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!

Categoriesliving room
  1. sam says:

    It’s hard to read every word of all the comments, but I think some people touched on the following:

    Is it possible that Oriental rugs are the only rugs that were around and high quality enough to last, so we just got used to them and we make them fit. The Eames maybe had them in their house because what else were they going to have?
    Especially going back before high quality synthetics, wool was the only thing to make rugs from. You could have had a wool braided rug, but maybe that wasn’t as posh and certainly wasn’t as sturdy and long lasting a looped or woven rug.

    I think the comment about a patterned rug hiding spills and such is a huge reason we have used them for so long. There are Persian designs that are solids and even geometric, but they aren’t made in the quantities that traditional rug designs are made in, so we don’t see them as much – and, they wouldn’t hide damage or a spill well.

    Also, their content and construction makes them pricey so we value them more than other things at times. Most of the older ones are worth far more money than most furniture in a house, especially if they are Persian rugs. (But, our new policy discussions with Iran may bring more Persian rugs into the US? maybe?)

    Don’t get me wrong, I love them, they are beautiful, I have a few, but maybe “why” we use them is a greater question of value and cost, compared to “whether” they are acceptable for a certain decor. I think we MAKE things acceptable when we value them highly.

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