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How To Buy An Oriental Rug

After working in the world of Oriental Rugs for over a decade I have pretty much been asked every question imaginable about rugs. Fortunately, I have built up a certain amount of knowledge on the subject. It is relatively easy for me to greet a customer at the door, confident that I can guide them around an inventory of 6000 rugs, well able to answer any question they may have, whether it be about how many warp strings are used to weave an antique tribal Heriz, or the application of bamboo silk in rugs made in Nepal.

Sales Manager Steve Williams
Sales Manager Steve Williams is the friendly face of The Persian Carpet. He will greet you at the door and will help you find the rug you need!

Some customers stride into the store with confidence that they possess a good measure of knowledge about oriental rugs, their history, how they are made, what makes one valuable, what is high or low quality. Other customers meekly peek around the door, unsure as to whether they want to dive into the vast and great unknown of the world of rugs. Many customers can quickly become overwhelmed by the variety of different rugs they are looking at and you can see their eyes glaze over. This is understandable, for there is manifold choice.

Over the years I have heard other customers express preconceived ideas which are not always correct. For example, it is commonly thought that the higher the knot count per square inch the higher the quality and price. Fundamentally, whether a rug was woven with 600 knots per inch or 64 knots per inch makes little difference as to the quality or durability. The same materials are used, the same construction is used, but the higher knot count allows for a more detailed well-defined design. Higher knot counts mean more labor was required and that contributes to the price.

But fashion also counts for a lot. The most popular rugs at the moment among collectors are rugs with very low knot counts. Persian tribal rugs, which used handspun yarn and were woven on rudimentary ground looms and produce angular geometric designs, are far more popular that Persian city rugs, which have high knot counts, were woven on upright looms with machine-spun yarn, and have ornate designs. In high-end auction houses rugs with extremely low knot counts, such as Turkish Oushak rugs and English Arts & Crafts rugs, can regularly fetch prices around $50000.

Another misconception surrounds antiques versus new hand-woven rugs. People generally will steer clear of the antique rugs, even though they are far more interesting, in favor of new hand-woven rugs, on the assumption that the antique rugs will be out of their price range. But in the world of antique rugs condition counts for everything. Blemishes, flaws and wear all cause the value of a rug drop dramatically. At the same time, there is a lot of top-quality new production, using natural dyes, that can easily out-price an antique rug with “issues”.

All of these interesting observations aside there is one essential starting point to any rug-buying operation:

What size rug do I need?

The most common difficulty we face in helping customers is establishing what size rug they need. More often than not, customers will not have “measured up” the space they are looking at. Oriental rugs usually come in relatively standard sizes:

  • 2x3 feet
  • 3x5 feet
  • 4x6 feet
  • 5x7 feet
  • 6x9 feet
  • 8x10 feet
  • 9x12 feet
  • 10x14 feet
  • Larger Rugs
  • Rounds
  • Squares
  • Runners

Rugs from 2x3 to 6x9 are usually used in foyers and bathrooms and kitchens. As a rule 8x10 rugs are the standard size to go under a dining table that seats six. Larger dining tables require a 9x12. Rugs measuring 8x10 and up are generally used in larger rooms such as dining and living rooms. Rounds and squares are good for round and square tables or in asymmetric foyers but are difficult to find in the realm of hand-woven rugs. That said, we at The Persian Carpet carry these hard to find shapes.

In terms of rug size the most difficult room to approach is the living room. There are basically two rules of thumb. Either have a larger rug that would go under furniture or a smaller rug with the furniture situated around the rug. But there is no law about this! You should choose according to your own tastes. After all, it is your living room!

How to size a rug with your furniture
Sizing Guide

A related issue in this scenario is the question of how much space should be left between the edge of a rug and a wall. Once again, there is no rule about this, but I personally think that about 2 feet is a good space, especially if you have hardwoods. As beautiful as the rug is it would be a shame to cover up that beautiful wood!

This question also relates to runners. Nearly all contemporary runners are 2.5 feet wide and most passageways are 4 feet wide. This leaves a good space between the rug and the wall. Runner lengths vary from 6 feet to 40 feet so the length is another matter which brings us full circle - the importance of measuring.

To measure you can simply run a tape measure and try and visualize how the rug would look. One useful trick is to place newspaper on the floor in varying sizes - say, if you wanted to see if an 8x10 or a 9x12 is the optimal size - then you can actually see how the rug would look by size. Another useful trick is to cut out the shape of the rug in paper and place it to scale on any floor-plans you may have of your house.

Rug with your furniture arrangement
Sizing Guide

What Design Do I Need?

Once you know what size you need half the battle is won. Our inventory is laid out in stacks of rugs arranged by size. We have seven 8x10 stacks. We have seven 9x12 stacks. The list goes on. Each of these stacks is arranged according to size, and by design and color, antique or new, Southwestern or Arts & Crafts, rounds, square, runners and so on. If we know you are in need of an 8x10, for example, we now have a solid starting point.

Let us use 8x10 as an example, because it is one of the more commonly used sizes. Our 8x10 stacks are divided according to age, color and style. One stack is devoted to antique rugs. This stack is where the collectors want to look, or customers who want the genuine article on their floor.

