Category: Articles

One of the great opportunities that still exists in the twenty-first century is the ability to acquire rugs that are made entirely by hand. The most common examples are hand-knotted rugs, (those with pile), or flat-weave rugs, (such as kilim, soumak or dhurrie rugs). From classical Persian rugs to modernist creations from India and Nepal, all represent an unbroken tradition of human skill and artistry.   Navigating the various choices available can be confusing, so let’s have a look at some of the questions you might want to ask yourself before you start to shop for “the one.” 

Understanding visual hierarchy

We typically walk with our eyes forward focused on the floor about six feet in front of us.  This means that as we enter a room or any space our vision is focused on the floor, or the rug upon the floor if that’s the case.  The visual information that the rug gives us informs our perceptions and influences us on a subtle level.  The colors used in the rug will create the basis of the palette for the room.  The size and proportions of the rug will tend to define the feelings of inclusivity of the room.  So the rug is really the visual foundation around which the room is built. 

Start with the rug – color is the key to harmony

Understanding the role of the rug in the visual hierarchy, we can begin to approach the issue of color.  While color is probably the most subjective aspect of rug buying, it is important to remember that you’ll want your furnishings to work harmoniously with your choice of rug.  If you have the luxury of planning to buy new furniture for the room as well it really is important to start with the rug.  There are usually numerous color selections possible for both fabrics and wall coverings in whatever style, design or texture you could desire.  The same is not always true for a hand-woven rug. 

Of course, there is often an option to produce a rug with custom colors, but that will not work for those of us who delight in antique or vintage rugs.  Similarly, there are many beautiful hand-knotted rugs that you may just fall in love with that can’t be reproduced.  So why limit your options unnecessarily?

If your intent is to find a rug to work with existing furniture, it’s always helpful to go rug-shopping with a fabric swatch or cushion in hand, as well as any paint samples, floor samples (if possible) and photos of art on the wall.  Photos of existing rugs in adjoining areas are extremely helpful as well.  It’s important to keep in mind that there is a natural visual flow when colors work together, whether it’s the way the colors of the rug play with the furniture or the way that the colors of one rug work with existing rugs that are in adjacent areas.  The response to color tends to be more visceral .  We don’t stop and think about it.  That means we don’t have to be as concerned with how the design of one rug might relate to another rug.  In fact, if the colors flow well it can be wonderful to mix contemporary with transitional or traditional rugs.  A rug with minimal design and color might be the perfect compliment to that cherished heirloom Persian rug.

Types of rugs – Traditional, contemporary, tribal, transitional and antique

Hand-made rug buyers today have far more choices than they did in the past.  Rugs are made in many shapes, sizes and styles.  Traditional Persian rugs and related rug designs from India, Pakistan and Turkey (often referred to as Oriental rugs) no longer dominate the market.   Modern rug design has exploded in recent years, resulting in a greater range of design styles, color choices and textures. 

Some rugs are even produced to order with with a distressed look, which is generally achieved by using abrasive or caustic agents to reduce the pile after the rug is completed.  This gives the rug a vintage look and feel.  The durability of the rug will have also been reduced somewhat, so it is important to recognize that.  Generally speaking a finer, more densely woven rug can be reduced in pile height through the distressing process with relatively less impact on its floor life than a more coarsely knotted rug.

Transitional rugs are those with designs that bridge the traditional aesthetic with the modern.  Classical rug design elements may be incorporated, but the pattern will have been deconstructed or altered stylistically.  The borders are often missing, and the rug just doesn’t feel like it belongs to the style of any one period. 

Tribal rugs is a term that we typically give to those rugs produced by nomadic or village weavers.  The designs, structure, materials and colors used are often easily identified as the work of particular groups, as designs and techniques were often passed down from one generation to the next.  Many tribal rugs in the past were smaller, scatter sizes, reflecting the loom sizes of nomadic and village weaving groups.

Today we find tribal rug designs being used in modern productions as well.  The bold angularity and vibrancy of tribal rug design works well modern interiors.  Larger looms of today can produce carpets of larger sizes, so we’re no longer limited to scatter sizes.

Antique rugs, those generally made in the first quarter of the twentieth century or earlier, offer a rich array of designs and colors to choose from.  Serapi and Heriz carpets, in particular, have an appeal due to their more geometric design sense.  Urban weaving centers, like Kerman, Tabriz and Kashan, became known for their intricate floral designs. The longevity of these rugs is simply amazing, and it’s quite possible to find many of these types of rugs in serviceable condition today.  It’s best to work with a reputable dealer who will inform you regarding the condition of the rug and will likely have made any necessary repairs.

