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Handmade And Homemade Rugs Set The Tone

Originally Posted: February 04, 2009

Cindy Lee Bergersen

Rugs come in a variety of sizes from very small (otherwise known as a mat) to nearly as large as the room it's meant for. There are a variety of styles for every need and budget. They also offer a variety of attributes aside from protecting wood floors and being soft and warm underfoot. And, with a rug as opposed to wall-to-wall carpet, you can take it with you when you move. Photo by Don Heller


When it comes to designing a room, no one element is necessarily more important than another, but none of them should be over-looked. You can coat the walls with beautiful color, dress the windows, and buy new furniture and lighting too, but in the end, the spiffed up decor won't look great if you have neglected the floors.

You might opt to refinish or paint wood floors, or tile, stone, linoleum or cork them, but somewhere, you probably are going to want a rug or carpet.

Rug or carpet: which is which? As with many things, size matters. It's a rug unless it's wall-to-wall carpeting.

Rugs come in a variety of sizes from very small (otherwise known as a mat) to nearly as large as the room it's meant for. There are a variety of styles for every need and budget. They also offer a variety of attributes aside from protecting wood floors and being soft and warm underfoot. And, with a rug as opposed to wall-to-wall carpet, you can take it with you when you move.

The moniker of 'Oriental Rug' actually covers a lot of world real estate from the near
to the Far East. The six most recognized types are Caucasian, Turkoman, Turkish
(shown here), Persian, Indian, and Chinese.

When it comes to size, a large rug can be used to ground the space and define areas within a multi-purpose room. Use a rug under the living room sofa and club chairs and you have visually defined the seating/conversation area. A rug will add color and is a natural starting point for your color scheme. Rugs also provide a unifying focal point. You have also, by adding texture, created a scenario of greater richness and understated drama than before.

Handmade Rugs
A hand-knotted rug is the oldest form of rug making and came originally from the Far East. Though it shouldn't be said that all hand-tied rugs are higher quality than machine made as a blanket statement, they are considered by some to be the best-made rugs of all. A power loom can't replicate the strength of tying the yarn to the backing by hand. Though it is an exceptionally labor intensive method, they are still made in almost the same way as has been done for centuries. There is an individuality to a hand-tied rug, even with hand-made flaws, that in a sense, gives it soul.

The moniker of 'Oriental Rug' actually covers a lot of world real estate from the near to the Far East. The six most recognized types are Caucasian (which refers to the Caucasus region, located between the Black Sea in East Europe and the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran (the area is now known as Checknya), Turkoman, Turkish, Persian, Indian, and Chinese. The rugs are named for place of origin as well as pattern.

As a rule, the more knots a rug has, the higher the quality. The highest quality rugs are heaviest (thanks to all the dense knotting) with a more distinct pattern and finer lines. How many knots to a high quality Oriental? They can have as many as 800 knots per square inch! A skilled weaver can tie 12,000 knots a day. Even so, a 9 foot x 12 foot rug would take over 1,000 days to make. Here is a case where you get what you pay for.

Made of wool, silk, and sometimes a combination of the two, these rugs are highly prized not only for durability but also for their rich, beautiful colors and intricate patterns. They can work in most any design scheme from traditional to eclectic and wherever they are placed, that room is made very special. The antiques of this category are regarded as museum quality works of art and are very costly. There are grades of these rugs known as "fine" as well as "high quality" that might be more manageable for your pocketbook, though still an investment justified by love and beauty.

Meanwhile, the Europeans haven't been slouches in the rug department. Savonnerie was the name of the royal factory that manufactured rugs for Louis XIV and Louis XV and only the kings were allowed to own them and they were very rarely sold. These are hand-knotted rugs constructed in a similar way to an oriental rug, but with distinctive floral patterns. Usually the colors were muted with a center design. Since the Savonnerie rugs never came on the market, the Aubusson rugs were developed in the 15th century to cater to wealthy Europeans with kingly tastes. They have a flat woven construction and the look of a heavy tapestry with the distinctive floral patterns resembling the patterns of Savonnerie rugs. These too are usually muted in color with a center medallion. While the antique European rugs are also very costly, there are newer versions of the Aubusson that are high quality and more affordable.

