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Finding the perfect rug may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re after a vintage or antique item, as rugs are often the statement pieces in a living room or dining area and will likely get a lot of foot traffic. These days, as the ability to shop rugs from retailers both big and small around the world gets even easier, it can be overwhelming to search through hundreds of options to find the one that speaks to you, your design aesthetic, and your spatial needs for a room. We asked five designers from around the country and Joanna Mahserdijan, the founder of Upstate Rug Supply in the Hudson Valley, to share their tips on buying the perfect vintage or antique rug. Good news: they’re here to put all your worries at ease.

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Ask All the Questions

“I feel rugs are like art pieces that are laid on the floor,” says Carla Fonts Hrncir, owner of Dunbar Road, a design firm based in Dallas and Palm Beach. “They truly have to speak to your soul just like a piece of art. Rugs can also dictate the feel and vibe of how an entire room feels, so you really want to love it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you are buying. What country is it from? How old is it? Is it hand knotted or woven? Once you have all that information, it can be a conversational piece to talk about when having guests in your home.”

Mahserdijan says it’s also important to determine the type of rug you’re looking for, which may warrant lots of questions as you are searching through a local shop in-store or online. “Understand the difference between antique, semi-antique, and vintage rugs,” she says. “Antique rugs date from the 1920s and earlier, semi-antique are rugs from the 1930s-1950s and vintage rugs are 1950s-70s. Antique rugs were naturally dyed, semi-antique is when synthetic dyes began to be introduced.”


Don’t Fear the Impulse Buy

Lexington, Kentucky-based designer Isabel Ladd says, if a rug strikes you, go for it, and you’ll find the perfect place for it eventually.

“Vintage and antique rugs are one of a kind and you can’t pass up a rug you love,” Ladd says. “When you get home, then decide where it can go. Many people think of vintage and antique rugs going in more formal or public spaces, such as a foyer, living room or dining room. But consider vintage and antique rugs in more casual places, such a in front of a kitchen stove, or in a power room. I also love using them in nurseries or kids’ rooms.”

And if the rug is too small for a large space, Ladd advises layering it on top of a natural fiber rug to create the appropriate scale.


Do Your Research to Know the Value of a Rug of Your Desired Size and Style

“Do some research to make sure the dealer is asking for a fair price,” says Austin-based designer Sarah Stacy. “I can’t stress this enough! Going vintage or antique doesn’t have to be extremely pricey if you’re sourcing correctly and understand the background to a piece. Watch out for odd smells and wear and tear that can’t be mended. Some wear and tear is to be expected and is part of the charm, but I always recommend keeping an eye out for overly-frayed edges which can cause a rug to unravel.”

Stacy says eBay and Etsy are fantastic options for finding a great deal on a stunning rug, especially if some of your favorite local options are still closed due to the pandemic. Brooklyn-based designer Cara Woodhouse says it’s just as important to research the dealers you’re shopping from as it is to research the rugs and styles you like.

“It’s important to know that you are buying from a reputable dealer—this makes all the difference, trust me!” Woodhouse says. “Make sure you have an idea in mind of color and size as well, so you’re really prepared.”


Don’t Be Deterred by A Little Wear

“Look for wear and muted colors,” says Los Angeles-based designer Joyce Downing Pickens. “Strangely, the more beat up a rug is the more expensive it looks! I’ve found that the wear actually mutes the colors and reduces the pile for a softer more sophisticated look.” Pickens says it’s actually a common mistake to think that the brighter a rug is, the more it’s probably worth, when oftentimes, the slightly worn options that are still in great shape are where the true value lies. It also offers a nice patina, as shown here, in a living space she designed.

Joanna Mahserdijan goes one step further, saying not only should you not be afraid of a little “imperfection,” but handwoven rugs belong in active houses too. Plus, you can always repair when needed.

“Don’t be afraid to invest in an antique rug because of kids, pets, and foot traffic. It’s actually the opposite! Handwoven rugs are superior in durability and quality to a lot of machine-made rugs. They wear so well and their designs can disguise those unavoidable stains.”


Let Your Rug Purchase Set the Tone for a Room’s Design

“If you’re starting with a rug, or perhaps a piece of art or textile you love, utilize the rug as a way to pull together the colors and elements in the room,” says Mahserdijan. “Rugs can ground a space but also create interesting color stories to guide your design. Just like an approach to collecting art for your walls, buy rugs that you love and respond to. There should be a gut response. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive; sometimes it’s the old, worn ones that make my heart skip a beat.”

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