A Guide to Decorating with Antique Oriental Carpets (Part 2)

By Jan David Winitz, President & founder 
Claremont Rug Company

Part 2 of 2 Parts  |  Read Part 1 Here 

Spacious desert home with antique Bakshaish Camelhair carpet and Mid-Century Modern furnishings.

Antique Oriental rugs can play a myriad of roles in enlivening and harmonizing a décor, and in Part One, I presented numerous ways to successfully incorporate them into the various spaces of a home. Here, I will demonstrate through anecdotal experiences how the great variety of antique rugs styles available means anyone can identify carpets that will enrich the ambiance they envision for their decor.

A question I’m often asked is: “How will antique rugs—a handcrafted artifact created on the other side of the world a hundred or more years ago—fit into a modern home decorated with a collection of contemporary paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture?” Many people erroneously think that older Oriental carpets are compatible only with traditional settings, such as historical homes furnished with antiques or neoclassical decors.

19th-century Bakshaish medallion carpet enhances contemporary architecture and whimsical décor.

Yet, fine antique Persian, Caucasian and Turkish rugs are an art form that remains remarkably timely and never goes out of style. Infinitely versatile, they work as great unifiers in the home, bringing together disparate elements of a décor. Created as superbly harmonious compositions in their own right, they have the ability to integrate the settings in which they are placed. 

With client after client for over four decades, I have experienced art-quality Oriental rugs to be extremely versatile, adding depth and an individual character to a great diversity of environments. They provide both a decorative foundation to a room and embody age-old principles of harmony and balance.

Left: Antique palace size Kermanshah in historical home. Right: Palace size Manchester Kashan and Roy Lichtenstein painting.  

Palace size Sultanabad in sunroom in contemporary home. 

For example, over a 30-year period, I had the privilege to work on a grand contemporary home in Piedmont, California for three different owners. In its first incarnation, our clients furnished the house with exquisite floral Persian Kashan and Ferahan carpets. The second clients opted for graphic Persian village Serapi carpets and Caucasian tribal rugs, and the third homeowners chose high-decorative Persian Sultanabad rugs with stylized floral designs and subtle colors. The house accommodated each makeover beautifully because the carpets expressed the owner’s taste and sensibilities. 

Contemporary, Mid-Century Modern, or Minimalist decors benefit exponentially from the presence of antique carpets, luxurious, soft textiles that complement the natural wood and stone hard surfaces in a home while reflecting the quality of the materials and workmanship of the custom environment.

Client after client have discovered that the spare graphics and abstract imagery of 19th-century Caucasian tribal rugs and Persian village carpets such as Bakshaishs, Serapis, Herizs, and Camelhairs work brilliantly with contemporary art. These styles have proven to be extremely complementary with the abstraction and asymmetry found in the work of such 20th century avant-garde masters as Klee and Kandinsky. 

Left: Caucasian Gubpa Shirvan in modern apartment. Right: Antique Persian tribal trappings on display in Tuscan-inspired home.

Well-chosen antique carpets can balance eclectic decors seamlessly. One client assembled a pre-Columbian artifact collection, a Napoleonic mantle and Deco-inspired chairs with a mid-19th-century geometric Bakshaish carpet possessing a spacious elemental design that effectively grounded the various components. Another client intriguingly combined an oversize Persian Malayer undyed camelhair carpet featuring a series of angular medallions on a latticework field with a Chinese screen, a painting by Miro, and a Ming-style glass coffee table, all beneath a panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline. 

Left: Antique Sultanabad providing a compatible foundation for modern furniture and artwork. Right: Antique Bakshaish area rug in Mediterranean inspired home. 

Longtime art collectors were elated to see that Persian floral rugs are profoundly collaborative with the large Lichtenstein painting in the living room of their contemporary Midwest apartment and selected an extremely curvilinear, salmon-ground palace size Persian Manchester Kashan to grace the floor beneath it. The juxtaposition of the two is brilliant. Another client chose a classical Persian Hadji Jallili Tabriz carpet of rare corals as an exciting juxtaposition to her four contemporary abstract paintings.

The bottom line is that the great majority of art-level antique rugs will enrich virtually any environment. There is no absolute template to follow. Very likely if a particular antique carpet speaks to your aesthetic, it will share the overall mood of other decorative aspects of your home. There are numerous ways to approach designing with antique Oriental carpets, varying from when a house is still in the design stage to an empty, pre-existing home to when the furniture and artwork are already in the owner’s possession to after the home has been fully furnished.

Many clients start by selecting rugs for one or two rooms and then come to discover that other spaces of their home feel “empty” or “cold” in comparison. Some prefer to work with one or two styles of rugs to unify the entire house, while others opt for each room having its own individual character. Wherever you find yourself to be on the spectrum between these two approaches, rest assured that choosing and living with harmonious, art-level Oriental rugs woven 100 to 200 years ago by people who had created works of balance and harmony for millennia will afford you tremendous long-term satisfaction. 

Circa 1850 Sultanabad with rare celadon field in art collector’s contemporary condo.