April 2014

A Rug Story

Author: Rebecca Edwards

brightly colored rugs on display at KPM flooring

Imagine the sound of Sigourney Weaver’s voice as a camera pans an arid Turkish landscape in muted hues and then zooms in on cloaked women with furious fingers working on wooden looms. Weaver’s voice over begins, “Weaving is a craft of extraordinary antiquity. The weaving of blankets and mats, using reeds and grasses, can be charted back to the Paleolithic period. And, the use of animal wool or hair for weaving coincides with the domestication of sheep and goats around 8000 BC.”

The scene shifts to a Turkish bizarre with bins of vibrant flowers and produce and then zooms in again on those feminine, yet worn-like-the wool-they-weave fingers that are now stained indigo, red and green. “A whole spectrum of natural colors used to be obtained from flowers, fruits, vegetables and insects—red from pomegranate skins, blue from eggplant skins, yellow from safflower petals and buds, orange from the bark of plum trees, green from walnut and olive tree leaves and brown and black from tea and tobacco,” Weaver continues.

You are listening to the story of oriental rugs and the women who wove them—a narrative that continues today, not through your television but through your décor. “Ninety-five percent of oriental rugs, especially Kilims (a type of flat woven rug), were made by women,” began rug collector/dealer/expert Yavous Sumer. “They would make them as dowry and to express themselves creatively.” Sumer, who is originally from Turkey and moved to the area in 1991 added, “Think about it. This is a culture in which women are usually very quiet, but this was a way for them to beautifully tell their story.”

For these women, colors, shapes and patterns transcended into emotions, memories and aspirations to make a visual version of an oral tradition.

“At the age of eighteen, I dropped out of school and became an interpreter in a Turkish bizarre,” Sumer recalled. “I ran across a man selling rugs who needed me to translate, and I fell in love with his rugs. I invested the few dollars I had and started collecting small pieces, washing them, fixing them up and reselling them.” That was over 40 years ago.

Today, the story continues with rug designers/dealers like Kathleen Mayers, of KPM Flooring. She celebrates the old and welcomes the new believing that “each piece has something to say.” Mayers has been in the rug business for over 20 years, and her showroom, like the colorful containers of a Turkish bizarre, emits energy and artistry. When I asked her which rug was her favorite she laughed and said, “That’s like choosing a favorite child. They are all different and you love each one for a different reason.”

Mayers, like Sumer, also loves finding the right piece for the right person. She speaks passionately about designing rugs, and as she shows me a few she has designed, my mind keeps comparing the furious fingers of the Turkish weavers to her furiously creative designer mind. I discover that the sky, or make that the floor, truly is the limit with customizing rugs today. “I’ve had people draw a design on a napkin and made it into a rug,” Mayers said.

When designing your own rug, especially with the eye and expertise of a designer/dealer, you become part of the storytelling process by interweaving time-honored aspects of the rug making business like specific designs, piles (the visual surface of the rug), and colors into your own aesthetic. According to Mayers, some current trends include using grays and blues like cobalt or navy, burned out images, geometric or traditional patterns in non-traditional colors, silk viscose as a “bling” factor, the texture combination of wool and hemp, creating texture and interest with different pile, and using non-descript patterns and no borders, “because you don’t have to worry how to position it in the room,” Mayers said.

And just as every well-told tale has a protagonist that emerges from the shadows, it is Sumer’s and Mayers’ hope that you see the rug in all its glory. “Rugs are the unsung hero of the home,” Mayers said.

“You can leave everything the same but change the rug and it completely changes the room.” Sumer added, “When I walk into someone’s house the first thing I do is look at their rugs. There is so much to appreciate within the rug.”

Rug Tips
Work from the floor up. “Buying a rug after you decorate is the wrong way to go,” Sumer said. “Not only should the rug be the focal point, but it is easier to find fabric around a rug than vice versa.” Mayer agreed, “There are more fabrics and paints than rugs, so make it easier on yourself and start the room from the ground up. It makes the selection process easier.”

Mix it up. “You don’t have to stick to one style,” Mayers said. “I combine traditional and contemporary all the time. Plus, even if you think your style is traditional, get a transitional rug and it will enhance your traditional style.”
Have fun. Even if it is expensive or a collector’s piece, a rug is not a huge commitment design-wise. To put it away and replace it takes little storage space. This frees you up to have several looks to complement different seasons or occasions.
Be part of the story by designing your own. “Custom designed rugs are completely original. You are not going to go to a cocktail party and see your rug,” said Mayer, who also said to channel Coco Chanel when designing: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”
Work with a pro. “Trust your rug dealer,” Sumer said. “There are very few knowledgeable dealers. Find a good one and get a fair price.”
Don’t equate size with value. “Size has nothing to do with value. The value comes from the rug’s age, origin, colors and condition,” Sumer said.
Think about functionality. Consider how the rug’s texture, warmth, and sound absorption contribute to the room’s goals.
Take care of your rugs. “When it comes time to clean your rugs, I only recommend Classic Carpet Cleaners,” Sumer said.
Don’t buy online. “You’re never going to know what it looks like until it’s in the space. Photos can be deceiving,” Mayers warned.
Last and foremost, share the story. The rug is not an afterthought. It, after centuries or serving us design and comfort-wise, should be a forethought.

At the end of his interview, Sumer looked contemplative, almost sentimental. Last year he retired and sold his shop Sumer Nomadic Rugs in the Village at Wexford “to climb mountains.” “Maybe I should come out of retirement,” he said. “I really do miss being part of the story [of rugs].” 

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