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A Chat About Oriental Carpets

Oriental carpets have, for centuries, been a current flowing between Eastern and Western civilizations which no international rivalry or historic struggle has been able to dam. The Western world always remains a little jealous of the Orient because it manages to combine beauty and function, work and relaxation, ostentation and simplicity, luxury and asceticism, comfort and austerity. Oriental carpets, more than any other Oriental art-form, have shown themselves capable of being integrated into the stylistic and cultural structure of the West. The West also admires the Oriental facility of making each object in a manner that suits its needs yet retains some magic and mystery. The reason for the Oriental rugs’ success lies in their ability to combine the functional and ornamental. 

It is not by chance that their history ranges from the tent of the nomad to the splendid palaces of emperors where they are man’s constant companion and have been in common use for centuries. They serve his personal comfort; they adorn his tent; they decorate his house, as couch, cover and saddle, and sometimes even provide shelter.

In antiquity carpets were used both on the floor as covers and wall hangings, (hence the Latin word “tapete” meaning tapestry). Not until the early nineteenth century was the pile carpet regarded in the West, by nobleman and commoner alike, as a necessity in the household.

No other floor covering ever produced claims the loyalty and partiality of its owners as do good Oriental Rugs. 

Although carpets are part of the comfort of everyday Oriental life, their utilitarian function does not detract from their artistic beauty. Their value is the obvious result of complex decoration, precious materials and the inherent worth of a craft, which has been carried on and developed through the centuries.

When Oriental rugs are mentioned some people, whose personal experience of rugs is limited to the ones they have seen in the homes of their grandparents, may tend to imagine three things: red, busy designs and extremely high prices. All of these things may be true, although none of them need be. 

Somewhere there exists your idea of the perfect rug; the only problem is knowing what to look for and where to find it. It must be strongly advised that the most reliable person to buy from is a respectable, perhaps even well-known dealer. Some people prefer the slightly hazardous, but more dramatic business of participating in an auction. Buying at auctions with no chance of thoroughly checking the piece, can only be described as happy-go-lucky both price wise and quality wise. 

If you rely only on reputable firms with long experience you can have confidence in you purchase. When buying a rug, go to reputable shops where you can rely on their expert knowledge and experience; in this way you have a guarantee for both the product and the price. Study rugs at exhibitions and in specialist shops where there are people to answer your questions; try to see and feel as many rugs as possible and try to remember details of the rugs you study.

The basic rule that a buyer of Oriental rugs must insist on is: every piece must be entirely handmade. It is only the true Orientals that will give endless joy and outlast their machine-made cousins.

There are many details that should be checked when buying a carpet what matters is where the rug was made, how well it was made, the quality of the materials, the fineness of the knots, the beauty of the colours and design. Unfortunately, most buyers attach the greatest importance to exact colours and measurements. However, greater attention should be paid to quality, condition and pattern. 

You should broaden your options rather than limit them. Start out by looking at colours and patterns in a very general way, and gradually discard them out until you find a style you like. Colour is part of the essence of an Oriental rug.  It is as important in a rug as it is in a painting; the beauty of the rug depends on it. Imaginative artistic colouring can mean that a poorly woven rug is nevertheless delightful. What matters is that the colour should add a dimension of beauty and be so subtle that you will never tire of looking at it.  Regardless of what you may be told, rugs are woven in marvellous colours, many combinations of which are gentle and easy to live with. It is more sensible to choose your rug from the unbleached variety. A chemically bleached rug destroys the balance and depth of the colours. 

Bright colours are outlined in cream, black, beige or grey to stop them from clashing with one another. These thin lines may be invisible from even a short distance, they do in fact help to create a harmony of colour by smoothing out the tonal balance.

Explore the various sources and compare the qualities of rugs that come from each area.  There’s a very good possibility that you can find other rugs that are just as attractive and functional as the one you originally had in mind.  Your choice may be made clear by the difference in price, or you could find that a less expensive rug works better for you because it has a simpler design or a variation from traditional colours that suits your needs better.  Just keep an open mind.  Above all, don’t let the process of identifying a rug distract you from your basic goal – finding a carpet that you realy like. 

Experience has shown that many carpets become worn out or damaged too early owing to bad handling or ignorance.  In my next article I’ll discuss these issues and give some simple advice about caring for your carpets.


Emilio Castignani