Other notable woven rugs and handknotted rugs include Kilims, made of wool primarily from the Middle East with geometric designs and strong colors. There is Bessarabian, made of wool from Russian or Turkey, with strong colors and designs that range from geometrics to florals. Dhurries come from India made of wool or cotton with typically muted colors and floral designs. Chain stitch rugs are also Indian and they are what they sound like - a chain stitch pattern is woven and attached to a backing. Finally, Navajo are wool rugs with a geometric pattern woven by Navajo Indians in the American southwest.

Obviously, all rugs were originally hand-made, regardless if made on a frame or a loom, until the power-driven looms were invented in the 19th century. Most of the rugs described above are now also made commercially. Understandably, the hand-made rugs with provenance have greater value.

Homemade Rugs
A traditional "homemade" rug is a somewhat different category. Homemade rugs were, of course, made in someone's home, once upon a time, way back when, and in the good old days. This "homemade look" has become a style category of its own. They evoke a kind of early Americana nostalgia. Today, these rugs are commercially reproduced to have a homemade look and are very affordable.

Homemade rugs evoke a kind of early Americana nostalgia. Today, these rugs, like
the Rag rug shown here, are commercially reproduced to have a home-made look and
are very affordable.

Common types of home-made rugs include Rag flat weave rugs made with cotton or wool strips on a loom. Braided rugs that have strips of cloth braided and stitched together. Hooked rugs are made with yarn or fabric that is pulled through a course canvas or burlap backing producing a rug with a kind of nubby pile. Finally, a Needlepoint rug is stitched on canvas with woolen yarns to form floral, scenic, or geometric patterns.

Good To Know
There's obviously a good argument to be made for clarifying the style and mood you want for your rooms. There's an even better argument to be made for creating a plan to build a design background for your style to live in.

Start with the rug as the foundation and build on it, using your rug to set your color palette. Pull the colors from the rug pattern to support the overall color scheme in the room. If you have a solid color rug, then consider the following idea - It's less about color and more about a good mix of light, medium and dark shades of color and neutrals, to move the eye around the room.

While the style of a rug can determine the style of a room, make sure you've thought through the big picture. You want the rug to support the idea of the room and not be at cross purposes style-wise. If you are planning a formal living room, then a fabulous Aubusson, antique or otherwise, will dovetail with your concept. Another option is to look for textured rugs in a neutral color. The elegant simplicity of these would support most themes. If you want a more casual effect, go for a simple cotton dhurrie. A sea grass or sisal rug, bound with cotton canvas in a color that coordinates with the rest of the furnishings, is another casual classic. A Navajo rug will, of course, support a Southwest theme.

Once you've done your homework and have the perfect rug use these suggestions for fine-tuning. First, it's a question of balance. A strong color on the floor will need the other trappings in the room to commensurate strong colors as well. Otherwise, all you will see is this domineering rug.

The scale and intricacy of any rug pattern needs balanced consideration too. An intricate pattern dictates that the rest of the room be pared down and soft-spoken to avoid that headache inducing "too busy" effect. Wide borders on a rug should bear some relationship to the size and shape of the room or else, the room will just look "off." Also, borders and center medallions have to be considered when arranging the furniture. There is no point to obscuring this classic design combination by a poorly placed armchair. As a general rule, it's best to place furniture within the rug borders however, don't suffer if the best furniture arrangement means a few furniture legs go off the rug. Your room will still be beautiful.

 • In the Hamptons, visit the Antique Rug Galleria (96 Main Street, Southampton, 631-287-4877) and Mark Anthony Rugs (372 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, 631-537-3734).




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