Having devoted my entire adult life to studying antique Oriental rugs and having been an art dealer who specializes in them for 37 years, I have observed the various manners in which four generations of connoisseurs have approached these woven treasures. My observation is that many members of the latest generation to reach adulthood—the Millennials—also have an impassioned interest in antique rugs from “The Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving” but for distinctly different reasons than their predecessors.
It is not just the rugs’ beauty, antiquity, impact on their home environment, or their investment-worthiness that draws younger adults born in the 1980s or 90s to them. Rather, I’m seeing again and again that for this generation concerned with preserving the planet, the rugs’ attraction is centered on yet another shared value—the knowledge that these pieces are handmade, ecologically-friendly artworks that were created wholly from organic materials without leaving any appreciable carbon footprint.
With their predilection for “found objects,” Millennials are also enamored that many antique rugs were created by common people as utilitarian items to be used in their homes, employing a pattern language of motifs that was handed down from their distant ancestors. These younger collectors often become fascinated that these rugs were woven using the identical rudimentary techniques and dyestuffs as the earliest surviving hand-knotted rug, dating to 1500 BC.
The Millennials’ penchant for devouring the Internet and social media provides those who wish to explore Oriental rugs with a seemingly endless supply of information at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a phone. Combined with the benefits of an often impressive folio of life experiences, the result is a particularly well-educated buyer who is able to make confident, well-informed decisions.
The vast majority of our clients begin their relationship with antique rugs by purchasing pieces for the public spaces of their homes. While the same is true of the Millennial connoisseur, there is another quality to their aesthetic. These 20- and 30-somethings typically gravitate to antique rugs that enhance contemporary or mid-century modern settings. To generalize, they are typically in one of two camps: those who espouse the use of color and pattern either as a bold statement and those who see it as a quietly sophisticated backdrop.
Illustrative of this first group is the great popularity of Caucasian and other tribal Oriental rugs with their vivid, primary colors that enliven the earth tones and metallic hues of contemporary homes. Their graphic patterns perfectly echo the strong lines of modern architecture. Conversely, an equally impassioned group of Millennials favors rugs with delicate, repetitive, curvilinear patterns, such as Persian Laver Kirman, Senneh or Ferahan rugs. These resonate with the softened and rounded lines of contemporary architecture, their subtle tonalities melding gracefully with the metallic finishes and tones prevalent in today’s design.
Over and over, I experience that younger connoisseurs make personal style statements by displaying their rugs in a variety of fresh, new ways. Using several smaller rugs and runners instead of one large rug in a room is a trend adopted by many Millennials. This approach is exemplified by framing a dining table with four rugs rather than the long tradition of anchoring the table on a single large rug. In other applications, room-size rugs are strategically placed, sometimes at angles, within a great room to effectively define separate areas. Other Millennials blanket a large room with a well-orchestrated series of overlapping rugs to express a more casual way of life as a departure from previous generations.
Displaying one-of-a-kind 19th-century rugs as “wall art” is widespread within the Millennial demographic. This trend is fueled by countless design sites and blogs that illustrate the creative showcasing of rugs paired with textured walls, custom side chairs, and cutting-edge chandeliers.
What’s most important in the design of these spaces is the interplay between old and new, the flash of history shining from within a contemporary décor that expresses the Millennials unique experience of evolving into adulthood at the intersection of two centuries.
As Millennials take over the mantle as the connoisseurs of the 21st century, I am excited to see how they are breathing new life into the old ways by reinventing what defines an object’s value. They are inarguably interested in objects rooted in the life of everyman, whether it be iron works dating to the turn of the 20th century, tribal rugs that can be picked up and moved to a new residence, or home design that eschews walls to welcome interaction. I look forward to being a witness to their exploration and to helping foster their appreciation for the very personal experience of collecting.