Oriental rugs in midcentury living rooms: Me likey

retro contemporaryIn our recent uploader — which attracted 349 photos of readers’ living rooms — someone kinda apologized for having an oriental area rug in the room. No apologies required! I actually LOVE oriental rugs in midcentury living rooms. Above: Mystery reader wrote:

“My favorite room in my apartment! The couch is a reproduction by LA-based designer Steven Anthony (I got it for a steal on Craigslist). The coffee table was handed down to me by my mother, who thrifted it a few years back. It’s Danish and has a wicker rack for books and leaves that come out at either end with a Formica top to rest your drink on. All other pieces are vintage and have been found at garage sales and local thrift shops.”

Nicely done room! I can see why it’s your favorite. And what a keen shopper you are! Yay for craigslist!

Why do I love oriental rugs?

  • These rugs are timeless. And I think that’s for very good reasons, which I will try to analyze:
  • They tend to feature designs with low-contrast — there is typically not a loud pattern that steals an excess of attention away from the other decor.
  • They often feature quite a few colors. In my go-to formula, every room “needs” a pattern that ties all the colors in a room together. As the pattern-holder, an oriental rug typically gives you lots of colors to play with. In fact, many professional decorators say that the rug is the first thing they choose because it’s easier to pull room colors from a rug you already have than to put colors on all your stuff then try to find a rug that includes them all. 
  • The pattern in an oriental rug is generally pretty intricate, but because it’s low-contrast (therefore, not “loud”) the whole effect is actually calming to the eye. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. I think it’s a “scale” thing: The patterns minimize the scale… and the smaller scale — being at ground level  — and the colors — being low-contrast — together work to make the rug recede from view. For me, this is good, because I don’t usually want my rug to scream — there are other things to look at — I want my eye to dance around the room. (That said: Others my choose to have a more pronounced rug design that itself is a focal point; it’s a personal choice.)
  • I see them all the time at estate sales — nice ones in all sorts of sizes and colors — they were so common. They do not seem to be “trendy” right now. So I see them — really nice rugs — going for song!
  • Timeless also because these things have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. If well made, they get passed down generation-to-generation. And because they work so well with so many types of decor, well, there you go: Timeless design.

Let’s look at a few more examples from our uploader:

Midcentury living room with oriental rugAbove, another beautiful rug that has colors that coordinate with the upholstered furniture. Mystery uploader wrote,

“Casual Modern living in Austin.”

Gorgeous rug and cozy dappling light room! Is that rug a kilim, I’m not sure – ?

eclectic midcenturyAbove, another mystery reader does a nice room:

“We adore the morning light in the living room of our modest 1950 ranch in Petoskey, MI! We love the clean, modern lines of midcentury style, but we also love mixing periods and styles, so our home is more eclectic than strictly midcentury. This room is home to some of our favorite finds, including the very non-mid century Persian deer rug and a Curtis Jere deer wall sculpture.”

Yes, another vote for lovely light streaming into a room! We have awesome afternoon light in our living room, too — I go in there sometimes at the bewitching hour and just mesmerize out. So calming!

midcentury traditional rugAbove, yes, another mystery reader:

“The living room in our 1959 Yellow Ranch House. All furniture was thrifted locally.”

Another smart shopper.

modern oriental rugAbove MR:

“Former living room: The building is c. 1838, but the furniture is mostly mid century.”

Gorgeous — and in its way I’d say this rug — given its timelessness — pulls all the different ereas of furniture together beautifully!

retro modernAbove, mystery reader:

“We actually just moved the furniture into this room two days ago and I’m excited to share it on here! The rug and pillows are new but the couch, end tables, lamp and curtains are all vintage. The awesome couch and tables were brought in the late seventies and were just passed down to us from a grandmother. We love them!”

We love them, too! I’ll add that I also love the new orientals that are being sold today that are washed out to look very old and faded. I like ’em a lot!

Thanks to all the mystery readers for sharing photos of their living rooms — I bet they didn’t think they’d make it onto a standalone followup story because of their oriental rugs!

And thanks to Kate for going through the uploader and finding all these photos for me once I decided to cover the topic! You are The Best, doodle!

