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Antique and Vintage Rugs in the Modern Interior

JF7742 – Karabagh Rug, circa 1910

The Great Rug-Making Cultures and Art on the Wall

In cultures with a strong rug-making tradition, such as the Middle East and the Navajo Nation, in the American Southwest, rugs are the highest expression of art. Strongly rooted in culture and tradition, these rugs are made by hand, to exacting standards of craftsmanship, and their value grows over time. They are also never put on the floor. The finest rugs, hand knotted silks in Dubai, or rugs woven from hand spun wool and dyed with the native plants of the Colorado Plateau, are hanging on walls. As art, they are epic in scale, grand expressions of the color, patterns, and traditional workmanship of native craftsmen who have developed their art over generations.

Modern Interiors and Vintage Rugs

In the modern interior, antique and vintage rugs from the great rug-making centers of the world can be used as art in a similar way.  We traditionally use rugs to delineate space on the floor, to tie disparate elements of design together into a cohesive whole, and to bring elements of color, texture, and pattern to a room. These design elements can be used with rugs-as-art, as well as adding the epic scale that rugs on walls are known for. A modern interior, with clean lines, neutral colors, and natural light, can use rugs as focal pieces of color, texture, and pattern, while maintaining the modern aesthetic. Antique and vintage rugs that show their age are particularly well suited.

Mixing antique pieces into a modern interior is a charming way to bring some sense of history into a space. Vintage and antique rugs show their history in the way they have been used. An old Navajo saddle blanket, woven on traditional looms, will have a wear pattern consistent with its original use. Tibetan and Mongolian rugs may tell the story of their origin and use. Using these old rugs as wall art, preserving the signs of wear to allow the piece to tell its story, while keeping it safe from further depredations, is a way to honor the makers and the long traditions of craftsmanship.

Working with Vintage and Antique Rugs

When working with antique and vintage rugs, a first cleaning is usually done by expert preservationists who are familiar with the traditional materials and methods of the fine rug makers. If repair is needed to maintain the structural integrity of a piece, repairs can be done that are both in line with the aesthetic and reversible, in the event further restoration or preservation is needed in the future. Period and method specific materials can be used, such as hand-dyed silk threads, or handspun Navajo-Churro wool. Modern cleaning, such as dry-cleaning or washing with water and detergents, is not recommended to be done at home for antique and vintage rugs.

Other Textiles in the Modern Interior

Many vintage textiles can be found in pieces, such as old handmade quilts, silk kanthas, pieces of old silk kimonos dyed in shibori patterns, and old rugs. These textiles can be used in the modern interior in place of traditional textiles, such as incorporated into pillow covers and throws, framed and hung as part of a gallery wall, or incorporated into a new piece of art. Adapting these vintage and antique pieces into a new use gives respect to their history and the tradition of fine handwork that is disappearing. It also allows for extraordinary color, texture, and pattern to be added to a modern interior. If an antique or vintage rug is coming to pieces, and it does not appear that complete restoration is possible, speak to a preservationist, such as the experts at Landry & Arcari, about how to salvage pieces of these extraordinary textiles for re-use in a modern interior.

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