How to Buy an Antique Rug

Antique and vintage rugs & carpets have a universal appeal. Not only are they more unique than modern rugs, but they are so well-woven that they last generations. But how do you go about buying one? Here are a few tips to help guide you. 

Measure Your Space

It would be a shame to buy a carpet to then find out that it does not fit in your room.

Before you start shopping, measure your room carefully. A carpet always looks best if there is a perimeter of flooring between the carpet and the walls. Generally speaking, six to twelve inches of exposed floors looks best.  If your room is rectangular look for a rectangular carpet; likewise, if your room is square, a square carpet will look best. Don’t forget to take into consideration fireplace surrounds and floor vents. Most people find it easier to start a room decoration with the carpet first but if furniture is already in place, be sure that all pieces can sit comfortably on the carpet. A piece of furniture half on and half off a carpet can look awkward. Special consideration should be taken for a dining room carpet. Ideally, all the chairs sit fully on the carpet when pulled out and in use. 

Vocabulary to be Familiar With

Although the terms “rug” and “carpet” are interchangeable, there is a difference in the trade. The term “carpet” is used to define something that is 9 feet x 6 feet and larger, whereas “rug” is for something smaller—think “scatter rug.” The warps extend the length of a carpet, while the wefts, weave under and above the warp threads widthwise to form the foundation of a carpet. Knots are tied around each warp thread in rows, with a weft thread in between each row of knots. Essentially, the warps and wefts form a grid pattern and the finer the grid, the more intricate the design. The warp threads form the fringe at either end and the finish along the sides of a carpet is called the selvage.

Examine the Back

Flip over a corner and look at the back of the rug to inspect the quality of the weaving. 

One can tell, from the weave, whether the rug was made by machine or by hand. If the weave looks extremely even and regular, then it is likely that the rug is machine-made. Hand-knotted wool rugs will display irregularities to the weave and varying thickness to the warps and wefts, as well as to the knots. As you become more adept at looking at carpets, the back can be a helpful tool in indicating where a particular carpet was woven. 

Embrace Irregularities

Remember, these are hand-made objects so there are bound to be irregularities and it is those qualities that make a carpet a unique and special work of art. Some antique carpets display what is called “abrash”—a change in color variation. It is usually a result of wool that was dyed in different dye lots and in some cases, the different dye lots have faded over time at different rates. Sometimes the weaver will make a mistake or add a design element that is not consistent with the rest of the carpet. Try to see these design choices as the personality of the weaver and an indication that what you have is hand-made and unique rather than imperfections. 

Condition Matters

Most antique rug and carpets are incredibly durable because they are made with high-quality wool and dyes. But some antique carpets have endured heavy use and may have had restoration. Restoration and repairs are common for carpets that are 100 years and older, so be sure to ask the dealer to disclose any and all condition issues before purchasing. Be sure that the ends and sides are secured and not fraying. If they are showing loose threads and signs of unraveling, they should be secured and repaired before use on the floor. 

Shopping for an antique area rug can be really exciting and a chance to explore different design choices. Whether you’re buying a carpet for a dining room, living room, or a bedroom, it’s important to keep all the factors outlined above in mind. There are so many wonderful examples available on the market today, so be sure that you love it and that it speaks to you, because it is something that you will be living with and looking at daily.  And because antique carpets are each unique, you never run the risk of having the same carpet as a friend or neighbor!