#Designinthetimeofcorona has given me the opportunity to step back and connect with several artists and creatives that I have personally worked with to build my business or for client work. This week we have the very special and talented vintage rug expert: Georgia Hoyler from Passerine Home! I have had the personal pleasure of partnering with Georgia on several of my design projects - not only does she sell her amazing rugs on her site BUT she offers custom rug sourcing. So if you have a specific rug in mind, contact her! I bet you she can help. So without further ado, my conversation with Georgia about all things vintage rugs!
jmi: How did you get started in the vintage rug business?
drs: A few years ago, I purchased a row home in Washington, DC. That kick-started my obsession with interior design, and with vintage finds in particular. I found a beautiful vintage shiraz rug at an estate sale in New England around this time, and it was my eureka moment: there is such artistry, such storied histories to handmade rugs! My appreciation for vintage, one-of-a-kind textiles grew from there.
I wanted to open Passerine Home because I recognized what a time-consuming, frustrating exercise rug shopping can be, especially for those with a designer’s eye but limited rug knowledge. It shouldn’t be so hard to find a rug that really speaks to its owner, and I wanted to establish a business that kept margins low, so that I could give customers a rug that would typically be well beyond their budget. I maintain a small inventory, but custom source well beyond that for my clients! Finding ‘the rug’ is my favorite part of the job.
jmi: How do I know if I am investing in a handmade rug or a mass produced rug?
drs: There are two types of common mass-produced rugs: machine-made (or “power loomed”) and hand-tufted. The easiest trick to know if the rug is mass-produced is to look at the rug’s back. If the back of the rug shows the same pattern as the front of the rug, it is handmade. If the back of the rug has some kind of canvas or burlap material on the back, then it is a mass-produced rug. Online photos of all rugs should have a photo of the back of the rug -- and if they don’t, ask for one.
To be fair, hand-tufted rugs can be nice options if on a tight budget, but it is important to understand why there’s such a cost difference. Hand tufted rugs can be misleadingly marketed as “hand-made,” but the labor and skill involved is incomparable to a real handmade rug: A 9x12 hand-tufted rug can be made in a single day, vs. 12-15 months for a hand-knotted one. Tufted rugs will shed more easily (as glue deteriorates) and last 3 to 10 years (for the best ones), vs. a hand knotted rug that will last lifetimes.
jmi: How do I know if I am investing in a real vintage rug?
drs: A “Vintage” rug is any rug 30+ years old. If it is 100+ years, it is an antique. Most of the rugs I carry are Persian rugs made between 1900 and 1930. But learning how to recognize a rug’s real age is really difficult unless you are an expert merchant who has been doing it for decades. I still double-check many of my purchases with a trusted rug appraiser to make sure I’m training my eye correctly. Identifying a rug’s age involves a lot of factors: color, motifs used, vegetable vs. synthetic dyes, and more.
To make it harder, many of the rugs claiming to be vintage on Etsy or eBay are not. Pakistani or Turkish rugs may be labeled as “vintage Persian” rugs when in fact they are new, but processed to look old. Rug pile may be shaved down unevenly to appear worn, or apply bleaching agent to fade the whole rug.
I’m not here to say that treating a rug with these kinds of washes is good or bad -- there is an art to applying some of these gentler antique washes and many of the rugs I carry have been antique washed. But, it should be transparent what you are buying, and the price should reflect the rug’s age, origin, and condition accordingly. An acid-washed tabriz that was made 35 years ago should be much less expensive than a 1920’s teal-fielded mahal. An acid-washed brand new Pakistani rug should be the cheapest--but it shouldn’t be labeled as “vintage.”
Bottom line: the best way to know a rug is genuinely vintage is to buy it from a store owner that you trust. If you think you are paying “more”, you likely are – you are paying for the real thing.
jmi: We would love to know about the different types of vintage rugs you sell and how to tell them apart!
drs: Though I source all kinds of oriental vintage rugs -- Turkish, caucasian, Persian, you name it --I have a soft spot for Persian rugs. There are hundreds of kinds of Persian rugs, named for their tribal (like Kurdish or Qashqai) or regional origins (like Tabriz, Dorosh, Heriz, and Malayer). I will share three types that I really love and that I often sell in the Shoppe!
Mahals. Mahals are low pile wool rugs knotted on a cotton foundation. I love the creativity seen in mahal designs! They are village rugs, likely knotted on home looms or in small scale businesses, and their designs were influenced by the designs coming out of high-end workshops in nearby cities like Sarouk. Sometimes they feature an all-over field with small, repeating diamond motifs (a “herati” pattern), and other times, they feature large floral patterns. One of the coolest things about these rugs is how thin they can be--the wool pile was often hand-spun very fine, which makes the nicest mahals just ¼ to ½ inch thick and very supple, like a fine wool blanket.
