long been in tune with Western color schemes, and a growing number of Anatolian groups are now producing traditional and Caucasion designs in much softer shades. In contrast, most nomadic and tribal groups still make rugs in the time honored dark reds and primary hues of their ancestors, while Persian workshop groups employ both pastel and rich shades.  Almost every designs is now available in the widest possible variety of tonal schemes, and the prospective  buyer should have no problem in finding a rug to suit the other furnishings in his or her home.
    Both harmonious and contrasting shades can be used to enhance the decorative impact of a room.  For a harmonious effect aim to reflect the overall tonality of the room or ensure that a single color from the wood mark or furnishings is echoed in the rug. This does not have to be the most dominant color in either the room or the rug; better results are often achieved by matching subsidiary colors, provided they are not swamped by other shades: for example, a predominantly red rug with strong hints of blue can blend well into a room with some blues but no reds.
    Contrasting shades can enliven a room by providing an invigorating tonal counter point, but care needs to be taken to ensure that colors do not clash.  This less of a danger if the room is decorated in neutral shades, or if the rug’s colors are echoed in the other furnishings; for example, a room with some pastel blues or reds can be wonderfully enlivened by introducing a rug with much richer shades of blue or red. Pastel shades are extremely versatile and blend with most traditional Western furnishings interior designs.  Strong or dark shades are normally only found in nomadic and tribal rugs.  They are particularly suitable for the rough hewn surroundings of old country cottages, but can also be ideal for studies, dens, and rooms where the dominant colors are neutral or autumnal browns.  Rich shades are perfectly in tune with opulentt surroundings, but can also enhance a pastel decor.
  • Design
    In many ways, design is less critical than color, as the color of a rug has far more impact on its surroundings;  a discordant pattern will still blend into most rooms, providing the colors are harmonious. However, choosing the right design is important in reinforcing the style and decorative atmosphere of a room.
  • Curvilinear designs
    Usually rather intricate and floral inspired, they find their best expression in classically furnished rooms; the more ornate and intricate decorated the surroundings, the more a curvilinear rug will enhance the effect.  This type of design can also add a degree of opulence to a plainly decorated room, but careful consideration is necessary before placing a curvilinear design rug in a room with rustic or Scandinavian type furnishings, as the two styles may clash.
  • Geometric designs
    Particularly compatible with Scandinavian and Bauhaus inspired designs.  They can also look good in more classically furnished rooms, provided the tonality of the rug matches the general decor.
  • Repeating designs
    Employ a single motif, or group of motifs repeated throughout the rug (Herati, Boteh, etc.).  The pattern is the same form every angle, which affords considerable freedom in the placement of the rug. This is crucial in the successful location of runners and room size carpets.
  • Centralized designs
    Employ a single centralized motif, usually a medallion, and rely for their success on the balance between the focal motif and the surrounding design. This symmetry can be disturbed if one side of the rug is disproportionately near a wall or a piece of furniture, and they should ideally be placed in a central position.  If this is not possible, allow roughly the same amount of space on each opposing side; for example, by placing one side of the rug a few feet from a wall and the opposite side the same distance from a large piece of furniture. this generally more critical with larger rugs.
  • Vertical and horizontal designs
    The design runs one way along the rug, and needs to be seen from a particular angle for maximum effect.  This is essential with prayer rugs and pictorial carpets, which lose much of their impact if viewed upside down. Finding the optimum location is largely a matter of trial and error, but aim to place them where they can not be seen upside down (i.e., with the top end facing a wll), or use them as wall hangings.
  • Size
    Choosing the correct size is not as simple as merely ensuring that the rug fits into the appropriate space. Oriental rugs need room to breathe, and unless they are given the right amount of space they can either be swamped by the surrounding decor or become so overpowering that they detract from everything else in the room.  The amount of space necessary depends on both the decor and furnishings, and the strength of color and pattern in the rug. Boldly patterned and strongly colored rugs need more space than those with more delicate composition and pastel shades.  Much also depends on the amount of furniture in the room; the less furniture, the more space that can be occupied by the rug without the room appearing too cluttered.

