Guide to buying an antique rug

A beautiful antique rug becomes an instant and luxurious focal point in any room setting – at home everywhere from modern urban pads to rambling country piles. Rich in colour and character, on the eve of the sixth London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair (LARTA) organiser Aaron Nejad reveals what to look for in the perfect antique rug or textile.

Is the age of an antique rug important?

Flemish tapestry c1600
Flemish tapestry c1600

Antique rugs and carpets are ideal for period settings, but can also look spectacular in modern environments. Up to around 1850, all rugs and textiles were produced using natural dyes. These dyes survive the generations well and often result in rich and harmonious colour ranges. After 1850 chemical dyes began to be employed gradually and by 1900 many rugs were woven with inferior chemical dyes which can either look harsh or insipid. Look for antique rugs with natural dyes.

Does the quality of the weave matter?

It depends on the item. The first point to consider when looking at any antique rug or textile is whether it is beautiful. Is the design well drawn, does it have balance? Are the colours beautiful? Then one can consider the quality of the weaving.

Is condition important?

An early C19th Uzbekistan suzani (dowry embroidery)
An early C19th Uzbekistan suzani (dowry embroidery)

Some wear and restoration is acceptable on antique rugs, especially those which have survived from the classical period pre-1800. However, the condition of an antique rug is extremely important in determining its value. Ask the dealer or retailer what restoration has been undertaken, in particular whether the ends have been restored, and how much re-weaving has taken place.

What is abrash?

In antique rugs one often finds variation in colour known as ‘abrash’. This is a result of same-colour wools used in a rug that were dyed in different batches. If the contrast is not too strong, abrash creates an attractive subtlety of colour variation and is highly prized by collectors and decorators.

Where should I buy?

Major auction houses have occasional specialist sales. However, buying from a good and reputable dealer has advantages. Experience and knowledge is available, and most dealers allow clients to view items in situ at home – a huge benefit. Specialist dealers’ fairs are also an excellent way to compare and contrast a wide choice of similar items.

Are antique rugs and textiles a good long-term investment?

Ninghsia rug, Western China, c1800
Ninghsia rug, Western China, c1800

First and foremost, buy pieces for their beauty and decorative appeal, and then consider the investment potential. Some groups of carpets, such as those made before 1800; certain tribal weavings such as Turkoman rugs, and some suzanis have proved to be very good investments in recent years. Fine Persian silk rugs have also risen sharply in value in recently. Discuss the investment potential of any item you are considering with a specialist dealer.

How do I choose the right carpet?

It is important to remember that there is a carpet for every setting and every budget. A useful first step is to decide whether you want your choice to be a statement, or to be discreet and understated. That will immediately dictate certain colours and styles and even the size. It is generally easier to furnish with repeat designs than with a carpet that has a central medallion design. Pale carpets are generally more understated. A dealer will be able to advise you on all these matters. When actively looking for a rug for decoration, be sure to have your room dimensions with you!

Rug Terminology

What is a kilim? (The spelling varies in different parts of Asia)

Yomut (Turkoman) tribal rug, early C19th, Turkmenistan
Yomut (Turkoman) tribal rug, early C19th, Turkmenistan

This is a generic term for a flat-woven rug or carpet, i.e. it has no pile or nap. Kelims are made across all carpet-weaving countries. In India they are known as dhurries. In Iran: ghelim, in Turkey: kelim. There are subtle variations in style and complexity technique, but essentially a kilim describes the product of weaving a weft over a warp for a flat finish.

There are other flat-weaves: a verneh features embroidery applied on top of the kelim, generally made in the Caucasus region; a soumak, made in the Caucasus and Iran, has a more complex technique of weaving than a kelim that enables the weaver to make intricate and refined designs.

What is the difference between a rug and a carpet? This depends on size: up to 2.4 x 1.5m (8ft x 5ft) is generally described as a rug, above that it is a carpet. (In America all hand-made rugs and carpets are called rugs, whereas a carpet is a machine-made wall-to-wall fitted carpet.)

The four main categories of rug

Court weaving

Ever since the Seljuks conquered Anatolia in the 11th century, courts have set up craft workshops within their environment to make textiles purely for use in court circles. Most early examples are in Turkish museums. The Safavid courts in Persia (Iran) also made carpets, as did the Ottomans, as well as the Moghuls in India. There were the famous Imperial workshops in China. Court weaving is not limited to eastern cultures. In France, Louis XIV had the Gobelins workshops weaving rugs and tapestries. In Russia there were royal workshops in St Petersberg making for the tsars – indeed many Russian aristocrats and monasteries had workshops on their own estates.

City rugs and carpets

These are woven in organised urban workshops under controlled conditions; weavers follow patterns, while supervisors ensure a high quality control. Generally, these are more uniform quality and better produced rugs.

Village rugs

Woven by individuals and their families in rural settings, with or without finance from an entrepreneur; they are made for commercial purposes. The weaver follows their own pattern traditions which may have been passed down through generations. The finish is generally more rustic.

Tribal or nomadic

These are woven in tents, in temporary camps, during migration. Pieces are made for domestic use (the nomads need covers, saddle bags, rugs for the floor and walls of their tents), and in addition also to sell for subsistence.

About LARTA

Late C19th Caucasian Karachop rug
Late C19th Caucasian Karachop rug

The sixth annual LARTA event, from April 14-17, is the UK’s only specialist event for period rugs, carpets, tapestries and textiles.

Aaron Nejad, who has dealt in fine textiles and rugs for the last 20 years, launched the event in 2011 to create a focal point for collectors and international buyers at a time when many auction houses were closing their rug departments.

The trend for using vintage rugs is on the up. Aaron said: “We’ve seen a steady growth in sales over the past year or two. Decorators and private buyers are definitely looking to introduce soft floorcoverings.

“Prices for decorative antique rugs are great for non-specialist buyers at the moment. You can find a beautifully-hand loomed, vintage piece, carefully crafted using time- honoured traditions for the same price as a mass-produced new one at a department store. Why spend thousands on a brand-new rug which will lose most of its value the minute you get it home?”

LARTA, which takes place at Church Street, Marylebone, sees 12 exhibitors in a souk-like back-drop, with rugs, runners, embroideries, tapestries, kilims, decorative textiles and a selection of tribal artefacts on show. For more details visit www.larta.net.

 

 

 

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