Master's Class: Area Rugs 101

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As the weather gets colder almost by the day, so our thoughts turn to cozy, snug rooms. And nothing adds to the cozy factor of a room like a good rug.

Both the texture and pattern of a rug can greatly contribute to the way a room feels. However, for most people buying a rug is an activity shrouded in mystery, one that involves all sorts of strange terms that mean almost nothing to the layman. In today’s Master’s Class I want to break down some of this mystery and give you a basic knowledge of the different types of rugs and the relative pros and cons of each. I say it’s time to shed some light on the mats beneath your feet so that you can be educated the next time you go to purchase one.

To begin, every interior designer knows that in the rug world, there are two fundamental categories: Machine-made versus Handmade.

Machine-Made

These are rugs made on huge looms, with the weaving process controlled by computers. This technique can lead to much more detailed, intricate patterns, with a broader range of color. The biggest advantage in this sort of rug is the cost, especially as you start to get toward some of the larger sizes too, which are very difficult to find in a handmade rug. On the downside, while a machine-made rug may last up to about 20 years, it retains little resale value.

The fibers used in this sort of design can vary widely as well and can include wool and synthetic fibers such as polypropylene, nylon, acrylic and art silk. I have a tendency to prefer natural fibers, as I think they have a better feel to the touch and are generally easier to keep clean.

Handmade

This is the most traditional style of rug, but can be a loaded term as it covers both hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs, which are very different techniques and can dramatically change the price that you would pay.

Hand-knotted rugs are what you imagine when we talk about handmade rugs. They are created on a loom in the old technique. The best quality rugs of this type have traditionally been made in the Middle East (Iran, Turkey, Iraq and India), with their designs influenced by the region where the rug is made. In recent years, however, a lot of great rugs have been produced in China, Tibet and Nepal. These rugs can be reproductions of traditional designs from other regions as well as more contemporary designs. Most of these rugs are made in wool (either sheep or goat) and sometimes in silk as well.

With a hand-knotted rug, the quality of the rug as a whole depends a lot on the quality of the knots of which it is composed. A high-quality rug can have as many as 100-150 knots per square inch and a lower quality one as few as 50-60 knots. The fewer the knots, the more wear the rug will show, and it also affects how well the design is rendered (think of it like DPI in photo images).

Hand-tufted rugs are a more modern invention, and use a hand-held “punch” that tufts the wool into the scrim. This technique dramatically lowers the amount of time it takes to manufacture a rug, and allows several people to work on a rug at the same time. With this method you can achieve a fairly detailed pattern, but it still fails to reach the level of quality that a hand-tied rug does.

A handmade rug will retain more value than a machine-made one. While I hope that most places where you shop would be honest about the technique that went into the making of their rugs, here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping:

- A hand-tied rug will have some degree of irregularity to it, especially if you turn it over and look at the knotting on the back. A machine made will be perfect on the back.

- Always be a bit skeptical of the term antique. An old rug will be about 50 years in age. Claims of more than that should be met with a raised eyebrow.

- With an old rug, you should expect to see some wearing, areas where it is worn through to the scrim, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and may actually contribute to the value of the rug.

- Rugs made in the traditional way will be made with vegetable-dyed fibers. They fade fairly readily, so try to keep your rug out of direct sunlight, and also the color varies from dye lot to dye lot, which is called Abrush, and once again contributes to the value of the rug.

- If you love the design but think the rug is too light or too dark for you, try rotating it. Well made rugs have an inherent direction, and consequently have a light and a dark side, so make sure you check this before moving on to the next.

Lastly, a rug is one of those pieces that, if selected right, can be passed along from one home to another, and even from one generation to another. They add beauty and warmth to rooms, so take your time, select with care and love the choice you make.

Finally, feel free to give me a shout out @markcutler to show me what you chose or if you have any other questions regarding all things rugs. And when you do get the rug you love--tag it at #adoredecor so we at nousDECOR can admire your choice!

Image via Heaven's Best

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