A Guide to Decorating with Antique Oriental Carpets (Part 1)

By Jan David Winitz, President & founder 
Claremont Rug Company

Part 1 of 2 Parts  |  Read Part 2 Here 

Antique Persian Sultanabad oversize antique rug in dining room of traditional Silicon Valley home
A seldom-seen, flaxen-toned antique Persian Sultanabad creates a very welcoming environment for entertaining.

For over four decades, I have been privileged to share my knowledge and expertise with clients, helping them to incorporate the artistry of antique rugs into their lives. In approaching the addition of fine Oriental rugs to a decor, I would like to begin with a single question: what is a home?

Ideally, it’s a sanctuary, a nurturing environment where the psyche can rest and emotions regain their balance, where one can relax after the responsibilities of the day and “rejuvenate.” It’s a counterpoint to the great demands of modern life. 

A home is a place furnished with objects that express one’s passions and history, tastes and values. It’s an intimate refuge conducive to both creative solitude and time spent with family and friends. I have repeatedly seen how art-level Oriental rugs add immeasurably to the quality and character of this haven.

A rare Serapi “Vase Rug” sets the tone for this connoisseur’s elegant home.

Where does one start and what should be considered as the process begins?

Some new buyers are uncertain about the merits of choosing authentic antique rugs over the late 20th century Persian rugs and modern reproductions that are prevalent in today’s market. Some clients put enormous attention into their homes’ craftsmanship and detail work, but give little thought to the quality of what goes on their floors. They may think that a contemporary reproduction is a safer choice, its condition unquestionable, its colors, design, and even its size, available on demand. But the difference between an innovative antique creation and a new floor covering that, while hand-knotted, has a design and limited color spectrum that is reproduced in different sizes is infinitely greater than that of an original work of art and the poster that depicts it.

Just as there are no shortcuts when it comes to aging wine, there are none here. The antique carpets still available to us today come from a millennia-long tradition of skills and intellectual property that exposes contemporary rugs as flat and lifeless by comparison.

Left: Antique Persian Serapi, 11′ 1″ x 12′, late 19th-century with a masterful hierarchy of scale and an exquisite color palette. Right: Modern handwoven Romanian crudely adapting the Serapi design in contemporary colors.  

Some basic rules of thumb when beginning your search.

For large rooms with high ceilings, choose deeper, contrasting colors that have weight and grander, more graphic designs. Soft, low-contrast hues will often look lost in a high-volume space. Lacking enough presence, they wash out. They will, however, come to life in smaller, more intimate settings.

The inclination for many clients is often to furnish a large room with a single oversize or palace-size carpet. In some cases, this creates a majestic, very well integrated ambiance. The carpet will serve as a canvas, enveloping the room’s occupants in the artistry of the weavers’ world, offering the experience of living within the artwork. these carpets require carpet cleaning knoxville if it ever gets shabby because they are irreplaceable.

A two-story East Coast living room benefits from the time-softened crimson background and large scale stylized floral design of a palace size circa 1850 Persian Sultanabad carpet.

However, at times a single carpet of great size will create an effect more suited to a hotel lobby than a home. In this case, it’s wise to consider several smaller pieces that work well together. These will help ground the room and also differentiate seating areas. Using a series of smaller carpets placed partially beneath major pieces of furniture will expose more of the artistic elements of the rugs rather than obscuring them.

“Where my rugs and I am, this is my home.” — Traditional saying of South Persian Qashqai nomads

For dining rooms, most clients initially think of a carpet with an all-over pattern, as they fear their table will obscure a center medallion. However, some end up choosing a medallion rug, discovering that they usually feature wider, more compelling borders and spandrels that frame both the room and the table. This adds elegance and visual interest, as the medallion will peek out intriguingly. Carpets with beautiful all-over patterns command less attention, blending in with the decorating scheme of the room in which they are placed.

Left: In dining rooms, rugs with central medallions impact a décor quite differently than an overall-pattern carpet, as this top-tier palace size Serapi demonstrates. Right: A passageway becomes an opportunity for art appreciation when an art-level antique Oriental runner is underfoot. (Décor: Carla Carstens I.D.)

  Halls and corridors have tremendous design potential, though they are usually thought of as places to be passed through. A well-chosen runner looks entrancing when “framed” by the walls of a hallway. For longer hallways, multiple runners can create an engaging display of woven art.

  Rugs of the same style or region typically share a general color palette and can be chosen to accentuate a home’s overall color and design themes. But many of my clients find it even more exciting when different styles and color palettes are used to give each room a particular character.

  The condition of a rug often will dictate where it should be used. Bedrooms, home offices and libraries can be the ideal venue for more fragile pieces.

Left: This circa 1860 Camelhair Bakshaish creates a profound ambiance in this rug collectors’ master bedroom. Right: 19th-century Ferahan Sarouk displayed on wall softly reflects the ambient natural light.

  The graphic composition of many antique rugs makes them ideal for hanging vertically as wall art, adding dignity and sophistication to the overall environment. Woven by a single weaver,  3 x 4 to 5 x 7 art rugs are enrapturing when viewed at eye-level, revealing their numerous subtle details and nuances of color.

As life speeds up, high-caliber antique carpets offer us the opportunity to slow down, to enjoy the work of the tremendously dexterous weavers who spent months, even years, lovingly creating a single piece. Living with art-level Oriental rugs allows us to look deeply at and create a relationship with these artifacts that emanate a level of balance and harmony that is enormously nurturing.

A Connoisseur-Caliber, 19th-century Persian city carpet from the famed Hadji Jallili Tabriz workshop unifies this casual space with its unique earth-toned color palette, and elegant medallion and spandrel design. (Carole Laventhol I.D.)

Read Part 2:
“A Guide To Decorating With Antique Oriental Carpets”