Ikats Bring Joie de Vivre Back to the Floor

Yes, the rug trade and aficionados will tell you that ikats (pronounced “ee-kats”) have been around for three years or so. True, but they have only come into their own in the last year hitting the US market with an abundance of bold patterns and colors the market. While they are all inspired from the age-old Central Asian textiles, they are far from being all the same with variations in their execution–flatweave or hanknotted pile–quality, and breadth of colors and patterns.

A vegetable-dyed ikat from Afghanistan

What ikats’ success tells me is that color is very much back and so are tribal-inspired designs. People are emerging from the washed out muted look of tone-on-tone neutrals that has dwarfed any other rug trend for so long. At long last! As the economy is slowly picking up steam, people want to re-energize their décor with a blast of color and –joy! The vibrant colors and patterns scream joie de vivre.  As the eminent interior designer Samuel Botero featured in my book The Decorative Carpet (Random House/Monacelli Press, 2010) has so aptly stated, “Nature is in color. Have you ever seen a beige garden?” However, those of you still wanting more discrete neutral tones, fear not. There are plenty of ikats featuring the subtler hues of the rainbow.

A handknotted pile ikat from Samad

If you haven’t already checked them out, explore the new world of rug ikats. They are produced in countries including Afghanistan, China, and India.  My first contact with ikats was with a very exclusive collection of Afghan vegetable-dyed pieces which are particularly artisanal in flavor. When judging at the Carpet Design Awards in Hanover, Germany in January, I was blown away by the variety of configurations of ikat designs in Samad’s Jazz Collection which won the Best  Collection–Modern award. Also tantalizing are French Accents’ ikats which are primarily flatwoven. Both of these are found at retail rug shops all over the country. Depending on the design, they range from being refined to casual and thus adaptable to a range of interiors from the sophisticated city apartment to the casual beach house.

An Aubusson-weave ikat from French Accents


Are Antique Rugs Back?

Not that one could say an antique rug was ever truly “out” of style, but it does seem that fashion-driven cycles make them more or less popular.  While in the 1990s and 2000s, requests for antique rugs were sky high, often for specific types such as Heriz or Sultanabad, the last few years have been more challenging. The recession was a big part of it with rug budgets having shrunk almost overnight. Also at hand has been the trend away from boldly colored and patterned rugs—especially tribal—toward the neutral and “washed out” look.  Not to mention the enduring popularity of sisals. During this time, I almost had a double take when anyone did vaguely suggest that there might be some interest in an antique rug.

I’ve always said that things can change on a dime—one day you’re in, the next you’re out and vice versa. And so it goes with antique rugs. The last few weeks have indicated that the wind maybe shifting again favoring a return of beautiful antiques.  A sign that the economy is picking up some steam? For sure, people are feeling more confident and those antique rug buyers—repressed by the recession–are re-emerging on the scene.  Also, these buyers are often finding them more affordable as prices may have softened while new rugs have gone up with increasing production costs all over the globe.

When writing my book The Decorative Carpet, most of the 32 leading American designers I featured confessed a soft spot for antiques because they bestow an interior with a soul and a sense of history hard to replicate in a new rug.  One of these designers was Vicente Wolf who proclaims: “For me, the value is that it [an antique rug] has lived and its worn spots are its badges of courage. Also, there is no risk in buying a worn rug as nothing more can happen to it!” He is among those who cleverly integrate antique rugs in contemporary settings showing how even the most traditional antique rugs can take on a modern flair.

Conversely,  a more tribal-looking rug featuring a bold geometric pattern can a traditional room a contemporary twist as does Samuel Botero here with this beautiful Serapi.

Antique rugs are a work of art by their very nature scarce yet infinitely more reasonable when compared to paintings.  I always try to tell clients that, yes, they are looking at a floor covering but they should always keep in mind that that a good-quality antique rug is first and foremost a work of art.

Rugging in Florida

The world is made up of all kinds which you might say makes it go round.  I recently came back from a home design show at a design center near Naples, FL. I guess it was coincidental that my judging experience at the Carpet Design Awards competition in Hanover, Germany in January was still very fresh in my mind.  I have said how struck I was by the avant-garde out-of-the-box approach to new rug design orchestrated by mainly non-US producers.  The restrained traditional rug styles espoused by West Coast Floridians came in complete contrast with the often outrageous color and design combinations emerging from Europe.  Never before had the gulf—no pun intended since I was on the Gulf of Mexico!–in rug tastes seemed so wide.

On the west coast of Florida, people are not looking for any in-your-face excitement—just soothing Peshawars with open Sultanabad or Oushak pattern or Persian city-weave reproductions. On the more contemporary front, they will venture into quiet Tibetans in monochromatic tones or restrained patterns.

I got a feel for how conservative trends tend to be here as an elderly man glanced at my book, The Decorative Carpet, and was shocked to see an image featuring a very elegant Tabriz placed in a contemporary living room with modern art. I tried to explain to him that was the point of eclectic design but he only replied “Very odd!” as he stalked off to his next venue.   I wish I could have shown him images of the more far-out finalists in Germany and gaged his reaction.

Admittedly, we are talking about a region in the U.S. whose major population consists of retirees or “Snowbirds” from the more traditional Midwest who are particularly averse to decorative change.  Yet, however decoratively creative other segments of the US population may be—in large urban areas on the East and West Coasts for instance—I had to recognize that what I saw in Florida represents mainstream America.  Beware then to the trendy avant-garde—the welcome mat is limited here!

