HOW TO WORK WITH ART-LEVEL ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUGS AS INTERIOR DESIGN CENTERPIECES
OAKLAND, CA. – Jan David Winitz, president and founder of Claremont Rug Company, has spent more than three decades building a world-class inventory of 19th century, art-level Oriental rugs from the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving. Over the years, he has advised clients regarding how to effectively decorate their homes with antique carpets and how to build private collections. Recently, he has begun to set down what he has learned into a series of articles that answers many of the questions that have been posed to him. In this narrative, the first in the series, he discusses the history of antique rug collecting and the integral role they play in the contemporary home. The article also provides a handy set of “rules of thumb” for selecting specific carpets for various applications in the home. More information about Claremont’s 4000-rug inventory are available on the website, where 1,000+ pieces are displayed.
Where my rugs and I am, this is my home.
– Qashqai nomads of Southwest Persia
Decorating with Rugs
Oriental rugs have been an integral part of Western habitations for centuries.
They originally came to the Western World with Marco Polo in the late 13th-century, and became staples in the private dwellings of King Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and France’s Henry II.
In more recent times, they could be found in the private homes — as well as in the creative work — of Henri Matisse, who used them in his paintings, and Frank Lloyd Wright, who incorporated them into the homes he designed. Corporate titans J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Frick Clay were all impassioned collectors. William Randolph Hearst placed rugs throughout San Simeon, his 56-bedroom castle. Sigmund Freud owned a substantial collection. Today, a broad range of art aficionados continue to enjoy the allure of living with Oriental carpets in their primary residences, vacation homes, offices and working studios, as well as in private yachts and airplanes.
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For over three decades, I’ve 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 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 the day, and “rejuvenate” for the days to come. It’s a counterpoint to the increasing pace 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 seen over and over again how art-level vintage rugs add immeasurably to the quality and character of this haven.
So 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 or vintage rugs over modern reproductions, so prevalent in today’s market. Some clients put enormous attention into the craftsmanship and detail work of their homes, but give little thought to the quality of what goes on the 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 a venerable antique rug and a new floor covering is even greater than the difference between an original work of art and a poster that depicts it.
Just as there are no shortcuts when it comes to aging wine, there are none here. Only the passage of time, use and exposure to light can combine to achieve the luster and inner glow -the patina- of aged, naturally dyed wool, which has a substantial range of tones and textures to begin with. These elements combine to soften, add nuance, and at the same time heighten the colors and give the designs a tremendous sense of dimensionality. Younger rugs inevitably look flat and lifeless beside them.
Here are some basic rules of thumb:
For large rooms with high ceilings, choose deeper, contrasting colors that have “weight” and larger, 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 oversized 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 weaver’s world, offering the experience of living within the artwork.
In other cases, however, 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. In an 18 by 30 foot room, for example, one might use a 11×16 in the major seating area, a 5×7 under the coffee table, and a 8×10 under the piano. Using a series of smaller pieces, placed partway beneath major pieces of furniture, will expose artistic elements of the rugs, rather than obscuring them.
- For the dining room, many tend to think in terms of an overall pattern rather than a carpet with a central medallion, as they fear the medallion will be hidden beneath the table. However, many of these same clients end up choosing a medallion rug. They discover that the medallion carpets usually feature wider, more compelling borders and corner pieces that frame both the room and the table, adding elegance and visual interest. The medallion will peek out intriguingly. Under a glass-topped table, the medallion will “magnify” and will serve as a focal point of the room. This being said, most important for a dining room is to choose a carpet that offers especially beautiful and interesting borders and corner pieces.
- Though usually thought of as places to be passed through, halls and corridors have great design potential. A well-chosen runner looks entrancing when “framed” by the walls of a hallway. For longer hallways, multiple runners can create an engaging artistic impression.
- Rugs can be used to accentuate a home’s overall color and design themes. But in many cases, it is even more exciting when different styles and color palettes are used to give each room its own particular character.
- The condition of a rug often will dictate where it should be used. Personal libraries, bedrooms and home offices can be ideal for more fragile pieces.
- The graphic composition of many pieces lends themselves to being hung vertically, adding dignity and sophistication to a wall and the room it stands in. Woven by a single weaver on upright looms, 3×4 to 5×7 art rugs are enrapturing when viewed at eye level, which reveals their numerous subtle details and nuances of color.
As life speeds up, high-caliber vintage carpets offer us the opportunity to slow down, to enjoy the work of the tremendously dexterous weavers who spent months, even years, to lovingly create a single piece. Living with art-level rugs affords us the opportunity to look deeply at and create a relationship with these artifacts that emanate a level of balance of balance and harmony that is deeply nurturing.
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Decorating with Rugs: Enhancing Your Home
A question I’m often asked is: How will antique rugs—a handcrafted artifact created on the other side of the world more than a hundred years ago—“work” in a modern home decorated with a collection of contemporary paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture?
