Whether you buy an antique rug or a modern one, it should not be an uninformed decision.
As my husband, Philip, and I worked on furnishing our Garden District cottage, we realized we needed a rug to anchor our den. The antique heart of pine floors, soft neutral sofa and chair and cognac leather 1960s-era Barcelona chair yearned for something to pull everything together, and we thought a bold antique rug might just do it. Within a short time of looking at mountainous stacks of rugs, we decided to stop and do some homework before actually making the purchase.
Buying a serious, or even not-so-serious, rug takes research, and wise buyers put on their thinking caps and learn what is available. The choices are immense and at times enough to make one dizzy.
First, decide whether you want a formal, elegant rug, such as an Aubusson, or a less formal one, such as a soumak or kilim. Do you want an antique rug (one that is 100 years old or older) or a more contemporary look, such as a sisal or sea grass? Cut photos out of magazines with rugs you admire or think might work in your room.
Think about the colors you want to work with. In an ideal world, homeowners buy the rug first and then match fabrics and wall colors to the rug. But this isn’t an ideal world, so if your fabrics are already purchased, bring these details with you. I kept a Ziploc bag with fabric samples and wall color swatches in my purse and even brought a cognac leather pillow with me as we schlepped from store to store. We had a lot to learn.
“An antique rug, like a piece of antique furniture or silver, has its own patina,” says Jay Sanchez, owner of New Orleans Fine Rugs on Magazine Street. “But along with that patina come yearsof wear and tear.”
Decide how much fraying on the edge, a small tear, a stain or a moth-eaten hole will bother you. Some think these flaws are a part of the rug’s history; others see shabbiness.
Look at the luster of the rug. A slight shine can denote that the wool is from sheep specially bred for the quality of their wool. Rub your hand across the wool. If it feels slightly oily and a little fleecy, the wool is good. If it feels scratchy or looks dry and dull, ask why.
Many rug merchants tout knots per inch as a measure of quality. Knots per inch can vary from 30 knots to 1,000 knots per inch. However, a primitive rug (perfect for an informal setting) may have fewer knots per inch and still be a fine rug. A more formal rug with curved lines and an intricate pattern will need more knots.
Natural-dyed rugs, those whose fibers are tinted with vegetables, are popular today. Their soft colors blend well with contemporary décors, and they have a more organic look and tend to be more costly. Synthetic dyes, also popular, tend to be stronger, more uniform and less costly. Most rug dealers say that it is very difficult for the naked eye to tell whether a rug is made of vegetable or synthetic dyes.
“The key question to ask is if a rug has been altered in size or color,” says Sanchez. He points to a bold red Oushak, rolled up in a corner of his elegant shop. “Some dealers would strip it of its bright red color and make it a soft coral color, but I wouldn’t. It will be perfect in its natural state in a lodge or man’s office.”
Most rug dealers I met had a little wiggle room in their prices, especially if I was paying cash instead of putting the purchase on a credit card. But don’t get fooled by the stores that advertise “going out of business” sales and enormous discounts. Within the rug business, there is a subset of merchants who do only this, and you have to ask yourself, “If he’s selling the rug at 75 percent off, how does he make money?”
More important, the stateof Louisiana has a very strict consumer protection law regarding endless “going
out of business” sales. The law clearly states that if a store advertises such a sale for more than six months
and does not go out of business, its owner is guilty of a crime punishable byfines and/or imprisonment.
Make sure you can bring the rug to your home on approval as colors and textures change in different settings and lights. This is a common practice, and most merchants encourage it. However, at one local store,
I was told that I’d have topay a $250 nonrefundablefee to bring a rug to my home for a day or so. Red flags
were flying, and I left that store immediately!
Finally, ask your dealer if the rug was made using child labor. Many rugs will have a tag on the back certifying they were not made by children, and reputable dealers insist on this qualification when they buy from wholesalers. You should, too.
In the end, we purchaseda wonderful soumak rug, and though it isn’t an antique,
it has the soft neutrals and cognac the room begged for. It pulls everything together and is perfect for our den. Our months of shopping and learning paid off, and so will yours.