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Comments

  1. Carolyn says

    History buff here! Rugs were seasonal because the heating systems and lack of insulation required the bare floors be covered for part of the year. Then, when warmer weather returned, the rugs were rolled up and stored (ofttimes behind the couch) to allow drafts, annoying in winter, to now cool.
    There were companies that the housewives could send old wool clothes to and they’d weave rugs from that material for a fee.
    And, think about this – how the heck would you clean wall-to-wall carpeting without wrecking the wood floor beneath? They didn’t have the technology that developed later. With a rug, you take it out and beat the dust and dirt out of it and spot clean – DONE!
    Besides, they’re pretty!

    • ineffablespace says

      Olson Rug Company in Chicago was one such place. I still have the catalog from the 1950s when my parents bought one. Reversible pattern of grey leaves. And even though they first lived elsewhere when they bought it, several of our neighbors had similar rugs-grey, green and burgundy-in their living rooms, in rural PA.

      • Betsy in Michigan says

        I bought me an old Olson catalog years back. There’s a reversible wool (durable!) Olson in the hall of the family home up north (actually 2 matching pieces, one long, one square) to fit the space. My MIL (b. 1937) remembers when it was NOT there, so was probably bought in the late 40’s or so.

  2. linda h says

    We have always had oriental rugs, too, in our mid century living rooms. Love them, too, and a few Chinese rugs in bedrooms, which are maybe not quite as mid century looking.

    • Kathy says

      Chinese art deco rugs are way cool, and very vibrant. I love rugs and textiles of all types, especially the handmade ones. The more traditional pastel Chinese rugs are nice too–and probably OK for mid-century since French Provincial and Hollywood Regency styles were popular then, and those pale pastel colors were popular too.

  3. ineffablespace says

    The second picture from the bottom, the 1838 house, is my old living room. Modernist furniture worked really well in the building and works well with antiques.

    • pam kueber says

      I shoulda guessed it — lovely room, ineffable — I love the mix of eras and the overall graphic appeal of the space. But then, we already know you got it goin’ on!

  4. Robin, NV says

    Classic art and rugs always go well with midcentury design. I have Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel the Elder hanging over my Zenith stereo cabinet and they look perfect together. Midcentury design wasn’t all atomic doodles and Danish modern. My grandparents cherished classic design as much as anyone today.

  5. Karin says

    Finally! I admit to being conflicted about my love of oriental rugs. I worried they wouldn’t “go with” our mid century interior. Happily, these beautiful rooms prove me wrong. And when I think about it,
    some of our parents in the 60s and 70s went to places like Morocco and India and brought back incredible antique rugs as souvenirs. They stay in families for generations if they are well cared for. I’m going to keep on the lookout for something fabulous. Great idea, thanks for the post.

    • Kathy says

      Morrocan rugs are quite abstract and were very popular in high style atomic ranch style interiors. Mostly black and white with irregular geometrics. Rather like a Klee or Jackson Pollack painting.

  6. Geronimom says

    Another huge benefit of vintage oriental rugs is that they are VERY sturdy! Those babies made back in the ’70s and earlier were intended to last! Believe it or not, in Tehran, Iran (where I lived for 4 years as a young teen) they actually would clean their Persian carpets by laying them in the middle of busy streets and allowing cars to DRIVE over them! Seriously! According to what I was told, it helps to loosen the dust. They will also regularly wet the carpet while it’s in the road which is supposed to aid in tightening the weave to help keep it laying flat I remember the first time we went down a street with rugs laid out. My dad tried to go around, but they waved him over the rugs, so over the rugs we drove, laughing as we went! In a vintage 1960 National Geographic I found, there is a photo spread showing hundreds of priceless Persian carpets lining the main road from the Tehran airport to the palace in honor of President Eisenhower’s world trip visit back then….the entire motorcade is driving right over the carpets while thousands of people line the road cheering.

    I also remember the rugs being taken down to a river or fresh water spring to be hand scrubbed in the rushing mountain water, and afterwards watching as the heavy, waterlogged carpets were then dragged up onto the rocky cliffs to dry in the sun. If you google image “rug” and “Cheshmeh Ali” you can actually see some pics of this process. Apparently they have a sidewalk area around the spring now, but back when I was there I remember it just being a natural, rocky shoreline.

