The Art of Collecting Antique Oriental Rugs
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The Art of Collecting Antique Oriental Rugs
Palace size Sultanabad in sunroom in contemporary home.

By Jan David Winitz
Claremont Rug Company

OAKLAND, CA.- Over the past several months, I have been writing about the broad topic of antique Oriental rugs woven during the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (ca. 1800 to ca. 1910) as many art collectors and lovers of beauty have expressed their desire to become more knowledgeable about these rarely found art pieces.

Today, I will address how over the past 40 years I have introduced rugs to new clients and the important information that they should gather as they embark on the journey.

A question I’m often asked is: “How will antique rugs—a handcrafted artifact created on the other side of the world a hundred or more years ago—fit into a modern home decorated with a collection of contemporary paintings, prints, photographs, and sculpture?” Many people erroneously think that older Oriental carpets are compatible only with traditional settings, such as historical homes furnished with antiques or neoclassical decors.

Yet, fine antique Persian, Caucasian, and Turkish rugs are an art form that remains remarkably timely and never goes out of style. Infinitely versatile, they work as great unifiers in the home, bringing together disparate elements of décor. Created as superbly harmonious compositions in their own right, they have the ability to integrate the settings in which they are placed.

With client after client for over four decades, I have experienced art-quality Oriental rugs to be extremely versatile, adding depth and an individual character to a great diversity of environments. They provide both a decorative foundation to a room and embody age-old principles of harmony and balance.

For example, over a 30-year period, I had the privilege to work on a grand contemporary home in Piedmont, California for three different owners. In its first incarnation, our clients furnished the house with exquisite floral Persian Kashan and Ferahan carpets. The second clients opted for graphic Persian village Serapi carpets and Caucasian tribal rugs, and the third homeowners chose high-decorative Persian Sultanabad rugs with stylized floral designs and subtle colors. The house accommodated each makeover beautifully because the carpets expressed the owner’s taste and sensibilities.

Contemporary, Mid-Century Modern, or Minimalist decors benefit exponentially from the presence of antique carpets, luxurious, soft textiles that complement the natural wood and stone hard surfaces in a home while reflecting the quality of the materials and workmanship of the custom environment.

Client after client has discovered that the spare graphics and abstract imagery of 19th-century Caucasian tribal rugs and Persian village carpets such as Bakshaishs, Serapis, Herizs, and Camelhairs work brilliantly with contemporary art. These styles have proven to be extremely complementary with the abstraction and asymmetry found in the work of such 20th-century avant-garde masters as Klee and Kandinsky.

Well-chosen antique carpets can balance eclectic decors seamlessly. One client assembled a pre-Columbian artifact collection, a Napoleonic mantle, and Deco-inspired chairs with a mid-19th century geometric Bakshaish carpet possessing a spacious elemental design that effectively grounded the various components. Another client intriguingly combined an oversize Persian Malayer undyed camelhair carpet featuring a series of angular medallions on a latticework field with a Chinese screen, a painting by Miro, and a Ming-style glass coffee table, all beneath a panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline.

Longtime art collectors were elated to see that Persian floral rugs are profoundly collaborative with the large Lichtenstein painting in the living room of their contemporary Midwest apartment and selected an extremely curvilinear, salmon-ground palace size Persian Manchester Kashan to grace the floor beneath it. The combination of the two is brilliant. Another client chose a classical Persian Hadji Jallili Tabriz carpet of rare corals as an exciting juxtaposition to her four contemporary abstract paintings.

Left: Antique Sultanabad providing a compatible foundation for modern furniture and artwork. Right: Antique Bakshaish area rug in Mediterranean inspired home.

The bottom line is that the great majority of art-level antique rugs will enrich virtually any environment. There is no absolute template to follow. Likely if a particular antique carpet speaks to your aesthetic, it will share the overall mood of other decorative aspects of your home. There are numerous ways to approach designing with antique Oriental carpets, varying from when a house is still in the design stage to an empty, pre-existing home to when the furniture and artwork are already in the owner’s possession to after the home has been fully furnished.

Many clients start by selecting rugs for one or two rooms and then come to discover that other spaces of their home feel “empty” or “cold” in comparison. Some prefer to work with one or two styles of rugs to unify the entire house, while others opt for each room having its own individual character. Wherever you find yourself to be on the spectrum between these two approaches, rest assured that choosing and living with harmonious, art-level Oriental rugs woven 100 to 200 years ago by people who had created works of balance and harmony for millennia will afford you tremendous long-term satisfaction.

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