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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

In the World of Area Rugs, Knockoffs Have a Home

Having a baby and moving into a new house are both pretty stressful events. Recently, my stepson Brett and his wife, Tara, did both. In the same week.

To see how they were holding up, and to see the new baby and house, my husband, DC, and I paid them a visit.

As Tara and I sat in their new, sparsely furnished family room, taking turns holding the baby, her other two children, ages 6 and 3, and two large dogs swirled around us. DC and Brett stood nearby in the kitchen discussing globe-shaking events like the latest hockey trades.

“This room needs an area rug,” Tara said.

I nodded in agreement. “What were you thinking of?” I asked, innocently, I swear.

“I have no idea,” she said, then, “Can you help?”

I glanced over at Brett. His eyes widened with alarm. He knows that, thanks to a friendship with a Turkish rug merchant who had just recently paid me a visit, I have expensive taste in rugs.

Next DC, who knows from years of experience that two women in search of an area rug are as formidable as the Rams defensive line, wisely diverted Brett’s attention by asking where he’d put the liquor cabinet.

“I don’t know where to start,” Tara continued.

“Start with size,” I said. “No matter how wonderful a rug is, if it’s the wrong size, it will never look right.”

I find a measuring tape, and rough in where the rug should fall. Ideally, you want an area rug to come eight to 18 inches off the wall. “A 9 x 12 would be ideal,” I said. “You want it to extend beyond the furniture or it can feel skimpy.” I can see Brett in the margin of my vision getting twitchy.

“What about color?” Tara asked.

“You definitely need some.” Like so many millennial homes, this one was gray on gray: gray floors, gray walls, gray cabinets, and a gray leather sectional.

She agreed. We cracked open her laptop. The baby blessedly slept, a tacit accomplice. We considered and ruled out dozens of options.

“Of all the home décor decision, choosing an area rug is among the hardest,” I tell her, reassuring her that she isn’t the only one who finds this choice a challenge. “You have to factor in color, motif, durability, size and budget.”

“Especially, budget,” I heard Brett say in the background.

“If even one of those factors is wrong, the rug goes back,” I said, from experience.

A young family in a new home, with three kids and two dogs meant that durability and affordability would top the criteria. However, because this rug would also the home’s centerpiece, it had to also look great.

Tara and I kept surfing our options — too expensive, too bold, too dated, too dark — until we hit on one described as “vintage Bohemian.” It’s muted rust, blue, taupe, orange and cream palette offered just enough color without being too overpowering.

I looked at Tara who nodded with enthusiasm, then I looked more closely at the description,

“actually made in Turkey,” and this rug “offers a vintage hand-knotted look at an affordable price.”

Indeed, the size we wanted cost $368. (A hand-knotted Turkish wool rug like this would cost 10 to 20 times more.) I glanced at Brett. He looked visibly relieved. Sure, the rug was machine-made of polyester, not hand-knotted wool, but for that price and look, and for what it will have to endure, I wouldn’t knock it.

Tara showed Brett the rug on her laptop.

“It looks used,” he said.

“It’s supposed to look distressed,” she said.

She looked at me. We rolled our eyes. “He’s just like his father,” I said.

A week later, Tara texts me a photo of the new rug in their family room. “It’s perfect,” she says.

And it was. Maybe not be for generations to come. But perfect for them, for now.

If a hand-knotted Turkish rug is not in your budget, a good knock off can be a great alternative. Here’s what my rug merchant friend Hakan Zor has taught me over the years to look for:

  • Thin is in. I used to think thick, plush area rugs were desirable. But Zor taught me thin rugs are truly finer. In a hand-knotted rug, the smaller the knots, the more work has gone into making it, and the thinner the pile. Big, bulky knots create a thicker, less fine rug. The knock-off rug Tara bought had a pile height of 0.25-inches, comparable to a fine, hand-knotted rug.

  • Fiber-Optics. The best rugs are made of hand-spun silk or wool colored with natural dyes. Those natural fibers also raise the price. The printed-on-polyester knock-off, while not as durable as wool, will be easy to clean when the kids spill their Kool-Aid and SpaghettiOs on it, making it a practical choice for a young, active household.

  • Faded is fine. Rug collectors value age. Thus, a faded antique rug can often be more valuable than a new vivid one. The patterns and colors in this Turkish knock-off rug were deliberately designed to look faded and distressed.

  • Details, details. Generally, the more colors and details a rug has the greater its value. A handmade rug with one or two colors will cost less than a rug with many colors. Plus a multi-colored rug will show less dirt. Yay! Today’s rug-printing technology can create weathered effects and highly detailed designs while reproducing the desired look of individual knots.

Photo caption: Don’t knock knockoffsBuying a machine-printed rug, like this synthetic one from Alexander Home Tremezzina Collection, Printed Boho Distressed, instead of a hand-knotted wool rug, allows home decorators on a budget to get a high-end vintage look at a fraction of the cost. Photo courtesy of Tara Carey.

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