Unhealthy Tribal Rug Obsession

First of all, thank you for the kind comments about the site redesign! It's definitely a work in progress since I finished construction on the fly, so please let me know if you encounter any technical difficulties. And for those of you mourning the loss of a certain beribboned zebra, that guy may stage a comeback tour. You just never know what might happen around here. If you're following me on instagram you might recall my tears of regret over leaving this rug behind:

antique peking rug

It was a 4x6 handknotted Chinese rug of some sort... maybe antique Peking? I don't know as much about those types of rugs as others. Anyway it was of excellent quality and I am in dire (using that term loosely) need of a rug for the foyer that you can kinda sorta see here:

erin williamson design

Problem is Chinese rug had an east/west design and I have a north/south entry. Still, it was only $80 and I stood in the store hemming and hawing for half an hour before walking away with my lip on the floor. Stupid cheap rug.

But then I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and turned to ebay in a quixotic quest for an affordable antique caucasian rug. "Affordable" and "antique" do not belong in the same sentence.

antique tribal rug

For example, this rug blows my mind up. Sure, it's only a 4x7 and $700 -- which is more than I would spend on a 9x12 rug, but LOOK AT IT! Over 100 years old and in fabulous condition. I love that you can see where the weaver changed her mind and switched to a different color. So much work, beauty, and history wrapped up in such a functional package. I have considered selling body parts and/or children for this rug.

antique tribal rug

I am really drawn to crazy abrash in vintage and antique rugs. If you don't already know what abrash is, let annoying Professor Erin tell you: it's those bands and striations of color change that happen naturally over time where wool from different dye lots has been used. Tribal rugs are made on location with small vats and therefore small dye lots. So as they age some of these rugs tend to exhibit crazy abrash due to the differing amounts of dye used. You don't see near the amount of abrash on city rugs because they have vats big enough to dye wool for an entire rug.

antique tribal rug

Here is a tribal rug where the chosen colors are super consistent, but there is still a fair amount of abrash in the field area. I think it gives it a lot of depth. It's a super old rug and that particular blue is very hot on ebay. Hot = $$$ and my paltry bid got smacked down and stomped on.

Normally I wouldn't be looking at flashy rugs with so much contrast, but since it's for my foyer and will kind of stand alone like a piece of art for the floor, I figured I could afford to get nutty. Except I can't actually afford flashy or nutty.

antique tribal rug

Here's another rug I was massively outbid on. $500 for a 4x6 and that is CHEAP for one of the better antique rugs.  This rug was made in the 1920s, which I think is a sweet era in terms of age and design aesthetic. I pretty much always like a persian rug woven in the 20s.

antique tribal rug

A lot of 19th century rugs anywhere near a middle class budget have major wear, brittleness, and loss of edges. I'm not really into the ancient but trashed look -- I prefer medium old and structurally sound with some pile left. Look how delicious and velvety soft this is! I want to rub my face all over it. The seller has the rug folded to demonstrate "flop" which is a desirable quality in handwoven rugs.

antique tribal rug

And here's the rug I finally bought. It's by far the least exciting of the rugs I just showed you, but it's fairly old, clean and in good condition. I like the tight weave and colors, the seller was nice (that counts in my book), and best of all it was also only $130 shipped. Hopefully I won't fall asleep just looking at it on my floor.

If it doesn't work in the foyer, I'm thinking it can disguise the hideous tiles in my (still) hideous kitchen.

And then I can buy more rugs!

Because apparently that's what I do.

Rug Mystery Solved!

So, remember the crazy rug I bought in a parking lot? The one from the sale that showered dirt all over my babe and surely gave me a bacterial infection of some sort? This rug?

I couldn't decide whether to keep or sell. You guys were not impressed by its Versacesque glamours, but I saw something in there... My spidey senses were a' tingling. Lucky for me I have awesomely smart blog buddies. Cassie sent me a link to Lisa the Rug Chick, a textile expert who knows EVERYTHING about rugs. Read her blog... it's amazing. Anyway, Lisa was kind enough to email me with her take on Mystery Rug.

Drumroll, please...

1940s Spanish Savonnerie.

Exciting! I mean, it wasn't a $4 million 18th century French Savonnerie rug:

4 million rug

But it was something.

In the meantime, I had grown very attached to Mystery Rug. I had plans.

erin williamson

Master bedroom Versacefication plans.

However, Lisa the Rug Chick had some not so glamorous news: Mystery Rug was very dirty, and because it was woven on a jute foundation it would need to be painstakingly hand cleaned by a professional. No hosing this 100 pound beast down in a driveway unless I wanted it to disintegrate. Plus the jute edges had some unraveling and repair issues... plus Ben hated it.

I called Deep Eddy rug cleaners and they quoted me $425 to start -- which is not insane to clean a giant dirty antique rug -- but I didn't want to put more money into that particular rug.


I decided to try to sell it, so on a whim I emailed Nazmiyal Rugs in New York. They deal in all sorts of amazing antique rugs, rugs that cost more than my car.

