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NEW YORK—In the past, when a new couple began the task of feathering their nest, they started with the carpet. In addition to serving as the foundation of a well-furnished home, a thick, beautifully hand-woven carpet lasts for generations.
With the abundance of machine-made, commercially designed rugs available today, many consumers are unaware of the cultural richness and versatility of antique Oriental rugs.
“It is the most undervalued art in the world,” said Leon Banilivi of Leon Banilivi Rugs Inc. His family has been in the rugs business for decades. His cousin Masood Banilivi runs Banilivy Rug Corporation on 28th Street.
It’s much easier to decorate with simple, neutral modern carpets, but working with antique rugs takes experience and creativity.
Here we have six diverse examples of antique carpets from Banilivy’s store. Cathy Hobbs, a member of The American Society of Interior Designers, gives her suggestions for decorating with them. Hobbs is the owner of Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, a New York City-based firm specializing in interior design and real estate staging. Paint chips included are from her brand, Mythic Paint.
No. 1: Classic Persian Rug
Age: 100 years old, no repairs, full pile
Details: Wool; 4.6 by 6.8 feet; $750
This classic type, called a Ferahan, usually has a central medallion with an intricate floral pattern. This one has a rare ivory background.
This rug has living room written all over it. Use a sofa to anchor the rug and then add two end tables on either side, a coffee table in the center, with two side chairs opposite the sofa.
Choose a taupe sofa to highlight the rug’s ivory main field, and then bring out the other colors with accessories and artwork with accents of orange, indigo, and even a touch of turquoise. To liven up the room, incorporate a turquoise accent wall.
No 2: The Versatile Kilim
Origin: Anatolian (Turkish)
Age: 70–80 years old, mint condition
Details: Wool; 8.7 by 4.10 feet; $1,199
Kilims, also called a flat weave, are the oldest forms of rugs. This one features sumac weave, meaning it was embroidered after it was woven—essentially worked over twice. Usually kilims are woven in darker colors like reds and blues and in busy patterns, according to Banilivy. The earthy tones and simple lines in this one make it a standout.
Because kilims lack a stiff backing, they can be hung on a wall, draped on a couch, or used as blankets.
So often, area rugs used in foyers, hallways, or kitchens are high on function but low on visual interest. Try placing a kilim prominently in these areas with nothing on it or around it, and let it be the star of the show.
When it comes to paint color, have fun! Go bold with a rich orange or rich pepper.
No. 3: Large and Vibrant Oushak
Age: At least 100 years old, mint condition
Details: Mohair wool on wool base; 10.10 by 9.9 feet; $25,000
Rugs made in villages tend to use a cotton weft, but a wool-on-wool is indicative of a nomadic origin.
Oushaks have long been renowned for their luminous wool. In this one, the base color is that of un-dyed wool, which is unique for a time when most people valued rich, dark colors in their carpets, according to Banilivy.
This rug is pure luxury and ought to serve as the centerpiece of a living room. There are simply few fibers more elegant than mohair, and to have an entire rug made from it is absolute decadence!
When choosing rugs, either select them first for inspiration, or last, in order to tie the entire room together. This is the type of investment carpet you should purchase first as the foundation for the space.
Pair it with a sofa that has texture and a rich color. Choose a large coffee table to ground the space. On the walls, a neutral color in a warm beige will complement the rug.
No. 4: Geometric Drama
Origin: Tribal Afghanistan
Age: 30 years old
Details: Wool-on-wool; 6.3 by 3.6 feet; $350
This rug hails from Baluchistan, a mountainous region that encompasses parts of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. This bold design is done in the classic blues and reds, but features a rarely seen central motif.
The warm, deep tones of this rug will help add a cozy and inviting feel to nearly every space. This one would be perfect in a weekend cabin or country retreat. It would also look inviting on honey-colored hardwood floors, and because of its size it could be used as either an area rug, under a coffee table in a small living room, or in hallway or foyer in a large home.
On the walls, choose a cool gray to counterbalance the warmth of the rug.
No. 5: Monochromatic Turkomen
Age: 30 years old, mint condition
Details: wool on silk; 5.9 by 4.6 feet; $850
Original Turkomen rugs were produced by the Turkomen tribes from Afghanistan, but now they are produced in large numbers for export mainly in Pakistan and Iran. This one comes from Iran, and as is traditional, features red as its main color.
This is the type of rug that truly sets the tone for a space and should be selected first because of its dominant color palette.
Pair this area rug with a clean white leather sectional sofa with the area rug anchoring the room in the center. Add cranberry velvet toss pillows to really add drama and connect the sofa to the area rug.
No. 6: The Runner
Origin: Persian; Sarouk from the southeast of Persia
Age: 80 years old, mint condition
Details: Wool on cotton; 6.6 by 2.7 feet; $1,800
Carpets are long and narrow usually made to a length of 10 to 12 feet, not this short, according to Banilivy, making it suitable for a short hallway.
Runners can either be used functionally, to remove dirt from muddy feet, or they can have aesthetic purposes such as working as a visual “connector” from room to room.
This runner has so many wonderful colors that it would pair nicely with an elegant piece of wood furniture, such as a sideboard flanking its longer end in a foyer or hallway.