Antique Persian Heriz Rug
An Antique Persian Heriz Rug

There is one important point to consider when you begin, and that is if you are looking for a dining table rug you may prefer an overall field design. Many rugs have central medallions, which are the centerpiece of the rug, and they get lost under a dining table. The borders of the rug will be seen around a dining table so they are the part of the rug to focus upon. Also, it is darker under a table so unless your dining room receives a lot of light then you may want to consider a lighter color palette.

We are now zeroing in on a rug preference by size, design and color. A second stack of 8x10 rugs comprise new hand-woven rugs that are reproduced to look like the antique pieces. As with antiques there are both geometric and formal designs in the sphere of new reproductions. There is also consistency in color. Traditionally Persian rugs used varying combinations of red, blue and ivory. The same is true of the reproductions. Many of these reproductions will be more affordable than antiques. However, a lot of new inventory is being produced in places like Afghanistan, where they are using natural dyes and weaving fine pieces. These can often be more expensive than some antiques.

Geometric Tribal Reproduction Rug
Geometric Tribal Reproduction Rug

A third and fourth stack of 8x10 rugs comprises traditional Persian designs but in non-traditional colors. Many customers already have fabric swatches and paint chips picked out and more often than not these colors are not in the traditional Persian framework. Providing the customer still wants a design along the lines of a Persian rug then it is to these stacks that we go. One stack features colors that are lighter, with soft yellows, slate-grays and sky blues. The other stack features every non-traditional color you could imagine - teals, browns, purples and so on.

Now within this world of Persian designs, whether we are speaking of antiques or new rugs, there are two broad families of design - tribal and formal. Most Tribal rugs feature geometric designs. Formal rugs are more floral and ornate. Everything from the style of furniture you have to the design of your house to your own preferences determines which way you lean on this issue. Trust yourself. Your own instincts will decide for you.

A Formal Mameluke Reproduction Rug
Formal Mameluke Reproduction Rug in non-traditional colors

New Directions

A large number of our clientele live in modern or contemporary style houses, with accents on straight lines and right angles and either monotone or relatively simple palettes. Fortunately, this is the very area of rug production these days that is expanding the most. Particularly seen in Tibetan rugs (these rugs are actually woven in Nepal but use the Tibetan knot) a number of manufacturers have flooded the market with rugs using the highest quality Nepalese yarn, often combined with silk accents, nearly always in modern or contemporary designs.

A Contemporary Design Rug
Contemporary Design

Because the range to choose from is so wide it is not difficult to find a rug with the desired color scheme. The varied designs that are constantly being produced allow you to enter an entire world of creative surprises. Not only do we have a full stack of 8x10 modern rugs for your perusal, we also have hundreds of smaller samples from which to order.

Contemporary Rugs
Our Contemporary Rug Room

Here at The Persian Carpet we are not only traders in the market but we make our own niche specialty lines for customers who are looking for a genuine hand-woven rug in a style to fit their tastes. We have been making an Arts & Crafts line for over twenty years to cater to the large market of people who love William Morris, Bungalow Design, Mission and Prairie Style. Much of this market is in the mid-west, particularly Chicago and the west coast - after all, that is where this design movement was strongest. A lot of people are bringing these old bungalows back to life and want the appropriate furnishings. We can supply customers with the quality rug they need without breaking the bank. Our fifth stack of 8x10 rugs comprise these Arts & Crafts rugs.

William Morris Black Tree Design in an arts and crafts living room
Arts & Crafts line Black Tree William Morris Rug (PC-37A)

Likewise, for some years now we have been focusing on Southwestern design. We produce a line of Navajo Reproduction Rugs under the name of the Dreamcatcher Collection, and in conjunction with Pendleton Woolen Mills we make two lines - a hand-knotted piled rug line called Pendleton Reserve, and a hand-tufted rug line called Pendleton Classic. When you come into our store you can view any of these, the Pendleton Reserve rugs being exhibited in the final stack of 8x10 rugs.

Chimayo Southwest Rug in Bedroom
Southwest Looms Pendleton Reserve line Chimayo SW-12

What Should I Expect To Pay for an Oriental Rug?

As they say “how long is a piece of string?” All of our rugs are clearly labeled with dimensions and price so you know exactly what we are asking for a particular rug. We are not one of those disreputable establishments that deliberately leave the rugs unmarked so that the salesman can throw out a price based upon what sort of car you drive. There is no haggling here!

A lot of customers appreciate us being up front regarding price but would still like a ball-figure price for a given size. Well, as you have probably gathered prices can vary enormously in the world of hand-knotted rugs depending on the rug in question. To keep running with the 8x10 size as an example, an antique Persian rug in perfect condition may fetch between $10000-$20000 but a semi-antique in poor condition may be only $1000. New 8x10 rugs can vary in price from $1000-$10000 depending on the materials (silks) and dyes (natural versus chrome). All of that considered the majority of new 8x10 rugs, however, would retail from $2000-$5000 as a ballpark figure.