Vintage textiles add character and history to your spaces
In an era defined by technological advances, there is something intriguing and comforting about storied furnishings, especially the classic—and popular—vintage rug.
Rugs are a must-have in home decor. They add warmth, personality and style to a room. They can make a bold statement or tie an entire aesthetic together.
“Vintage [rugs] have a soul and history,” says Ben Hyman, co-founder of Revival Rugs in northern California, which specializes in sourcing previously loved textiles from Turkey. “They make us feel grounded, connected and rooted in culture, despite the craziness of modern life.”
It may be tempting to simply purchase a generic rug with a weathered look, but it will be missing the personality and timelessness of an authentic piece.
“Textiles today aren’t made the same way they used to be…and as quality suffers there’s been this reaction the other way for the craftsmanship of old,” explains Joyce Kong, also a co-founder of Revival Rugs. “In the rug world, this is especially apparent because a vintage rug has a weathered look that can only be produced through time.”
Though lots of retailers promise the look of vintage, it’s not the same, says Kristin Miracle-Lewis, owner of The Garage Collective in Laguna Beach. “[A vintage rug] has a past, some wear and tear that shows the life its lead and that sets it apart and makes it unique.”
Imagining where a rug has been and the story it could tell is all part of the mystique, agrees Jessica Nicolls, co-principal designer of Bungalow 56 in Coronado. “The subtle worn corners and muted colors with pops of vibrant knots weaved throughout tell a story of old and new unlike any other.”
According to most experts, vintage (or semi-antique) is used to describe something that is at least 20 years old, but less than 100, Ben says. “It’s not an antique yet, but still a quality piece that has been carefully worn and withstood the test of time.”
He cautions to keep an eye out for new textiles that mimic designs from older eras and have been improperly identified as vintage. “For example, you’ll often find vintage-style rugs at other retailers that are made with new materials but purposely faded to mimic the natural aesthetic that has taken decades for a real vintage rug to achieve,” Ben explains.
Don’t necessarily associate words like vintage and antique with exorbitant price tags—though you can definitely find examples for $50,000 with a quick search. Kristin swears affordable vintage pieces in all sizes exist. Her trick for covering the most space at the best price? “I always put jute (a natural woven rug) underneath my vintage pieces,” she says. “You can get a 9×12 jute rug for about $360 and then layer a smaller vintage rug on top of it and you beat the price of getting a big vintage rug by half. Plus, every room should have ample texture in it and jute provides great texture.”
Another way to cut costs is to opt for a textile in a lesser thread count. The more knots on the piece, the higher the price. But fewer knots can be just as beautiful, Jessica says.
From the vibrant Moroccan Berbers to the quieter Turkish Oushak rugs, each rug has a distinctive look that lends itself to various decorating styles.
“I’m leaning towards the Turkish Oushak rug,” Kristin says. “It’s very faded and not a huge statement piece, so it is peaceful and doesn’t compete with the rest of the room.”
Jessica agrees. “The muted colors and subtle patterns [of the Turkish Oushak textiles] allow them to fit seamlessly into any space. These rugs aren’t as expensive as some of the Persian rugs and we find that they are a perfect fit for the budgets and busy lifestyles of our clients.”
For those wishing to lay a bolder foundation, overdyed Persians feature classic patterning that stands out in sharp relief against a bright monochrome shade such as hot pink or cerulean blue.
High-pile rugs have a beautiful texture and feel great underfoot, Joyce says. “On the flipside, they tend to require a lot of commitment from their owners because they get dirtier faster, are not easy to clean and don’t hold up well. My compromise for areas that I’d really like a toe-sinking-in kind of feeling is to layer a plush sheepskin on top of a low-pile area rug. Wool is as indestructible as rug materials come, so it holds up well in high-traffic areas.”
If you entertain a lot or have kids or pets, low-pile is the best option for your household. “The low pile is easier to clean, fits under door swings and is less of a tripping hazard,” Jessica explains.
Those in the know recommend having any rugs—high- or low-pile—laid in high-traffic areas cleaned every couple of years by a pro who can also mend fraying edges, Jessica adds.
And it’s important to note that vintage rugs shouldn’t be cleaned too much (an added perk!). Joyce suggests vacuuming them only once or twice a month since they don’t shed the way newer rugs do.
Shopping the Selection.
Locate a reputable seller who has a flexible return policy—especially if you are buying online, Ben notes.
While Joyce emphasizes the importance of quality materials (like wool and silk) she urges shoppers to look past buzzwords such as “handmade.”
“Many rugs are handwoven, but a quality vintage rug will be handwoven from handspun yarn,” Joyce says. “The differences between handspun and machinespun yarns are texture, thickness and consistency. Machinespun rugs are thin with a uniform thickness, whereas handspun rugs have irregularities in thickness throughout. Overall, this means more wool is used in handspun yarn, so if you lift a handspun rug you will find that it feels far more substantial and heavy than its counterpart.
Also, handspun yarn is dyed in small batches, which translates to a beautiful watercolor, dappled effect in the woven design that is highly prized in the rug world, as it is more interesting than a field of color in one flat shade that you get with machinespun.”
If you enjoy the hunt, flea markets are fun places to visit and shop for floor coverings. Kristin recommends finding the vendor who doesn’t have lots of rugs in his inventory. “The guy who doesn’t know what he has will have the best rugs for the best price,” she says. “Before you buy, check for oil or water stains that can’t be fixed and only take ripped pieces if they have been damaged at the seam, where they will be easy to patch.”
Statement-making pieces should be kept to one (maybe two) items in a room. Make sure your rug and other large furnishings aren’t competing with each other, Kristin says. She adds mudcloth pillows, neutral furnishings, leather sling chairs and rattan stools in a room where a fabulous vintage rug lays the groundwork.
Don’t stick to one time period either, Joyce advises. “I love a really good chair with a vintage rug, something like Knoll’s Cesca chair. Its warm caning detail on a minimal steel frame just works so well with an ombre faded vintage rug,” she says.