Assessing Quality

Contrary to popular myth, assessing quality is not as difficult as it might first appear;  armed with a little basic information, anyone should be able to distinguish a good rug from a poor quality rug. Obviously, there is some truth in the maxim that “you get what you pay for”, but as in many other areas of life, price and value are not always synonymous, and you should be very wary of accepting without question that something is necessarily better because it costs more.
Quality is determined by a combination of aesthetic by a combination of aesthetic and structural considerations. The former can not be defined by any objective criteria and are  largely a matter of personal taste,  although if you wish to guarantee a reasonable resale value, it is critical  to make sure that your tastes coincide with more universally held views on aesthetic appeal. Therefore, apply the criteria for each weaving category and take into account any characteristics associated with each specific weaving group. Structural quality can be assessed far more objectively:
(a)  The fineness and regularity of the knotting;
(b)  The clarity and permanence of the dyes;
(c)  The suitability of the pile material; and
(d)  whether the rug lies evenly on the floor.
Remember that some criteria are more applicable to certain categories of rug than to others; for example, the fineness of the knotting is more critical in workshop rugs than it is in village or nomadic rugs. Always use the appropriate yardstick for each category.  However, the same criteria should be applied to all rugs when assessing the suitability of the pile material and the clarity and permanence of the dyes, as there is no uniform improvement in the quality of these as rugs move up the price range from nomadic to masterworkshop.

  • The first step in assessing quality
    Look at the back of the rug. This is necessary not only to judge the fineness and regularity of the knotting, but also to discover whether there are any repairs or signs of damage which are not noticeable from the front. On a good rug, the design should be clearly visible on the back, and it is often easier, particularly in long pile carpets, to see any fault in the symmetry or articulation of the motifs.
  • Estimating the fineness of the knotting
    Turn the rug over so that the pile is facing the floor and then calculate the knot count as outlined in previous section. The knots running crossways form small ridges on the warp strands, which makes them easy to count, and those running length ways correspond to each individual weft yarn. If you experience difficulty in picking out the individual knots, use a magnifying glass. Alternatively, a fairly shrewd idea can be obtained by simply looking at the back. If the design appears clear and even throughout, and the foundation strands form a neat grid, then the knotting is almost certainly regular.  If the spacing between the strands is uneven, or if they curve or go off at an angle, the knotting is irregular, and denotes a poor quality rug.
    Similarly, the fineness of the knotting can be judged by standing as far away from the rug as is necessary before the individual knots merge into the overall design. It is like viewing an Impressionist painting, where the viewer is required to stand at a certain distance before the image comes into focus; the bigger the individual strokes of paint, the further back the viewer has to stand.  Similarly, the finer the knotting in an oriental rug, the closer one can get before the individual knots begin to show.
  • Quality of dyes
    This can only be properly tested in a laboratory, but all dyes used today are both permanent and color fast.  Provided the colors look attractive when the rug is purchased, the overwhelming probability is they will only improve with age.
  • Suitability of the pile material
    Materials vary from weaving group to weaving group, and occasionally between rugs produced by the same group. A simple test for woolen rugs is to fold or crease the pile and see how quickly the wool returns to its original shape.  If it does not crease easily, or if the pile returns to its former shape when smoothed out flat, the wool is probably good. If the rug retains the creases, or if they prove difficult to dislodge, then the wool is too soft and inelastic for top quality pile material.  This test should never be applied to silk rugs, as creasing can damage the fibers.  Look instead for a degree of suppleness in the fabric and extend to which the colors alter their intensity when viewed from different angles;  the more readily they submit to subtle changes in the direction of the light source, the more likely it is that good quality silk has been used.
  • To test whether a rug lies flat
    Always lay the tug on a flat and even surface, and after smoothing it out, carefully view it from all sides to see if there are any ridges or troughs.  repeat the viewing process after walking across the rug a few times, as this will show how it respond to use. Then run your hand across the surface in order to detect any bumps or depressions not visible to the eye.  A certain degree of unevenness is acceptable in nomadic and some village rugs.

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