Updated: Jul 11
It surprises some to learn I didn't grow up with oriental rugs; I found my way to the rug world by accident, a chance job opportunity with the Atiyeh brothers over 34 years ago. I became entranced by the world of handwoven rugs and the cultures and people that weave them.
Rugs are unusual, practical utilitarian floor covering. Purely decorative floor covering that matches the wallpaper in a room. A historical, cultural artifact, in some cases, from a culture that doesn't exist anymore.
The truth is that woven oriental carpets can be all this and more woven into just one rug in just one rug.
It's not uncommon for people to bring us rugs to clean that are 3rd & 4th generation in the same family. A handwoven rug weaves its way into our families with time. Grandma's old Persian rug becomes her children's, and so on.
Unlike other art paintings, for example, that hang on a wall. Oriental carpets are subjected to heavy physical use and abuse on a floor, yet it's not hard to find rugs 100 years old or old still in good usable condition.
Over the years, I've worked on most sides of the rug business production, retail, wholesale, production, and cleaning. I've been fortunate to spend time in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan pursuing all things rug-related.
I thought it might be good to give my thoughts on common questions I'm asked about rugs from the perspective of a 34+ year veteran of the rug world.
Randy Hyde with Diljam Qassimy in Kabul 2020
Where does the term Oriental (rug) come from?
The history of the term Oriental can be traced to the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305), who was referred to as “Comes Orientis” (Count of the east), being the most eastern part of the Roman empire. Orient is the Latin word for east. I wonder, how far east does one have to travel until they are in the west? This made more sense when people thought the world was flat, maybe it still does keep heading east, and we are all Orientis.
Luri weavers in the Zagros mountains in Southern, Iran
Where are oriental rugs made?
The orient 🙂 Sorry, I couldn't help myself. The top producing countries for rugs are India, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal & China in Africa, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Egypt. These countries produce what we call "oriental" Rugs.
A term not often heard anymore was used to describe rugs made west of Turkey (Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Bulgaria) and that term is Occidental rugs.
Oriental Rugs East & Occidental Rugs West.
What is the difference between Persian and oriental rugs?
Handwoven rugs from Persia since 1935, known as Iran, are oriental rugs. We have given a precise and accurate geographic location of manufacturing, in this case, Iran or Persia. In some instances, Persian rugs are called by the cities they come from, such as Kashan, Tabriz, and Shiraz. Others are tribal groups such as Kurdish, Luri, Khamseh or Bakhtiari. In the case of Kurdish weaving, the area spans parts of western Iran, Iraq, and eastern Turkey in Kurdistan. Saying a Kurdish rug means it could be made in one of three different countries.
Are oriental rugs worth money?
When I started with the Atiyeh brothers in 1988, one of the early customers I visited had a blue and white 8×10 Chinese rug. As luck would have it and the twist and turns of life, this customer found me years later, and for the last 20 years, I’ve cleaned this same blue Chinese rug. The rug has weathered three kids, pets, a marriage, and still going strong after nearly 40 years. We just cleaned it just a few months ago.
How many things in your home last as long, things that get used not something sitting on a wall for daily use.
Is a good rug is worth the money, you bet it is. However, it also depends on whether you plan on keeping the rug for a long time.
How much do oriental rugs cost?
Labor rates vary in rug weaving countries; labor rates in Turkey are much higher than in Afghanistan. There are also different import taxes rates on rug imports. Currently, there is an embargo on new Iran rugs entering the USA. New hand-woven rugs can start around 25.00 sq ft and head up in price from there. Here are the four biggest factors in rug prices -
Country of origin.
Labor rates vary in rug weaving countries; labor rates in Turkey are much higher than in Afghanistan. There are also different import taxes rates on rug imports. Currently, there is an embargo on new Iran rugs entering the USA.
2. Weave, specifically knot count
Rug weaving is a labor-intensive process, and every knot must be tied to warps one at a time, so the higher the knot count, the more labor cost and the more expensive the Oriental rug
3. Materials used
The type of fiber is a driver of the cost of silk; for example, it is a premium fiber and commands a premium price and drives the price tag up for a new oriental rug Vs. Wool or Viscose.
4. Stock rug or custom design
You can expect to pay a premium for a custom rug design made to your specifications. The up change varies by rug retailers and the degree of customization and time frame.
Do oriental rugs hold their value?
I never suggest oriental rugs as an investment in the 1970’s some antique Persian silk rugs 4×6 ft were making auction records for 20-30K; some of these have hit the market in recent years selling for 6-9k adjusted for inflation 30k in 1975 is now 146K. On the flip side, a 17th Century Antique Persian Carpet sold in a Sotheby’s auction several years ago for $33 Million. Both are extreme examples my suggestion is but what you like and regardless of the value you still have an enjoyable rug for your home.
Commercial rug weaving facility o the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan in 2020
Are Oriental Rugs cultural appropriations?
Rug weaving existed in Europe Ireland, the UK, France, Spain, Romania, and Bulgaria until recently. From Ireland down to N Africa from N. Africa to China rug weaving has existed for hundreds of years.
There is no doubt that rugs and related textiles used in nomadic life had strong cultural significance to the weavers.
Imagine nomadic or village weavers hundreds of years ago. In a time before banks, the internet, and desk jobs, wealth was measured in the size of their sheep flocks, and a desire to use sheep in ways that didn't kill them right away. Wealth was measured in the size of holdings of animals' milk, cheese, yogurt, and fleece for textiles.
Textiles like rugs were developed as part of comfort, lifestyle, and commerce. Wool from sheep could be converted into a high-value item, many domestic utilitarian items, and items that could be sold or traded as savings accounts of sorts.
These were currency in past cultures, and weaving as a way to bank labor to add value to wool, a commodity for future exchange a sort of savings account.
How do I shop for a rug?
It’s the internet age but trust me when I say rug shopping is best done in person. The two rugs below are a similar Bidjar rug design same basic size 9×12 one rug is 2,850 the other rug is 7,500.00; the cheaper one is a better deal right? The higher-priced rug is really a much better rug with better wools and a much higher knot count comparing the two the more expensive rug is a much better rug. Which rug do you think is worth 4,650 more? You can’t get the subtleties of a rug online color, wool, weave, and how a rug looks in your home. It doesn't take an expert to understand the difference seeing the two rugs comparatively you can feel the difference you can feel rugs online.
Working with rug retailers
Portland is home to some fantastic rug dealers I’ll put some links at the bottom of the page. Good rug dealers want to educate and build a relationship with rug buyers like you. In most cases, people don't just walk into a rug shop and buy a large rug. Rug buying is a process of discovery and good rug dealers help educate and answer your questions and navigate the complex world of rugs.
If you encounter a dealer that is trying to push you into a sale or offers up huge illogical discounts of 80, 90%, or anything that doesn’t feel right or legitimate leave there are too many really good rugs shops in town.
Here are three very good local rug retailers we work and we think these are the top local rug retail professionals in Portland
New Rug Retailers
Christiane Millinger Handmade Rugs new decorative and Antique rugs https://christianemillinger.com/
Kush Rugs' new decorative carpets and custom rugs https://kushrugs.com/
Tufenkian Carpets new decorative and some vintage antique rugs https://www.tufenkian.com/pages/tufenkian-carpets-portland
Local Vintage Rug Retailers
Experimental vintage source for vintage rugs https://www.experimentalvintage.com/
Lamb & Loom source used and vintage rugs https://www.facebook.com/LambAndLoomRugs/?fref=ts
You can learn more about Oriental rug cleaning here