Handmade Rugs—the Orphans of the Decorative Rug Trade?

Photos Alix 5-30-2010 034Ever since I became immersed in the rug world in the 1980s working for HALI and later The Oriental Rug Magazine, I was frustrated that the decorative application of handmade rugs was basically ignored. Although rugs are designed for the floor—either as the focus or as the backdrop of the room’s décor—they were rarely featured in their decorative context. Instead, they were typically displayed as isolated objects hanging on a wall or on the floor. Yes, there are plentiful and admirable books on rugs’ history, construction, and designs but these are geared to the rug aficionado, not to the decorative buyer or user focused on finding out what rugs would work best in their home or their client’s. Moreover, shelter magazines feature beautiful handmade rugs, both antique and contemporary, but how often are they mentioned in the article or even in the caption?

And so, you may ask, why should anyone care? Actually, the decorative application of handmade rugs does matter. For one thing, they represent one third of the usable space and are the first element that catches your eye upon entering the room. Secondly, aside from furniture, they outlive any other furnishing in the home—including window treatments, wall paint and coverings, and upholstery. Their resilience to wear-and-tear and virtually all forms of human abuse is second to none in essence guaranteeing that they can not only move with you from house to house but also be passed down from one generation to the next. Hence they are the most-effective investment furnishing investment in the home. Last but not least, they are the greenest of floor coverings being produced with renewable organic materials such as cotton and wool, and free of from adhesives and petroleum-based products, present in most machinemade carpeting products that produce off-gassing. Still, despite these attributes, handmade rugs have been treated as the orphans of the decorative trade.

When editor of The Oriental Rug Magazine and later consulting editor on AREA Magazine, I sought to redress the image of handmade rugs as important elements in the décor with an ongoing article series featuring  the country’s most prestigious designers’ use of rugs in their work. I knew I was onto something when they all responded with unquestionable enthusiasm. “Finally! It’s about time to publish articles on how rugs are actually used in interior design!” they exclaimed. When helping my clients buy rugs, I always was a bit at a loss when trying to recommend books helping them identify rugs they would like to buy.  Most found rug books too intimidating. Some sent me photocopies of illustrations of rare collector’s items that they wanted in oversizes. Not surprisingly, they were frustrated when I told them these did not exist in the market only in the hands of a few collectors and museums. Other clients, desperate for a visual guide, created their own “look book” with ads and images of rugs in rooms torn out of magazines.

And so, buoyed by the encouragement of my clients and featured interior designers, I took on the project of The Decorative Carpet—Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors, a monumental but very rewarding task. I was lucky to find Monacelli Press/Random House who believed in the project. My 32 featured celebrity designers—including Samuel Botero, Clodagh, Jamie Drake, David Easton, and   Bunny Williams—were overwhelmingly as enthusiastic as I about giving decorative handmade rugs at long last their deserved place in the interior design world. Today, handmade decorative rugs are orphans no more.

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Learn more from Alix at her presentation on Friday, January 14 during Market at 2 p.m. Here she’ll discuss “The Decorative Carpet in Interior Design.” Plus, stay around and purchase a book for her to sign. Find her in Building 1, Floor 4, 4-G-7

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