Many people erroneously think that older Oriental carpets work only in traditional settings such as historical homes and neoclassical environments.
Antique Persian, Caucasian and Turkish rugs are an artwork that are remarkably timely and never go out of style. They are infinitely versatile and work as great unifiers, bringing together disparate elements of a décor. Created as superbly unified compositions in their own right, they have the ability of carrying that quality over into the settings in which they’re placed. In fact, much of fabric design of the last two generations owes homage to antique Oriental carpets.
Again and again, art-quality Oriental rugs have proven themselves to be extremely versatile, adding depth and interest to environments as diverse as contemporary, Arts and Crafts, Victorian, Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Italianate, ultra-modern and others. They provide both a decorative foundation to a room and embody age-old principles of harmony and balance.
Here is a remarkable example of the flexibility and individuality that well-chosen 19th-century and early 20th-century Oriental rugs can bring to a home.
A single residence can take on several different design directions, depending on its owners’ aesthetic. Over a period of decades, I have been privileged to work on a grand contemporary home in Piedmont, California that was furnished by three different owners. In one incarnation, bold floral Persian Kashan and Ferahan carpets were used, in another graphic Persian village Serapi carpets and Caucasian tribal rugs, and in a third, high-decorative Persian Sultanabad rugs with stylized floral designs and subtle colors. The house accommodated each style “makeover” beautifully because the carpets “anchored” the owner’s taste and sensibilities.
Antique Persian and Oriental carpets can soften the hard lines of minimalist, ultra-modern or Craftsman environments. One Claremont client unified an eclectic collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, a Napoleonic mantle and Deco-inspired chairs with a 150-year-old geometric Persian Bakshaish carpet. Another combined an oversized Persian Malayer undyed camelhair carpet with a series of angular medallions on a latticework field with a Chinese screen, a painting by Miro, a Ming-style glass coffee table and a panoramic picture-window view of the San Francisco skyline. Elsewhere, a classical Persian Hadji Jallili Tabriz carpet of rare pinks was used to complement four contemporary abstract portraits.
Antique Persian Laver Kirman rugs, with their delicate detail work, pastel hues and arabesques, harmonize extremely well with the narrow brushstrokes and naturalistic scenery found in Impressionist art. The spare graphics and abstract imagery of 19th-century Caucasian rugs and Persian village rugs like Bakshaishs, Serapis and Herizs work brilliantly in contemporary settings. They’ve proven to be great complements to the abstraction and asymmetry found in the work of such 20th-century avant-garde masters as Klee and Kandinsky. Some clients discover that the soft lines and warm colors of traditional Oriental rugs effectively soften the hard edges of a minimalist or ultra-modern décor, making it more inviting and livable. One example was our use of an extremely curvilinear, salmon-ground Persian Kerke Kashan to counterbalance a large Lichtenstein painting in a contemporary Midwest apartment.
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. The chances are great that if a particular Oriental rug speaks to your aesthetic, it will share the overall mood with other decorative aspects of your home.
There are numerous ways to approach designing with antique carpets in a home. They vary from beginning when a house is still in the design stages; with a pre-existing empty home; with furniture and art works already in the owners’ possession; or with homes that have been fully furnished.
It’s not unusual for a client to begin with one or two rooms and then come to discover that the other rooms feel “empty” or “cold” in comparison. Some clients prefer an overall style of Oriental carpet to unify the entire house, while others prefer that each room have its own individual character.
We recognize that the choices available in a 4000-rug inventory such as ours can appear to be overwhelming. Our goal always is to help you understand the options and create a rug palette and design-way that will enhance your home and bring balance and harmony to your personal space, as well as to assist you to discover antique rugs that speak to you personally. When these factors are considered together, the solution ultimately will be greatly satisfying.
One approach that clients have found quite helpful is our Whole Home Project Service. I have seen over and over again that even clients who are new to fine Oriental rugs have their own taste, which simply is yet to be discovered. The key is to help you apply those preferences to your living spaces or, conversely, learn how to let the homes themselves dictate what best works in them.
Working in collaboration with my team of antique carpet consultants, I have participated in furnishing a substantial number of the finest apartments, residences and family compounds on several continents, incorporating from a handful to up to 70 Oriental carpets in a single home.
Our website (www.claremontrug.com) showcases detailed color photographs and descriptions of about a thousand antique Oriental carpets at any one time. Many use the site to learn about the gamut of styles and age groups we handle. Others use it as a device to hone their taste. Visiting the Claremont website, clients often find the ideal Oriental rugs for their needs and taste, or a selection worth serious consideration.
The website is also home to color photographs of more than 75 completed rooms, providing you a look at how various architectural styles, furniture and art have been successfully integrated.
We take great satisfaction in enhancing the beauty of our clients’ homes with the magic of fine 19th-century and early 20th-century Oriental carpets. It’s hard to imagine anything more gratifying than incorporating these examples of great artistry from the past into contemporary living spaces.