Contemporary rugs – wool, silk, color and texture all come together

Contemporary rug design really developed in Nepal and has since spread to become a large part of the rug business in India as well.  High mountain sheep produce lanolin-rich wool with a special luster and greater soil resistance. The use of silk gives luminosity as well as a greater range of color   As the whole field of contemporary rug design has evolved over the past few decades, the sophistication of weaving techniques has kept pace.  Using higher knot counts and subtle color shading, artisans weave rugs that are reminiscent of watercolors. 

Having quality controls is essential, especially when it comes to the weaving of rugs in custom sizes or with color changes.  The custom process may be a bit more involved, but there are times when the sizes offered just won’t work or the colors may need some tweaking to make it just right.  Working with a reputable dealer who has years of experience in this field is essential.  Of course, the increased time when doing custom is just one more reason why it’s important to start with the rug.

One of the first lines of defense in the care of a fine rug is to have an appropriate pad.    The type of pad may vary according to the surface of the floor.  From our point of view the most important function of the pad is to keep the rug flat on the floor to prevent slippage and creasing.  A rug that slides under the weight of your feet is a trip hazard, while walking on a crease or buckle in the rug is detrimental to the structural integrity of the rug, as it will further stress the foundation of warp and weft and cause the rug to wear unevenly. 

A rubber anchor pad is ideal for use on a hard surface, such as wood or tile.  The rubber has a tremendously stabilizing quality under an area rug, preventing slippage, while the inert quality of the rubber is not prone to decomposition like pads made with petrochemicals like vinyl.   

There are also pads made with a felt-like surface on one side and rubber on the opposite side.  That way the pad can be used on hard surfaces, like wood or tile with the rubber side down, which provides slightly more cushion, while still adhering to the floor.  The surface that sits under the area rug has a rough texture, which grips the backside of the rug.  This pad may also be used in a reverse fashion over wall-to-wall carpet, with the rubber side up to hold the area rug in place while the textured side stays on the carpeting. 

Rug Maintenance: 

For the day-to-day maintenance of fine carpets we recommend vacuuming with a straight suction vacuum or a carpet sweeper.  We do not recommend using a powered beater bar on the pile of the rug as this can damage the carpet fibers and force dirt particles deeper into the pile. 

We recommend professional cleaning every three to five years for rugs in moderate traffic areas.  Rugs in high traffic areas may need to be cleaned more frequently.  Professional cleaning usually entails taking the rug off-site, so that it can be thoroughly wet-washed.  We do not recommend in-home “steam-cleaning” as an alternative, because  this method usually involves the use of surfactant cleaners that often contain bleaching agents or brighteners that may affect the colors of the rug.

Entrance or hallway rugs that are exposed to more traffic should receive additional attention.  Two or three times a year it’s advisable to turn the rug face down on the floor and use your vacuum’s beater bar attachment on the back of the rug.  This loosens the dirt and gravity will take care of the rest.  Of course, you must then deal with the released dirt and lightly vacuum the face of the rug. 

Spills and stains:

  • As a general rule, the quicker you can attend to the spot, the better. 
  • Using paper towels folded into a pad or a clean cloth, gently blot the area to remove as much liquid as possible.
  • Please note that you should blot, never rub the affected area. 

Spills and stains often require professional attention.  The dyes in some rugs may be unstable or materials used may react poorly to even plain water.  Additionally, in the case of pet or human fluids there may be acids or dyes present which can affect the rug and/or interact with cleaning agents.  When in doubt, don’t try to do it yourself.  Call a professional.  

  • Water or plain sparkling water can be very effective for minor spills and stains. 
  • We would not recommend the use of salt, baking soda or commercial, off-the-shelf cleaning products.
  • A spot cleaning solution can be made using ¼ cup of white vinegar with two cups of lukewarm water and ½ teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent.  After soaking the affected gently sponge the solution into the area to flush it.  Follow with a rinse of plain water, being careful not to overly wet the rug.  You can then blot dry with a clean cloth.
  • Allow the rug to dry.  Please be sure that the back is also dry.  It might be necessary to elevate the wet area off of the floor to increase airflow.

Keeping bugs out of your rugs:

Carpet beetles, carpet moths and clothes moths are some of the most common pests that can damage your rugs and tapestries, so here are a few helpful points to remember.  These unwanted creatures can fly in through open windows and doors as well as hitch a ride into your home in a piece of furniture or an infected item of clothing or another rug.  Carpet moths are very small, with a wingspan of only 14-18 mm. 

