I’ve written before about the wonders of indoor/outdoor rugs for spaces with kids. They’re durable, extremely easy to clean, inexpensive and green. They are not the only good choice for a family household, though. An old, wool, Persian rug is an excellent alternative. It offers a sophisticated look and soft hand, and can take pretty much anything you can dish out.
My favorites are Persian rugs that show a good amount of age. I love the delicious patina that builds up over time. I think their softer, faded colors are sophisticated, and I don’t even mind if the pile is uneven. These rugs tell a story with their wear. They immediately make a space feel lived in, like it has a history. They also do wonders to softening up a more industrial feeling space.
They’re perfect for family spaces, like living rooms, kitchens, or dining rooms, because they hide dirt like a champ. In fact, wool is a natural dirt repellent. They’re not as easy to clean as their indoor/outdoor counterparts, but because of the density of their pattern, you don’t need to clean them often. And if you choose an antique with a lot of wear already built in, you won’t notice the new dings your kids or pets put in it. Plus, by using something old as opposed to new, you're also making a green choice.
These rugs have an additional advantage over indoor/outdoor models, which are usually made of polypropylene. You can get them in really large sizes, whereas polypropylene often maxes out at 9’ x 13’. These big guys are correspondingly more costly, but they’re still an economical choice for covering a large area.
A few things to consider when purchasing a Persian rug:
1. Tightness of the weave: What you want is a rug with a tight weave: one that expresses the design as clearly as possible. This isn’t quite the same thing as looking for a rug with a high count of knots per inch. Think of it like thread counts for sheets: a high thread count doesn't guarantee quality. Indeed, some high thread count sheets feel like sandpaper, and some lower ones feel great. So it can be with rugs, too. Stick to a rug with a clearly articulated design and you should be good to go.
2. Type of dye: I prefer a vegetable, or natural dye. These are more likely to have the kind of luminous fading that I like in an old rug. It’s best if it is colorfast too, for obvious reasons. Spills will happen, and you don’t want your colors to run! With an old rug, you’d likely see evidence of a lack of colorfastness, though. Another reason old ones trump new.
3. Style: Persian rugs come in a bunch of styles, from those flowery ones that you might have spied under your grandmother’s dining room table, to the more contemporary-feeling tribal models. Naomi at Design Manifest has a great post on sourcing the tribal style ones, which I tend to prefer myself. They feel aged but not fussy. I am a fan of a good faded floral rug, though. In the right environment, they can be really stunning.
4. Cleaning: An antique rug will most likely need to be cleaned upon receipt, and, depending on the size of your rug, this is not a small expense. It should absolutely be factored into the cost of your purchase. Cleaning costs vary greatly by location, but figure on at least a couple hundred dollars to clean a large rug.
Now, where to buy them. Obviously it is always better to see an item like this in person if you can. So I’d suggest trolling local consignment shops, craigslist, and estate sales first. But I’ve also had good luck buying online, and your options are undoubtedly going to be far greater there. Ebay has lots of great antique or semi antique rugs, and I've seen good prices and offerings at both esalerugs.com and 1800getarug.com, too. The search terms I use most often are: tribal rug, hamadan, baluch, and kilim.
I purchased a really nice small rug for my kitchen on Seattle’s craigslist and had the shipper mail it to me. It is charming, though the colors are a bit darker than I had expected. This is par for the course with all online purchases, so it’s best to be prepared for this eventuality. Even if the seller provides great, well lit pictures, computer monitors have a wide color variance. As long as you pick something in a color family you enjoy, and are willing to switch out your accessories as needed, you should be fine. And you'll most likely save quite a bit of cash by going this route.
If you’re nervous about taking the leap with a large living room rug, try a smaller one for your kitchen or bathroom instead. This won’t break the bank, and you can ease yourself into online rug purchasing. Plus, you’ll be amazed at the difference these little guys can make in one of these spaces, which can often feel pretty clinical.
So I say: give them a try. Persian rugs are sophisticated, worldly, durable, and stylish. They're a surprisingly great option for a family home.