Tabrizes - Tabriz are city rugs, knotted in commercial workshops with the intent of exporting to the Western market. They are easiest to find in area room sizes, and unlike mahals, their pile is shaved down very close to the foundation. They can feature all-over repeating patterns like the mahals, or ornate, curved floral designs. These rugs are famous for really tight knots that make a rigid, strong foundation, so they are great for high-traffic areas! Their strong foundation also makes them the best candidates to process with acid washes, if you like that look. Acid washes strip nearly all of the rug’s original dye from the shaved pile and leave a neutral imprint of the original design. Such an invasive treatment could weaken a more delicate rug’s foundation, but tabrizes carry it with no problem.
Herizes - Herizes are beautiful village rugs known for their bold geometric central medallions. They are knotted with a much thicker wool pile than tabrizes or mahals, which makes them less time-intensive to produce and thus less expensive than other rugs of their size. Really old herizes (those produced before 1900) are called Serapi, and are famous the world over for their particularly spacious designs and beautiful faded colors. I have a few of these beauties waiting to be photographed as soon as this COVID craziness allows me to shoot them. Can’t wait!
jmi: What makes some vintage rugs more expensive than others?
drs: For decorative rug purchasers like you and me (vs. collectors), there are three overarching factors that determine price for rugs: (1) what is the quality of the original rug, (2) what is the supply of rugs like this one, and (3) what is its demand. This is an evolving market, driven by trends like other vintage furniture and art. Appraised value is not static for most rugs (serapis are one noted exception), and it can differ substantially from what the market will pay for a rug: a rug that was appraised at $10,000 for your mother or grandmother may struggle to get $2-3,000 now, or vice versa.
Assuming that we are comparing rugs of a similar quality, here are some factors that I have observed make rugs more expensive: sizes, color palettes
Mahals, malayers, and hamadans are highly sought-after for their pattern creativity by designers and are often more expensive than beautiful tabriz, dorosh, Qom, or heriz rugs in similar sizes
Rugs that measure true-to-size (8x10, 9x12 etc.): If looking to stretch your budget, layer a narrower 7x11 with a jute or sisal rug!
Rugs in hard-to-find sizes: this includes square area rugs, narrow runners, runners <12 feet (3x12 is a unicorn!)
All-over fields tend to be more expensive in area rugs than rugs with a central medallion
Rugs with dark, moody fields (black, midnight blue, teal) and only cool tones. These rugs are either untreated or lightly antique washed, and are rare. Most vintage rugs used red and blue together. To remove the red, the rug must be antique washed, and doing so can strip blue of its depth. Rugs that feature these colors untreated are highly desirable, as are the rare rug that come through treatment looking absolutely stunning.
Heriz rugs with original, unaltered vegetable dye colors
The good news is that there are an endless number of beautiful rugs out there. I’m always happy to brainstorm on ways to help folks find rugs that can work with their space and their budget.
jmi: How do I care for my vintage rug?
drs: I could write a book on this!
Keeping it simple:
The best place for your rug is on the floor. Do not store in plastic for any extended period of time. Wool needs to breathe to avoid moisture build-up and damage.
Vacuum as needed--weekly is fine. Be sure to lift up the vacuum’s beater bar to limit friction on the rug!
Always use a rug pad. When it is walked on, the dust—particularly silica – that gets into the rug over time can grind away at the rug’s wool or cotton foundation. It’s like sand on hardwood floors. A rug pad lessens this wear and tear.
Consider a professional cleaning for your rugs every 2-3 years. Look up experts on Yelp or Angie’s list who specialize in handmade carpet cleaning (not wall-to-wall cleaning!). Cleaning is protective, and gets that dirt and dust out from deep in the rug’s foundation, so it won’t wear the foundation down. You can also wash rugs at home if they are small enough to fit in your tub, and you have space to let them dry in the sun.
Once a year, take it outside, turn it over, and vacuum the backside of the rug to help remove all of that dirt and dust from the backing. Whacking it with a broom handle can help to release some dirt, too.
jmi: Can vintage rugs be used in environments where there are kids and pets?
drs: Absolutely! Wool is naturally odor resistant. If accidents happen, spills can be blotted up and quickly treated with a bit of distilled white vinegar or wool detergent.
If you are aiming to put your rug somewhere that you view as a high-risk drop zone (like a dining room), I recommend you consider a fabric protection treatment on your rug from a company like UltraGuard. I offer it as an additional service to all of my customers ahead of shipping, but the service can be conducted nationwide. These rugs have been in homes with children for generations -- why be delicate about it now?