    I have been told by rug experts that these days you cannot wash rugs like they used to in Cheshmeh Ali because the dyes and wools in some of the rugs now are not of the quality they used to be and your rug can become quite crooked with color bleeding. That being said, I KNOW mine is “vintage” so have washed it out on my deck using a hose, woolite and the backside of a push broom as a squeegee, then leaving it several days to dry. The neighbors surely think I’m nuts, but I know better 😉 !

    FWIW – I’m no expert, but the rug you have pictures reminds me a lot of mine, which is a “Tabriz” – made in that city – one of the largest cities in Iran and also the capital of the province of Azerbajdzian and close to the Turkish border – which might be why Pam thinks it reminds her of the Turkish Kilims.

    • Kimberly Taylor says

      I have a Persian rug that was given to my husband and me from his mother that looks very similar to the Tabriz rug you described. Makes sense since that is where my husband’s family is from. Great info!

  7. says

    I’m so glad to see this. I bought a hand-knotted 8 x 10 oriental rug in India in 2001 and shipped it back to the US. It lived in our dining room in our more traditional colonial home. Since we bought an MCM home 6 years ago, I’ve been hesitating to use it. I keep putting it in rooms and taking it out thinking it isn’t “MCM-enough”. I’m so glad to read this. I never want to part with it as it is very special to me and perhaps I’ll find a room to use it in.

  8. Erik says

    High quality, American made, machine woven oriental rugs became available in in the late 1920s and were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. They are probably the most common type of oriental rugs that I see at estate sales.

    Most major metropolitan areas will have at least one rug laundry that can safely and properly clean an oriental rug. For example, in Minneapolis we have American Rug Laundry on Lake Street.

    Otherwise, you can hand wash them yourself as Geronimom stated above. One common method is to lay the rug out on a clean concrete driveway and gently cleaning it with water (garden hose), Ivory bar soap and a brush.

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, I see them in virtually EVERY house I go into. Always at great prices, and generally looking pretty darn good!

    • Lisa in Seattle says

      Another washing method that I have used is to rent a steam-cleaning machine and use it on my area rugs out on a wooden deck. I’m not sure every rug would do well with this treatment, but none of my rugs seemed to suffer. It was great, because I had a small area of wall-to-wall as well, and it could get cleaned as well. I’d still be using this method, but I no longer have a suitable outdoor area.

  9. Barb says

    Another benefit of oriental rugs is that they tend to hide the accidents of real life with pets and kids and still look good. I love everything mid century but I also want a real home rather than a museum exhibit. Mixing styles and time periods keeps rooms from looking like stage sets.

  10. Beth Wolden says

    Yellow Ranch house is me! I always have loved oriental rugs and I like to mix and match eclectically so it never seemed off to me. The one in our living room is a tattered antique given to us my my mother-in-law, it’s a lovely rose color with a minty green mixed in. The minute we rolled it out we knew it was perfect for the living room.

      • Beth Wolden says

        Thanks! I love your blog, it has been an incalculable resource for us!

        The Mr. and Ms. chairs were from the best thrift day ever.
        We walked in to our local consignment store and walked out with these chairs and a dining table with matching buffet and chairs, all immaculate midcentury gems for under $300.

        My husband gets mad when I camp out in “his” chair. Its hilarious. The cat thinks they’re the bees knees too. You have to kick her out if you want to sit down.

        • pam kueber says

          Wow. A demonstration of one my tenets about buying vintage furniture: You get the best deals on the “big” stuff. That is, no one (well, I bet not many folks) “collect” dining rooms!

      • Carolyn says

        I thought my husband was making up that term of “Mr. & Mrs.” chairs. To his credit, he did give me a plausible explanation that Pa sat back with his pipe and paper while Ma was busy darning socks…

      • Carolyn says

        I thought my husband was full of hooey when he called these chairs “Mr & Mrs” although his explanation was plausible. Pa’s chair was higher so he could sit back with his pipe and paper while Ma’s was shorter since she was sitting forward mending socks.
        No wonder she wanted the Cinderella tub!

      • Kathy says

        I recently bought some machine-made rugs imported from Turkey from esalerugs.com. Lots of patterns, both traditional and contemporary, nice subtle colorways, decent quality so far. The pile isn’t real thick, but I like that so furniture doesn’t create big dents. The photos appear to be very accurate colorwise, and from a lot of angles. Rugs USA, Overstock, and Wayfair have some nice selections too.

