New ways to use old rugs
As part of the red-hot globalism trend, tribal style — exotic, eclectic and influenced by travel — has spread from fashion to home decor. There’s a caravan of interesting furniture and accessories that work in any space, from the sleek and contemporary to the simple and functional.
“It’s a look that’s meant to reflect the places you’ve been and decorative objects you brought home,” says New York designer Elaine Griffin. “And it’s perfectly fine if you’ve voyaged no further than the internet, in the comfort of your living room.”
Rugs are a big part of the style, and not simply on the floor. Griffin says “the flat-weave kilim and dhurrie rugs that are now back with a vengeance move stylishly onto upholstered chairs, sofas and ottomans.”
Kilim rugs are admired for their bold, geometric flat-weave patterns. They’ve been hand-woven for generations in Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
A lot of their appeal lies in the bold motifs and pigment dyes, with elements such as wolf’s mouths, stars and fertility symbols interpreted in geometric patterns. Back in Victorian England, smoking rooms and nooks were rife with kilim-covered furniture.
British manufacturer George Smith is known for kilim upholstery marked by careful pattern alignment and crisply tucked edges. They make a range of armchairs and benches covered in detailed modern and vintage Turkish flat-weaves.
Karma Living’s collection of smartly styled midcentury modern chairs and footstools are upholstered in bold stripes and tribal patterns.
Both new and antique versions are interesting, working well not only as upholstery, but as wall hangings or table coverings. The hand-crafted nature of kilims, Oriental and rag rugs plays well with woods and metals. White walls make them pop, while more saturated hues are complementary frames.
Joss & Main’s style director, Donna Garlough, says pouf ottomans are one of her favorite twists on the Bohemian-inspired trend.
“They’re a great way to add a pop of pattern to a room, and you can use them for extra seating if you’re having a party,” she says.
An added bonus of these materials is that they’re pretty tightly woven and durable, and the bright patterns often camouflage stains.
“You don’t have to worry as much about a toddler spilling juice on a kilim-covered cocktail ottoman as you would if the upholstery were linen or leather,” Garlough says.
Atlanta-based artist and textile designer Beth Lacefield has done a collection of kilim poufs for Surya in both muted tones and vibrant hues like raspberry, burnt orange and olive green.
Boston designer Jill Rosenwald’s pouf collection for the retailer is also inspired by Indian flat-weave rugs, with sophisticated chocolate browns, grays and other muted hues.
Crafters will find lots of ideas online for turning inexpensive rag rugs from big box stores into floor pillows, headboard covers and benches.
Courtney Schutz, a designer in Point Reyes, California, turned a staid, traditional, upholstered bench into a fun piece for a girls’ room by gilding the legs and covering the seat with a gumball-colored rag rug.
Toronto designer Jacquelyn Clark offers a simple tutorial on sewing throw-rug pieces into a square, filling it with foam beads, and then closing it up with thread or a zipper to make a big pillow.
While the kilims have an earthy rusticity, distressed wool, linen or silk rugs can make a more elegant piece.
Pottery Barn has a cotton velvet line inspired by Persian carpeting. And West Elm’s Ornament velvet pouf comes in sophisticated, soothing hues of ivory or platinum.