Aaannnnd, I got an immediate call back. They wanted to buy it at the price I had set... If you watch Pawn Stars you know that dealers make you set the price because dummies like me have no idea what their stuff is worth. Therefore I had probably underpriced the rug.

I emailed another dealer, who told me the rug was possibly Austrian. Then I looked up Austrian savonnerie rugs and found this one on Ebay. Looks similar, right?

It's $12,000. Kinda more than I asked for. Ooops.

By this point I had already entered into an email contract with Nazmiyal. Hey kids, a written email agreement between a seller and buyer is legally binding.

Good to know, right?

And then I had to ship my rug off to NY on approval, which was nerve wracking. What if they stole my rug AND I was out shipping???

They didn't. They are professional dealers with a fancy brick and mortar location in New York. My little ole rug was chump change to them. Also they were very nice and reassuring.

Cherry popped. Check cashed. Tidy profit made.

Nazmiyal will make a tidier profit, but unlike many people I have no issues with selling to dealers. Yes, they will sell your item for more (a lot more) than you sold it to them, but they have massive overhead to finance PLUS they have invested time and money into building a clientele.

I mean, I could have put my rug on Ebay and asked $10,000, but who would buy it?

Probably nobody.

I hope.

So now I am a tiny bit richer and minus one rug.... guess what that means?

Rug shopping!!!

Probably for the living room (AGAIN), because I think this is going to happen:

I feel pretty good about this plan. I mean, I LOVE my blue rug, but I don't love it with the red persian rug in the living room.

Two rugs in the same room is just tricky town.

We will discuss this ad nauseum later... I have 700 pictures and opinions ready to share regarding this subject.

And someday I will finish my next how to post on buying rugs. Sorry I am so slow.

In the meantime, don't forget to enter the mega Graham and Brown wallpaper giveaway!

It ends Thursday night.

Do it.

It's Educational: Rugs That Go With Anything

Welcome to Rug University... or more likely, Rug Kindergarten. The art and craft of weaving carpets is centuries old and even though I have spent years off and on reading about rugs, my knowledge is just a blip on the radar of fiber history. People who really know their stuff usually possess deep generational knowledge about the subject. I am just a crazy person who loves rugs and I'm sure I'll say something stupid somewhere. Oh well. What I can offer you is information on how and where to buy, and hopefully how not to get ripped off.

Deal? Let's do this.

For this series of rugucational posts I'm only going to deal with woven natural fiber rugs, or rugs that do not have a latex/canvas backing. They could be made of wool, or cotton, or other natural fibers, but they have no backing and the design is visible on both sides.

This is the backside of my handwoven (knotted) malayer rug.

I've been moving away from tufted (latex/canvas backed) wool rugs and towards handwoven wool, cotton, and jute rugs for a while now. Reading The Rug Chick's blog about how shoddily (and stinkily) many tufted rugs are produced totally confirmed a lot of my fears about mass produced wool rugs. I'm not saying all tufted rugs are poorly made -- I'm very happy with the Safavieh leopard rug in our front room:

I'm just saying I prefer to spend my skrillaz on rugs that have the potential to last for decades... if my boys don't burn holes in them first, that is.

Anyway, today let's talk about woven rugs that will go with anything. These are your cheap and chic workhorses that generally come in under $5 sq/ft -- sometimes a lot less.

rugs nazmiyal oushak

It's a good idea to decorate a room from the ground up. If you choose your rug first, you'll never have a problem finding fabrics and (even easier) paint colors to coordinate. Working from the opposite direction really narrows your opportunities for interesting and hopefully cheap rugs. Trust me -- I found out the hard way.

This post goes out to all the peeps like me who need a rug to play nice with the stuff they already have.

A solid field is the very easiest thing to decorate around. I suspect that's why jute/sisal/seagrass rugs are so popular. Plus they can be pretty inexpensive and they hide dirt well. Of the three, seagrass is the best to clean but the most expensive, although you can custom order seagrass rugs in any size with dozens of border options at The Perfect Rug for a very reasonable price. Jute is second, and sisal is the pits of hell. To maximize your cost/benefit ratio, you can buy jute and get it from Overstock (wait for a 10% off sale and try to stack a coupon on top) or get it from RugsUSA during one of their 50% sales.

This handsome guy is $180 for an 8x10 HERE.

I don't consider these to be forever rugs, but natural fiber rugs definitely deserve consideration. I like how they can casual up a room and add a natural element, which is especially nice if you don't already have wood floors.

rugs sheepskin-sisal-hide

Plus these rugs layer up right pretty and they can be so cheap.

A very simple geometric that runs edge to edge is the next easiest to decorate around. I put wool Moroccan beni ourains in this class. MFAMB just did a round up on cheap sources HERE so I won't cover that ground again.

beni ourain

Any furniture, any colors, almost any fabrics will do. Your rug will be an unsanitary disaster in no time, but that's another story.

