Designer (and avid rug collector) Molly Torres explains why vintage and antique rugs are worth the investment when it comes to durability—and shares her guide for how to find your own.
Some people are avid record collectors, while others hoard stamps and fine china. If you’re my mom, you collect frog figurines. I, on the other hand, am a self-proclaimed rug collector. My love of rugs started years ago, and since then I’ve amassed a fairly impressive collection, of all shapes and sizes and from around the world. My rug of choice (my “rug kryptonite,” if you will) is a vintage oriental.
Case in point, on my Birthright trip to Israel, when my group was allotted an hour in the Jaffa flea market, I made a beeline for the rug and carpet stores, while others bought little tokens and trinkets. I lugged an over-dyed, vintage patchwork rug roughly 5,000 miles and two layovers back home. It was totally worth it.
Naturally, my passion for rugs plays an important role in designing for clients and many of them willingly follow me down the rabbit hole on the hunt for the perfect rug. Designers know a rug can majorly impact the overall aesthetic of a space, act as the grounding force in a room, and even serve as the focal point for a design. But some clients with limited budgets are understandably hesitant to invest.
Introducing the word “vintage” to the mix frequently sends budget-conscious clients running for the hills. With an influx of new, less-expensive, vintage-style alternatives on the market, it’s tough to wrap your mind around spending more for the real deal. But here’s the thing: not all rugs are created equally.
THE (ABBREVIATED) DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VINTAGE AND NEW RUGS
Let’s start with what makes a vintage rug “vintage”: Any rug that’s at least 25 years old, but less than 100 years old qualifies. A rug under 25 years old is considered new. A rug over 100 years old is considered antique. You might say, “Isn’t newer better? I wouldn’t buy a 30-year-old toaster, so why would I buy a 30-year-old rug?” The answer: durability, uniqueness, and character.
Vintage rugs prove their durability by merely existing. They have already stood the ultimate test of time. While some newer rugs are purposely faded, it’s impossible to imitate the longevity of a rug that’s been around for decades—and looks the better for it. Vintage rugs are more durable because of their materials and method of construction. Most commonly, they are crafted from natural fibers, like wool, cotton, jute, and silk. While some new rugs are also made from natural fibers, others use synthetic (man-made) fibers like nylon, acrylic, viscose, polyester, and polypropylene, or a blend of these. Similar to fast-fashion, synthetic rugs are regarded as disposable, with an intended lifespan of three to five years. Though less-expensive and ideal for certain situations (like outdoors), synthetic rugs are also more flammable and can be harmful to the environment. The saying “you get what you pay for” really applies.
Most vintage rugs were hand-knotted and hand-woven by experienced artisans who carefully inserted wool strands into the rugs’ foundations. The process is meticulous in its effort to preserve quality, resulting in completely unique rugs with beautiful, bespoke variations. My favorite vintage rugs are hand-knotted from handspun wool. Unlike machine-made wool, handspun fibers are less apt to breakage and have a beautifully heavy, “knobby” texture that feels ultra luxe. When the wool is dyed, it creates a gentle color gradation, resulting in a rare and superior character. New rugs are typically machine-made or listed as “hand-tufted.” That term is a little misleading—wool pieces are actually shot into a canvased backing with a machine-gun. Machine-made rugs are uniformly stitched by automated power looms, making them quicker to produce and less-expensive—and with shorter life spans, fewer variations, and little resale value.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
First things first, determine the rug size that works best for your space. You’ll need to be a bit flexible since vintage rugs don’t always follow standard sizing. Equally as important: nailing down a budget range. There is no true rule of thumb for budget as prices vary a LOT in the vintage rug market, but $10-12 per square foot is a very fair pricing guideline.
Next, pinpoint specific types of vintage rugs and identify what you like. Some buzzwords I typically search for include “Persian,” “Oriental,” “Turkish,” “Moroccan,” “Kilim,” and “Oushak.”
As most vintage rugs are made from wool, they’re super resilient. But, as with anything that’s been around for a while, there will be varying degrees of age, wear, and distress. As long as those factors are consistent, don’t let this scare you off. It’s up to you to decide the level of wear and distress you’re comfortable with, but these characteristics should be worn like badges of honor. However, steer clear of red flags like frayed edges, bad patch jobs, and pronounced stains.
One last pro tip: whether you’re sourcing in person or online, always inspect the underside of a rug before purchasing. Vintage rugs won’t have a backing, so if the bottom look or feels noticeably different from the front, move on.
MY GO-TO SOURCES FOR VINTAGE RUGS
Contrary to the idea that vintage automatically equates to expensive, if you do a bit of digging and you know where to look, this isn’t always the case. My go-to sources are excellent places to start your search for a relatively affordable vintage rug.
I’ve sourced everything from linen to lollipops on Etsy and I’m happy to say there’s a number of incredible vintage rug shops here for the scouring. Some of my go-tos: I always check Beni Ourain Carpets for Moroccan and Azilal rugs. I have the best luck with Oushak rugs (runners in particular) from Urban Rug. If I need a dose of color, I visit House of Séance.
Outside of Etsy, Revival Rugs is a newer direct-to-consumer online shop that offers a curated collection of one-of-a-kind vintage rugs from Turkey. The small team is a dream to work with and their pricing is competitive, which is a win-win in my book. Loom + Kiln wins the Instagram game with their drool-worthy hoard of vintage rugs. And the best part: they list new rugs to covet every week.