Antique rugs are a wonderful way to add color, personality, warmth, charm, style, and personal taste to a room quickly. They can establish your color scheme, your decorative era, your sense for detail, romanticism, fun – rugs can easily say anything you want to say within a room! You can use them to designate areas within a space, you can overlap them to create a lush, opulent effect, you can tie together your artwork and accent colors. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to saying who you are in a big, bold way!
So, what should you look for besides the style elements when shopping for vintage floor coverings? Persian and Oriental rugs are traditionally known to be valuable, but lately Native American and early Colonial American styles are gaining in popularity. Whatever your style, older rugs are more valuable, and age can be faked. Color is the main signifier of age, so here are the basics you’ll need to know.
The colors available made from pure vegetable dyes is somewhat limited. The more extravagant and varied the color, the less likely that the dyes are vegetable based. Reliable synthetic dyes were not available until the late 1920s. A magnifying glass can be helpful; check to see if there is a smooth gradation of color from the base of knot to the tuft. Softening of the pile in old rugs causes the dye color to fade smoothly from dark at base to light at top of tuft. If aging has been faked, there will be a distinct light to dark line. If, when you break open the pile, the magnifying glass reveals a mid-tone band of color approximately half way up the tufts, you may be sure that the aging of the colors has been enhanced by the use of various kind of bleach applied after the rug was removed from the loom, and the rug is not genuinely old.
Condition is also a very important consideration, so first of all, lay the rug on its face and look at the back to see if there are any light colored patches. If so, these could be the first signs of mildew, and you should pay special attention to them as you proceed. Fold the carpet across first in one direction and, after testing it, again in the other direction. To test, you’ll twist the rug gently but firmly, gripping it in both hands. Stop the instant you hear any staccato splitting sounds.They are the foundation threads snapping as the rug breaks up. Check again for light patches on front and back of the design. If you decide to purchase a rug that does have condition issues, then let these hints help guide you in purchase price. Even a rug in less than perfect condition may have a long life of decorative possibility within your home. If you treat it well, a vintage carpet may survive for a very long time.
A good quality carpet pad can be your best friend in preserving antique rugs. You’ll want something composed of completely synthetic fibers. Rubberized paddings often contain sulfur, which can break down fibers, and felt pads often contain woolen fibers, which attract all kinds of tiny pests. Cut the pad just under the size of the rug, so that bound edges will lie smoothly.
When vacuuming, use suction only, no beater bar, and move only in the direction of the pile. Never use carpet sprays or powders; they can damage delicate fibers and imbed between knots.
Lastly, know that sunlight is a danger to your rugs. If you place a brightly colored carpet in a sunny alcove, be aware that you will be replacing that lovely piece sooner rather than later. But, I always say, antiques are for every day, and you’ll not truly enjoy your treasures if you over-think them. Enjoy your finds in your home, and with a little care, they will be the things that make your house a home.