Photo by Gus Cantavero
Larchmont resident Alix Perrachon has been immersed in the decorative rug field since 1980. After stints working at HALI: The International Journal of Oriental Carpets & Textiles and The Oriental Rug Magazine (later renamed AREA Magazine), she founded her own business, Alix Unlimited, a personalized shopping service for handmade Oriental and decorative rugs. She recently penned The Decorative Carpet: Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors (published by The Monacelli Press/Random House in 2010), featuring work from the country’s leading interior designers, including Jamie Drake, Clodagh, and Bunny Williams. Here, Perrachon talks about her passion for handcrafted decorative rugs and shares tips on how to choose and care for them.
When did your love affair with rugs start? I didn’t know anything about rugs until my husband and I went to Turkey, where he was posted at the French Embassy right after we got married. We lived there from 1978 to 1980, and, during the winter of ’79 and ‘80, it was about fourteen degrees outside. One of the few heated places was the rug bazaar, so we would go every weekend to warm up by looking at rugs and having hot tea. I was commissioned by Antique Collector, a magazine I had written for in London, to write an article on kilims [flat-woven rugs with geometric designs in rich, brilliant colors]. It ended up being the trigger for why I’m in the rug industry.
Can you integrate rugs with a variety of decorative styles? Absolutely! An antique rug doesn’t automatically translate into a traditional, old-looking interior. Just the opposite: an antique Persian rug can look very modern in a contemporary setting. I also think there’s nothing more stunning than a contemporary monochromatic Tibetan rug, which is tone-on-tone, with antique furniture—they play off each other beautifully.
What are the signs of a good-quality handmade rug? Most retailers make you think that quality is all about knots per square inch, and that’s generally the last thing you have to worry about. You need to make sure that the designs are crisp. Plus, there should be a balance in color. I would advise against harsh colors where the reds are too dark or ‘fire engine’ because you’ll get tired of it. If it’s a large rug, don’t get something with too tight of a design or repeats that are very small, because it will look too mechanical.
Is it okay for a rug to have imperfections? Yes, it’s part of the intrinsic beauty of the rug. I was heartened by the fact that the vast majority of the designers I interviewed for the book said what they appreciated most about handmade rugs were their imperfections. They give a rug a human quality and a soul—but, of course, you don’t want a crooked rug, either! Plus, you want the variation of color that happens with vegetable dyes. As the rug ages and mellows through time, there is a soft nuance in color, called abrash, which gives the rug a third dimension.
Do rug vendors ever try to trick buyers? There are many cases in the market where they paint over faded antiques completely, and it’s hard for the novice buyer to know whether this has happened or not. The rug should have pile, so put your hand over and feel it. If it’s flat or threadbare and the colors are very bright, that’s a tell-tale sign that it could have been painted. For rug purchases in general, make sure you go to a reputable dealer, and avoid itinerant auctions, liquidations, and going-out-of-business sales.
How much do you need to spend to get a high-quality handmade rug? It depends on the size because it’s priced by the square foot. Retail, a nine-by-twelve-foot rug that features natural dyes is probably going to cost in the eight-thousand to sixteen-thousand-dollar range. A four-by-six-foot, new Caucasian-style rug for a hallway could cost as little as sixteen hundred dollars retail, and the most expensive rug I’ve ever sold was an antique Persian Bakshaish for more than a hundred thousand dollars.
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What do I do if I spill something or stain my rug? The first thing to do with a stain is to blot it. Before you go any further, test a corner with seltzer or club soda to make sure the rug’s colorfast. I also use lukewarm water with a little mild detergent. You should call your local handmade rug dealer for some added advice. Over time, dust will settle into the fibers of your rug and dull its patina. So, in addition to regular vacuuming, your rug will need a major cleaning every five to seven years, depending on the traffic patterns. Make sure to get it cleaned by an Oriental rug-cleaning specialist, not the local dry cleaner.
Why do you recommend handmade rugs over ones that are machine-manufactured? A handmade rug will last at least one lifetime! While the initial cost may be greater than the machine-made alternative, it works out to being, dollar-for-dollar, the best investment on your floor—and perhaps in your home—that you can make, not to mention the aesthetic and decorative impact that’s unequalled by a machine-made floor covering. I think people need to realize that the days of buying furnishings and dumping them after five to ten years are over. In a sense, American consumers will become more like Europeans, who hold onto their possessions and hand them down. Time will tell!
Laura Joseph Mogil (lauramogil.com) is a freelance writer living in Briarcliff Manor. She recently waited 14 months for her custom-designed Tibetan rug to arrive, and it is now happily residing in her living room.