The writing of this book began with a journey in 1978 to Ankara, Turkey, where my husband was posted at the French Embassy. Both recent college graduates and newlyweds, we spent an unforgettable fifteen months discovering that captivating land and oriental rugs while “bazaar-hopping.” A budding journalist at the time, I published a short article on Turkish kilims, or flatweaves, for a British antiques magazine and there was no turning back! Hundreds of articles later and nearly twenty years of helping interior designers and private clients purchase handmade decorative rugs have brought me here. The Decorative Carpet
has been germinating in my head since 1991 when I initiated an article series for The Oriental Rug Magazine
(and later in the renamed AREA Magazine
) highlighting this country’s top designers’ use of handmade decorative rugs in their interiors. The featured designers were all delighted to discuss their work with rugs and often lamented that this had never been done before. The rug often occupies fully a third of a room’s space and, if a rare, antique piece is purchased, can be its most expensive item. Why, then, are rugs never discussed in their decorative context?
My clients have often asked me to recommend books to guide them in their rug purchases. Some have even created their own miniature rug decorating manuals from shelter magazine article clippings. There are countless excellent books on the history, provenance, color and design characteristics, and construction techniques of rugs. However, these are mainly academic and feature museum-quality pieces of little relevance to the interior designer or homeowner seeking to furnish an interior with carpets available in today’s market. My mission, simply put, became writing a book on decorating with handmade decorative rugs both to help understand the range of what is available and to show examples of rugs in a range of actual interiors of various styles they could relate to.
When looking back through history, it quickly becomes apparent that the handmade decorative carpet has in fact always played a pivotal role in interior design in both East and West whether on the floor, as a wall hanging, or as a furniture covering. Designed for pragmatic purposes, it is nevertheless an important component in the history of decorative arts and a traditionally venerated object of sensual, tactile luxury. In many nomadic societies in Asia and Africa, handwoven textiles and hand-knotted pile weavings were the most aesthetic object in a tents or hut. In the higher spheres of Middle Eastern and Asian societies, carpets were part of daily life and depicted in miniatures as objects of reverence, often at the foot of a ruler’s throne or as seating where the high and mighty met to confer.
The Crusades marked the West’s first exposure to oriental rugs. Their sumptuous patterns and hues captivated Europe’s monarchs and nobles. Because most probably originated from the region that is modern-day Turkey, oriental rugs—objects of great luxury reserved for the elite—became known as “Turkey carpets.” Considered too fragile and costly to be spread underfoot, they were draped over furniture, namely tables, as depicted in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European paintings, including many by Hans Holbein, Lorenzo Lotto, and Johannes Vermeer. In the eighteenth century, only the floors of Europe’s most exclusive residences—châteaux and manor houses—were covered with these sumptuous handcrafted weavings from Turkey, Persia, and India. So great was their popularity that gradually newcomers, including Aubussons and Axminsters, began to be woven locally. Meanwhile, colonial America followed this European trend, but on a more limited basis due to the high cost of importing rugs. Most floors there lay bare.
The handmade decorative carpet only came to be used widely on Western floors in the nineteenth century. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the newly enriched bourgeoisie had for the first time access to both reasonably priced, power-loomed floor coverings and hand-knotted oriental rugs. Demand for oriental rugs was so strong that countless new pieces were crafted, particularly in Persia and India, to satisfy Western specifications for color, design, and size. Suddenly oriental rugs covered the floors and divans of many European and American homes. Most antique rugs available in the West today, in fact, were imported during this boom, which spanned from the mid-nineteenth century to the Depression. Meanwhile, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco carpets emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a reaction to both machine-made carpets and classic oriental rugs. Created by architects, designers, and artists, these carpets were designed as an integral element of a room’s décor.
In the post–World War II period, the handmade rug’s popularity was usurped by wall-to-wall carpeting, which dominated the American floor covering scene until a renewed interest in collectibles in the 1970s sent antique oriental rug prices skyrocketing. Meanwhile, minimalism as a style was on the wane, and hardwood floors displaying affordable handmade floor coverings, namely flat-woven and geometrically patterned Indian dhurries and Middle Eastern kilims, became fashionable. Following on the heels of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the subsequent U.S. embargo on Persian rugs from Iran, a vibrant new generation of decorative rugs came into being to meet American demand. This renaissance, begun in Turkish villages in the 1980s with the reintroduction of natural dyes and handspun wool, soon spread to all countries of origin. The development of the Tibetan carpet in Nepal as a vital player in contemporary design confirmed the rising supremacy of the handmade rug. The better specimens of these rugs are not simply copies of their antique counterparts, they are aesthetic creations in their own right.
While the handmade decorative rug’s historic and aesthetic attributes are what primarily motivated my writing The Decorative Carpet,
I was also equally compelled by the priceless value of their sustainability. As we become increasingly sensitive to the ecological repercussions of what goes into in our homes, we need to pay more attention to what lies on our floors. Handmade decorative rugs’ natural fiber content makes them the ultimate “green” floor covering when compared to most machine-made carpeting, which is produced mainly from nonrenewable petroleum products. I was shocked to learn that machine-made carpeting accounts for billions of tons of mainly nonbiodegradable product filling up this country’s landfills. In contrast, handmade decorative rugs not only outlive their machine-made counterparts, but their fibers can also be recycled. Equally important, with allergies at an all-time high, we cannot discount that they are the most hypoallergenic floor coverings, and far less responsible for “out-gassing” than their machine-made counterparts.
This book attempts to showcase the infinite array of handmade decorative carpets available in the general market today—ranging the traditional hand-knotted oriental rug to the textured Tibetan—as placed in stunning contemporary interiors designed by thirty-two of America’s most celebrated interior designers. Here Penny Drue Baird, Samuel Botero, Clodagh, Jamie Drake, David Easton, Thomas Jayne, and Juan Montoya, to name just a few, share with you their views and tips on how to successfully let the handmade rug be a room’s inspiration or integrate it into an established décor. Together with these featured interiors—ranging in style from the minimalist contemporary to the exuberantly formal—a gallery identifying twenty of today’s most popular rug types, rug buying and care tips, and a glossary, I offer basic tools that will empower you to make the right handmade floor covering choice for your home or your clients. It will help you navigate this world, which is too often shrouded in mystery due to its confusing, exotic-sounding names. Hopefully, it will help your appreciation of the decorative carpet grow. A handmade rug is often the most visible, resilient, and versatile element in a décor, and can be passed down from one generation to the next. I invite you to turn the page and begin your own journey now.
Excerpted from The Decorative Carpet by Alix G. Perrachon; Foreword by Doris Leslie Blau. Copyright © 2010 by Alix G. Perrachon. Excerpted by permission of The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.