Carpet beetles and moths like dark, undisturbed places, so there is generally little risk to rugs that are out in the open being used on a daily basis.  The vulnerable places to pay attention to are areas under furniture that may lie undisturbed.  For tapestries and rugs that are hanging, it’s good to have a look at the side against the wall.   The telltale signs of an infestation are balding areas of pile where the wool looks as though it has been sheared down in channel-like fashion.  On the underside of the rug you will see areas of missing wool, exposing the warps and wefts.  You may even see small larvae or the casings.  Moth eggs are very small, like fine grains of pepper. 

Of course, if you notice any of these signs, the most important thing to do is to isolate the rug or tapestry, wrapping it in plastic and enlisting the services of a professional rug cleaner.

Rug storage:

If you want to place a rug into storage we advise the following:

  • Wash the rug doing a thorough wet wash.  This not only gets rid of bugs and/or their eggs in the fibers of the rug, but it also removes soil and undesirable contaminants from the foundation fibers of the rug, (the warps and wefts).  Soil and particulates that are ground into the rug over a period of time can dry out a cotton foundation and lead to dry rot.  Untreated areas of pet urine are also problematic, Indeed, even your dog’s favorite areas to lay down will be loaded with microbes from the animal, which will leave a very unpleasant residual odor if the rug is wrapped or isolated from the open air for an extended period of time. 
  • Roll the rug and wrap it in Tyvek paper.  Tyvek is a product you’ll see as a house wrap before the exterior finishes are applied.  It’s commonly used in the shipment of carpets.  It’s tear-resistant, and water resistant, but it also allows the rug to breath, as opposed to plastic.  You should also make sure that the seams or your rug roll are taped well. 
  • We prefer that the rug is rolled as opposed to folded, so that there won’t be creasing in the foundation of the rug during storage.  Generally rugs are rolled with the pile side facing in, but they can be rolled the other way as well. 

Rug repairs:

One of the most amazing aspects of hand-knotted rugs and flat-woven tapestries and kilims is the fact that in the hands of an expert they can be repaired and, in some cases, totally restored to their former condition.  Unlike tufted rugs or machine-made rugs, the warps and wefts of a hand-made rug provide a framework that the repairer can tie into.  

  • The most common damage is to the edges and ends.  Over-zealous use of a vacuum with a power beater bar on the fringed ends of a rug is sure to result in the end-finish of the rug being damaged, which can lead to an unraveling and loss of rows of knots.  Another common area of damage is along the edges of the rug.  In some cases this is the result of not having a rug pad to keep the rug from creasing, but it also can be a factor of the age and years of service a rug has provided.  In both these areas an expert should be consulted to evaluate the most cost-effective and structurally sound methods of repair.
  • Antique rugs, (particularly tribal rugs), often display an inordinate amount of wear in certain colors, most commonly dark brown.  This is actually an artifact of the mordant used to fix the dye to the wool, which often contained high amounts of iron oxide that proved corrosive to the wool over a period of time.  Unfortunately, the adjacent areas of pile may also be unevenly worn, as they become more susceptible to wear as well.  Re-knotting or re-piling may be an option.
  • Moth damage is actually one of the easiest types of re-piling jobs to make look good, as there is channeling amidst pile.  Re-piling in this case is more likely to blend in, provided the colors are matched well with the original. 
  • Rug repair is an art.  The repair and restoration people we’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years have repaired everything from edges and ends to large restorations and countless dog-chewed corners.
Tibetan Rug Restoration


If you have questions about rug care and cleaning, or if you’d like an estimate for our professional cleaning and repair services, please contact us.

You’d expect to hear that from me after 30 years of acquiring and selling fine rugs. Truth be told, I’m quoting Gina Rosenfield, a respected Hillsborough, California interior designer and long-time colleague.

Gina shares my belief that there are great advantages to approaching interior design projects “from the ground up”.

Whether you plan to furnish and decorate a room or your entire home, you can build upon a beautiful rug or combination of rugs to achieve a fabulous result.

Finding the perfect rug is all about the exploration, so before we focus on color, weave, scale and rug groupings, I want to know the end-goal.

One customer is decorating her newly-remodeled Craftsman home, and Tribal rugs hold the greatest appeal. An interior designer needs a traditional rug design that can be made in a lighter color palette or a varied blend of wool and silk. Another customer wants an Antique rug with an unusual story behind it, or a sought-after piece from a prestigious collection.

No matter what your goal is, I welcome you to visit our gallery in Menlo Park, California to inform yourself and visually explore the possibilities. You may arrive with notions about design and color already in mind, and find your preferences change as you browse through our eclectic rug collection.

My goal is to help you explore freely by learning to trust your eye, be attentive to what evokes a positive response, and find a rug you’ll fall in love with.