Oriental Area Rugs Facts & Buying Guide
With rich colors, sophisticated patterns, and impeccable craftsmanship, traditional rugs are design classics that bring a sense of history to any space.
About Oriental Rugs
Oriental rugs are hand-knotted pile rugs woven in the Middle East and Asia. Different varieties are usually named after the village, town, or region where they are woven, or by the name of the tribe in the case of nomadic weavers. For example, Persian rugs are a variety of oriental rugs made in Iran (modern-day Persia) known for their thick pile and rich color. Turkish rugs, also called Anatolian or Oushak rugs, are another well-known type. All hand-knotted rugs are produced by a labor-intensive process that can take highly skilled weavers up to a year or more to create.
In current usage, the term oriental rug refers to all hand-knotted pile weave rugs, regardless of their country of origin, as well as some machine-made rugs that emulate the rich colors and intricate patterns of the originals. The common elements among all oriental rugs include traditional colors and patterns, and a soft, low-pile. For that reason, Kilim rugs (which are flat-woven) and Moroccan rugs (which usually have a high pile) are often given their own classification.
Color and Pattern
Today, rug makers can produce a rainbow of colors with ease but in centuries past, artisans had to master a labor-intensive process to harvest natural dyes from roots, plants, and even insects. Common colors found in oriental rugs include blue, red, cream, black and brown. And although the vibrant colors of many rugs produced today come from synthetic dyes, this traditional color palette has stood the test of time.
Want to learn a bit more about the color of that oriental rug you have your eye on? Here are the meanings associated with some of the most common colors found in oriental rugs:
- Red: Happiness and joy.
- Blue: Solitude, honesty, and power.
- White, cream: Purity and peace.
- Brown: Good harvest and fertility.
Design variations to know:
- Tabriz: A city in northwestern Iran, Tabriz was the at the heart of Persia's export trade beginning in the mid 19th century. Many designs are used in Tabriz rugs, including medallions, prayer designs, and pictorial designs.
- Kazak: Kazak rugs are traditionally made of wool, and feature bold and brightly colored designs.
- Kashan: A city in north central Iran, rugs made in Kashan are known for intricate floral medallion designs on a red field.
- Heriz: A town in Iranian Azerbaijan about 40 miles west of Tabriz, Heriz is known for rugs woven with a large medallion design.
- Kerman: A city and province of southeastern Iran, Kerman has a long rug weaving tradition. Common designs include intricate floral patterns, medallions, prayer rugs, and pictorial designs.
- Anatolian: A peninsula between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, this region is known for pile-woven wool rugs. These rugs are also known as Oushak rugs, named after the city of Usak, Turkey.
- Floral: Floral motifs are a common feature of oriental rug designs. Floral motifs may be naturalistic, stylized, abstract, or geometric.
Common materials and construction methods:
- Hand-knotted: Columns of yarns called warps are attached vertically on a loom. The weaver ties tufts of wool or silk around the warp yarns from side to side to create knots. The loose ends of these knots become the plush pile of the rug.
- Hand-woven: Hand-woven rugs can be hand-knotted or flat-woven. A hand-woven rug without knots produces a flat-woven rug like a Kilim.
- Low pile: The length of pile produced once a rug has been woven is determined by how long the yarns are cut. Traditional oriental rugs typically have a low pile, meaning the yarns are cut short for a thick, plush feel.
- Wool: Wool is a high quality rug material that makes for a soft and natural feel underfoot. Wool has natural soil and stain resistance.
- Silk: One of the most expensive fibers, silk has a luxurious, soft feel underfoot. Silk is often blended with wool.
What to Know About Knot Count
Have you heard that the number of knots per square inch determines the quality of a hand-knotted rug? Similar to the way thread count is measured in bed linens, most rug weaves are measured by counting the number of knots per linear inch along the length (warp) of the rug, and multiplying by the number of knots per linear inch along the width (weft) to get the number of knots per square inch. And while a higher knot count is a good indicator of quality, it's also important to take the material into account. For example, the knot count for a silk rug (which has very fine fibers) is likely to be far higher than for a thick wool rug, even one of a very high quality.
Where to use Oriental Rugs:
- Add elegance to the living room.
- Use an oriental style runner in a long hallway.
- Put a colorful overdyed oriental rug in a modern living or dining space.
- Complement a historic home with an antique style oriental rug.
Oriental Area Rugs: Past and Present
The earliest woven rugs were likely flat-woven from wool on simple looms by nomadic weavers. Later, different colors were added to the warp and weft, creating increasingly intricate patterns. The first hand-knotted pile rugs, similar to what we think of today as oriental rugs, were brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire by Italian merchants. By the 19th century, oriental rugs had become popular throughout Europe.
With such a long history, it's no wonder that oriental rugs have remained popular while other design trends have come and gone. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the rich colors and intricate patterns work as seamlessly with modern interior design as with traditional and rustic homes.
Care and Cleaning of Your Oriental Area Rug
Properly caring for your oriental rug will help it last longer and maintain its vibrant color for many years. It is important to clean your rug regularly, but gently. Use the light setting on your vacuum with an attachment intended for area rugs. When your rug requires a deeper cleaning, it's best handled by a professional carpet cleaner. The finest hand-knotted area rugs do require special treatment, so they may not be the best choice for highly-trafficked areas in homes with kids and pets!
Styling Your Oriental Area Rug
Rolling out an oriental rug is a great way to bring luxurious comfort and beauty to any space in your home. An oriental rug makes a warm welcome in the foyer or entry hall. In the living room or study, pair an oriental rug with bookshelves and comfy armchairs for a cozy, inviting look. Or ground your dining space with a beautiful oriental rug to set an elegant tone for entertaining and simple family gatherings.
Decor styles that complement oriental area rugs:
Find Your Perfect Oriental Area Rug
Use these shortcuts to narrow down your search results and find just the right rug for you.
- Get started: Browse all area rugs
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- Find wool oriental area rugs.
- Search for luxurious silk oriental area rugs
Persian rugs are a type of Oriental rug that is specifically made in Persia while Oriental rugs usually consist of rugs made in India, China, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan.
Always follow the label directions, however most oriental rugs need to be cleaned by hand.
An oriental carpet is typically placed in living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms under furniture to bring together the room with its patterns and colors.
Since many of these countries lie in an area which today is referred to as the Islamic world, oriental rugs are often also called “Islamic Carpets”, and the term “oriental rug” is used mainly for convenience. The carpets from Iran are known as “Persian Carpets”.
Authentic Persian rugs have earned the reputation of being the highest quality because of the perfected weaving techniques used in Iran.
In short, a genuine Oriental or Persian carpet has no sewn-on fringes. The fringes form the end of the warp yarns and are therefore an integral part of the carpet. If you should see on the back of the rug that the fringes have been sewn on, then in all probability it is not a genuine oriental rug.
Oriental rugs make a comeback, and they are not just for your grandparents' house. The tangerine and brick-red vintage tribal Persian rug on the September cover of House Beautiful heralds a major design direction. Oriental rugs are back. And they're not just in your granny's living room.