I am constantly picking pollen and leaves out of the West Elm faux beni in our very low traffic nursery. It sure is cute, though. Don't spend much on this type of a rug, and for the love of all that is holy buy something small enough to shake it out every now and then.

All over patterns (like the one I just bought, for example) are also relatively easy to decorate around because they have no borders and no center medallions -- things that can make furniture placement tricky.

rugs Hollywood+Regency+Living+Room+grand+living+KLOmIYEt1hwl

Tony Duquette makes it look easy, but let's face it -- nothing about this room is easy.

If you have a wonky inflexible furniture plan and buying a rug is stressing you out, an allover design is your friend.

madeleine weinrib

I don't hate this Madeleine Weinrib rug, but I personally would never buy a giant cotton rug I couldn't throw in the washing machine. You want wool -- delicious stain repellent wool.

rugs overstock

Dhurries (aka kilims, aka flatweave rugs) are relatively inexpensive because they use fewer materials than full pile rugs. This wool dhurrie came from overstock and it's dirt cheap -- $262 for an 8x10. Even Ikea can't beat that price. Overstock actually has a multitude of well priced wool flatweaves in various colors and patterns. I'm partial to striped or tribal versions, personally... trellis and chevron are feeling pretty dated.

rugs eskayel

This looks like it might be a wool kilim. I would hit that. Dhurries are nice because they can be used on both sides before they need to be washed. I like to think that a wool dhurrie rug could last for decades if padded, rotated and treated to the occasional bath.

If you buy a dhurrie, a good rug pad is a must. I've shopped around and this one from overstock is the best I've found. It's soft, squishy, does the job and doesn't mark up my wood floors.

The next level of quality and design represents a fairly significant jump in expense. I'm talking about Tibetan type rugs.

rugs tibetan tiger

I wish I were talking about Tibetan tiger rugs, but a) they aren't cheap and b) they don't exactly go with just anything.

Who am I kidding? This goes with everything.

But really I'm talking more about tone on tone hand knotted wool Tibetans:

rugs tibetan

This may or may not be a Tibetan, but they are often woven in simple muted patterns.

This one is silk and wool. Unlike other handwoven (hand knotted) wool pile rugs, they do not have fringe.

Warning: there are a lot of creepy 80s Memphis wannabe patterned Tibetan rugs out there. Don't buy them.

Anyway, "Tibetan" rugs are interesting in that they aren't made in Tibet (because of Chinese occupation). Most are made in India by Tibetan and Nepalese workers... or not. The could also just be handknotted Indian rugs made in a "Tibetan style." I don't really have a problem with that as long as the wool is nice quality and it's handmade. Just don't pay $8000 for a rug unless you get an appraisal.

Shouldn't be an issue, right?

I bought mine off Ebay from Pakobel Rugs. He doesn't have any Tibetan/Nepalese (he spells it "Napalese") rugs right now, but you should check back since he gets them in waves. I HIGHLY recommend him -- totally professional and courteous.

In the meantime, may I suggest this 8x10 handknotted Tibetan style rug for $375? So awesome with kelly green and white. Available HERE from brandrugs on ebay.

I would buy from them because they have a 100% positive feedback rating. Also, all good pro ebay rug dealers will give you a 14 day return option. It's a safety net that could be expensive to use (I have return shipped a rug and it's not cheap), but it's good to have just in case. Also, use paypal in case you need an extra level of protection for disputes.

The last category of neutral rugs I have the strength and endurance to tackle today is the beloved Turkish Oushak.

rugs darryl carter oushak

This super light super subtly patterned rug is an antique Oushak (Ushak). Every decorator and their mama wants an antique Oushak because it goes with anything and it adds that certain handmade, natural/organic element every room needs.

Problem is, a real antique (80+ years old) Oushak is expensive... even on ebay. You can, however, buy a newish one at a competitive price. They will most likely be knotted in India or Pakistan (Peshawar), but they still have the soft colors and large scale patterns that work with a variety of decorating styles. I like Rug Emporium's listings:

He lists new Oushak type rugs every day. Some are blue, some green, some very light and neutral. I'd wait for a light neutral one with an allover pattern (no center medallion) to pop up. 9x12s tend to close in the $500-700 range, which is not bad for a large hand knotted rug.

Just fyi, Oushaks can also come in fabulous pastel colors that may not go with everything but are still awesome and amazing. Here's a rug I wish I had bought... it's an actual vintage Turkish rug and it is HUGE (like 10x16). It went for over 1K which is totally worth it, but totally out of my price range. It sure is good, though.

Can you even imagine how long it would take to make a giant rug like that?

Forever, that's how long. And that's why hand knotted rugs are expensive.

That's all I have for today. Thanks for reading this giant long novel. I hope you're still awake.

For my next installment I'm planning a post on purchasing Persian type rugs. Excitement! And I also have a post in the works about other kinds of fancy antique rugs.

Let me know if there's anything specific you want to see and I'll try to work it in.

Until then, happy shopping!

[Images via pinterest]