        I have been looking for a Craftsman inspired large rug in golds and greens for ages and got a 12.5′ x 16.5′ rug for less than $500. I had a friend whose husband flew to Turkey often and he often came back with a nice rug, often machine made. Turkish handmade rugs are beautiful of course, but their machine-made textiles are great too.

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        Yes, you can get non-wool rugs. Mohawk rugs, made in the USA, come in different patterns and materials other than wool, such as nylon. Surprisingly, J. C. Penny and Kohl’s carry them–the greatest selection is on line. Some are very modern looking and some are oriental style. I have a beautiful paisley one in my living room that I bought on sale as a stop-gap, along with a sofa and loveseat from a local store, when I moved into my home in a hurry and was going to have surgery ten days later. Yet it is beautiful after 5 years and I ended up later finding valances to go with it on sale at Country Curtains.

  11. Sally Cote says

    Interesting post and I also enjoy the reader’s comments. My favorite comment is the one giving “permission” to do what you want. Guidelines in interior design are just that; a guide rather than rules.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks! I like knowing “the rules” or maybe “suggested best practices” or “sure-fire formulas” but YES, once ya know ’em, the real fun comes in breaking them and putting together your own unique look!

  12. Paul - CT says

    Let none of us forget, that accent rugs and even oriental rugs can be placed over wall to wall carpet! When I redid my mid century split level, the living room and family room were done in plush wall to wall carpeting and I used wool accent rugs (Overstock is a great place to get wool accent rugs and oriental rugs at bargain prices) to define my space.

    I thought I had uploaded a photo with this set-up but the photo I uploaded was before I added the accent rug. Agggggh! Maybe Pam can post it or replace it.

  13. Judy H. says

    These roms rock anchored by their fabulous oriental rugs. I have an oriental rug in my mid-century living room and up until now, never realized it might be something that would be considered by some to be a decorating no-no. I had a huge oriental rug that had some colors in the furniture, so I just put it on the floor. I love it! My daughter, an interior designer, turned up her nose a bit, but I think that was because the rug wasn’t “brand new”. That is another great thing about oriental rugs, the older they get, the better they look, unless if course the center of the rug has gone thread bare! Picture #5 is my fave!

  14. maria says

    They had traditional furniture and rugs during the MCM period too.

    I still have the image of the living room oriental rug burned in my little kid mind, when at my friend’s MCM house we watched the tv bulletin (April 4, 1968) that MLK had been killed.

    Both her parents were college professors and their house was decorated as such: traditional with a touch of Harry Potter. 🙂

  15. Barbara says

    I like the rug in the photo of Pam’s living room from the Yankee Magazine article and how the room balances the warm and cool colors.

    • pam kueber says

      Thank you! What a memory you have! I have two Oriental rugs in my living room — one is a circa 1992 Karastan, machine made; the other is vintage picked up cheap at a nearby estate sale. I love them both!

      • pam kueber says

        Hey, I see the article is still online! If the scene you’re talking about is the one shown in the story online (orange chairs on blue rug) that’s the vintage rug. The orange chairs came from the same sale — http://www.yankeemagazine.com/article/home-3/1950s-home-decor#_

        The loveseat is vintage Baker that I reupholstered (only because the original PINK! upholstery was falling apart). I actually have two of the loveseats, bought vintage. The liquor table is also Baker, from my mother-in-law. Everything else you see is purchased vintage — or found dumpster-diving — that is, sitting at the edge of someone’s driveway waiting for the garbage collection!

  16. says

    What a lovely surprise to click through for my daily visit to Retro Renovation and find my very own living room (#3)! Thanks, Pam & Kate for including it in this roundup of great looking rooms. I love how the rooms all have a similar feel from being grounded by oriental rugs, but are still so unique based on the other elements in each one.

    When I clicked through the uploader gallery of everyone’s living rooms that weekend, I thought we might end up with a roundup of Curtis Jere wall sculptures (hint hint!), but didn’t anticipate this fun rug roundup. Yay!

  17. Jay says

    The MCM living room photos with the oriental rugs were my favorite of the bunch. Growing up in the the Phila. area, they were a staple of the department stores, USA Karastan $$$ and moderately priced Belgium imports; all power loomed production. We had them growing up – one in a formal dining room and one in a MCM living room. Because they were identical and the same size, they were switched between the two rooms every year because they would last longer owing to different traffic patterns.

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