The over-dyed rug craze trend—what’s next?

Ever since over-dyed rugs started appearing in the market a couple of years ago, I’ve been wondering: “How long can this last?”  I have to confess that I was a bit aghast when I first beheld  old traditional oriental rugs—mostly  worn down to the bone—often patched up and over-dyed in neon blues, greens, purples,  yellows, and more.  My immediate reaction was “This over-dyed rug craze is sure to die soon!” No pun intended, of course!

While some of us may be indeed tempted to say “Basta!” and move on, cutting-edge rug designers are proving that they are taking this trend to the next level.  Three finalist rugs featured at the recent Carpet Design Awards at the Domotex trade show in Hanover, Germany, were over-dyed. So why were they finalists?  Take a look and see!

Jürgen Dalmann’s Rug Star’s ’ “Cross Over” Collection

Jürgen Dalmann’s Rug Star’s ’ “Cross Over” Collection

This rug from “rug addict” Berlin-based Jürgen Dalmann’s  Rug Star’s “Cross Over” Collection—a finalist for the “Best Innovation” category–dramatically combines a very striated abrash with variegated greens and electric blues as the backdrop for a traditional pattern whose outlines are bleached out.  The rug is finished off with a silk pea-green long fringe.

Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan

Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan

Consider India’s Saraswati Global Ltd.’s Khotan—a finalist in the “Best Traditional Nomadic design under 150 euros/square meter” where the rug pattern seems to evaporate into some painterly mist. Here the concept of dissolving any traditional barriers is indeed compelling but I can’t pretend to like this particular colorway. While I applaud this daring feat, I would like to see this concept executed in more pleasing—dare I say livable—colors.

“Bidjar Trilogy”

“Bidjar Trilogy”

What about the German Jan Kath designer’s “Bidjar Trilogy”—a finalist for the “Best Modern Design over 200 euros/square meter” category? Here you have a set of three over-dyed rugs where the pattern progressively disappears from one rug to the next. Again—very intriguing concept but I would like to see a more inspirational rug design as the base. This particular Bidjar design conjures thoughts of moth-eaten rugs rolled up in a musty old attic…I have seen photos of the “Trilogy” in more appealing colorways than this yellow and green. Does the disappearing pattern signify the decay of our society engineered by the passage of time?  Yes, European angst was present at Domotex.  Also, I wonder:  how viable is it to sell three rugs as a set in this challenging economy?

Are these rugs simply over the top? Will they sustain the test of time or end up rolled up in your basement in 10 years? I’m all ears for your thoughts!

Are US Rug Buyers Stuck Inside the Box?

Having just returned from DOMOTEX, the world’s largest rug trade show which takes place every  January in Hanover, Germany,  I can only say how blown away I was by the avant-garde colors and designs emanating mainly from European carpet designers.  As one of the five judges for the Carpet Design Awards competition, I was fortunate to see the most exciting and innovative rugs to hit the market this year. With 10 categories featuring three finalists each, there was a lot of rug deliberating! The undisputed winner for 2012 emerged from the Best Innovation category– “Tagged” by Jan Kath Design, the German-based contemporary rug designer.  The rug combines a traditional hand-knotted Mamluk-inspired design with fluorescent pink modern hand-tufted graffiti—with repeated slogans such as “Make Rug not War” and “Sex, Rugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll”–a feat that would have been considered heresy by rug purists only a few years ago.

Tagged by Jan Kath

"Tagged" Jan Kath Design

“Prisons” by the Paris-based Chevalier edition, featuring multi-colored panels, was another eye-catching contender among the 30 finalists.

Prisons by Chevalier edition

"Prisons" by Chevalier Edition

How likely will American interior designers and homeowners spring for these bold and graphic floor coverings? Yes, some will argue that these rugs are hard to live with –being more attuned to Halloween than everyday life.  Some are dark, deeply depressing and evocative of the angst currently engulfing Europe. You could say that about the UK-based Tania Johnson’s  “Glow” and  “Phoenix,” the unorthodox black-and-white interpretation of a normally brightly colored tribal Caucasian piece from Reuber Henning’s “Casablanca” collection in Berlin.

Glow by Tania Johnson

"Glow" by Tania Johnson

Phoenix by Reuber Henning

"Phoenix" by Reuber Henning's Casablanca Collection


Still, like these or not, they provoke with their in-your-face energy that’s not the mainstream in the US which used to be touted as the engine of creativity.

While a minority, there were finalists from North America which take rug design to a new level. I could easily say that about the innovative “Sand Dollar,” an exquisitely designed and executed hooked rug hailing from Nova Scotia’s Red Spruce workshop and yes, it’s actually produced there.

"Sand Dollar" by Red Spruce

"Sand Dollar" by Red Spruce

I found the painterly “Ruby Room” from Jaipur Rugs and “Reflection Sky” from Wool & Silk to be both innovative and livable.

“Ruby Room” by Jaipur Rugs

“Ruby Room” by Jaipur Rugs

“Reflection Sky” by Wool and Silk Rugs

“Reflection Sky” by Wool and Silk Rugs


Less perhaps “innovative” was the ikat-inspired “Jazz Collection” from Nexus Rugs but wow what beautiful colors!

“Jazz Collection” by Nexus Rugs

“Jazz Collection” by Nexus Rugs

Rugs can only progress with innovative forward-thinking designers. Whether you are steeped in tradition or not, explore what’s new out there and should I say dare to be different?…