You’re likely familiar with the timeless adage: “Everything old is new again.” It applies to the world of interior design, too.
Right now, we’re seeing a resurgence in the popularity of vintage rugs. Whether in their original state or transformed into a different present-day incarnation, buyers are finding all sorts of innovative ways to incorporate vintage rugs into their homes.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at this vintage rug revival movement we’re in the midst of.
A Growing Appreciation for Vintage Style
Vintage style and design are transforming the world of interior decor, with vintage rugs taking center stage in this aesthetic renaissance. Today, interior designers and homeowners alike seek to infuse their spaces with the allure of yesteryears, embracing the charm of distressed and time-worn rugs.
Vintage rugs, with their exquisite patterns and history-rich threads, add an air of nostalgia and authenticity to modern interiors. As more people gravitate towards sustainable and eco-friendly choices, these pre-loved treasures offer a compelling option. Whether found in the aisles of New England flea markets or carefully curated by experts, vintage rugs are weaving their way into our hearts and homes, bringing an enduring touch of beauty to contemporary living spaces.
The Emergence of Vintage Rugs
Rug ownership has changed over the years. In the early days, rug owners prized mint condition rugs from Europe and the Middle East that would be kept until they were threadbare and no longer serviceable. Over time, as aged rugs became more commonplace, the worn-in look started to become more desirable.
Buyers would look for pre-worn rugs to mimic the effect of a rug aging over time. Our expert Jeff Arcari explains:
“Vintage rugs mostly started on the west coast as a concept 7-8 years ago. Transitional and contemporary were trending, but people would ask, "Do you have something that's really beaten up, no holes, but threadbare, and this size?" Nowadays people want the look of an antique rug without necessarily the age – meaning they want a rug that looks like it's beaten up and been on the floor for 150 years, even though maybe it hasn't.”
The desire for worn-in rugs also intersects with the trend of thrifting. As younger generations sought more distressed-looking vintage rugs, they flocked to flea markets to find them. The flea markets of New England became havens for these pieces. After all, New England flea markets and antique markets are some of the best in the country — exponentially better in fact. It’s the oldest part of the country, attracting people from as far as California to hunt for these treasures.
The Thrift Generation
*There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt at a thrift store or flea market. Uncovering that hidden gem of a piece that somehow everyone else missed but you. With vintage rugs, many of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, so finding the one that matches your aesthetic or fits in your space is exciting. Stumbling upon the right rug at the right time is like a match made in heaven.
Another great thing about vintage rugs is that they’re recycled and recyclable. This is an extremely compelling selling point for sustainability-minded buyers. By going with an existing rug, you’re extending its useful life and helping to make the most of the resources that went into making it.
Even better, vintage rugs offer an eco-friendly option that’s accessible to many people. The initial investment is often more affordable — and you still end up with a beautiful rug that will last for ages.
And, while you’ll probably own your vintage rug indefinitely, you can pass it on as a family heirloom. This helps ensure that your rug continues to be used and enjoyed far into the future.
The Difference Between Antique and Vintage Rugs
Antique and vintage rugs are differentiated based on age, appearance, construction, and cost.
Antique rugs are typically defined as ones that are more than 75 years old. Rugs that are between 20-75 years old are considered to be vintage.
Antique rugs tend to have more archaic and freeform patterns. It's common for antique rugs to be faded and have had restoration work done to them. Their age, though, gives them a certain patina and appeal that newer rugs can lack. While they may still have some of the same qualities as antique rugs, vintage pieces don't have quite the same cachet as antique rugs. They often have brighter palettes and more traditional design motifs.
Both vintage and antique rugs often use traditional handweaving techniques. However, antique rugs may have been crafted using older methods and tools, while vintage rugs may still incorporate traditional techniques but might have some influence from more recent developments in rug making.
Antique rugs are generally more of an investment piece. Vintage rugs are usually at more affordable price points than their antique counterparts, which makes them extra attractive to contemporary buyers.
Vintage Style Rugs: It’s About More Than Just Age
Not to confuse matters, but over time "vintage" has taken on new meaning. It's not just an age category — it's a style. In essence, antique rugs — ones that are more than 75 years old — can flaunt a vintage look or treatment.
Vintage style rugs can be broken down into two classifications: "vintage worn" and "vintage washed." The main difference is that vintage washed has been altered in color and vintage worn hasn't. But let’s break it down a little more.
A vintage worn rug is one that’s in its existing condition, wear and tear, original colors, and all. The state of the rug hasn’t been manipulated, aside from possible cleanings and repairs over time.
A vintage washed rug means the rug has been chemically treated, washed, sun-faded, and/or sheared. Basically, it’s undergone a process to give it a new look.
Essentials of Washing Vintage Rugs
While vintage-worn rugs are sometimes said to be “fading with grace,” washed rugs are a different story. Washing a vintage rug can be done in a variety of ways, each approach aiming for a different end result. And, of course, the rug you begin with makes a world of difference, too.
Washing exists on a spectrum. The wash range goes from slightly washed to half-washed to heavily washed — with every point in between. This gives rug craftspeople broad flexibility to accommodate a wide assortment of rug styles and conditions.
Regardless of the wash process that’s used:
- Vintage washing can breathe new life into an antique rug. Interestingly enough, we frequently notice that the older a rug is, the better it will look after it’s washed.
- New rugs that look old is an up-and-coming aesthetic. So, a lot of new rugs are also antique washed, which is great for the budget-conscious who want to jump on the distressed rug trend.
Dying to Know What’ll Happen
How a rug turns out after washing is largely dependent on the kinds and colors of the dyes used in the original rug. After all, washing is a process of chemical reactions between the dyes and washes — and dyes and washes are chemicals with unique properties.
So, what’s this mean? How does it come out in the wash, so to speak?
- A lot of times, washed rugs are lighter. But some rugs that are antique washed become darker (a very Los Angeles look).
- The colors are often toned-down, for example a dark blue might fade to slightly duller shade and yellows can shift into the beige family.
Much of the outcome pivots on whether or not the rug uses vegetable or synthetic dyes. For example, a Heriz rug made in the 1940s with vegetable dyes will react differently to a wash than one that was chemically dyed.
For instance, natural red dyes become more muted whereas chemical red dyes ebb towards beige. This is an easy tell for which dyes are natural versus synthetic.
Color isn’t the only visual dimension that can be transformed. Sometimes washing can have a profound effect on a rug’s motif. It can highlight or heighten the definition of designs. We’ve even seen new patterns revealed after vintage washing.
But, Is Distressing a Rug Good for It?
There are too many factors at play to blanketly say yes or no. It’s impossible to predict how a rug wash will come out; we can only make educated guesses.
Washing can sometimes save a rug. The process may camouflage a discoloration or stain or revitalize the patterns or colors.
However, some antique or vintage rugs won't hold up to washing. They may lack the structural integrity to withstand the wash process. Another thing we’ve seen is old, once-hidden repairs morphing into glaring flaws.
Investing in Vintage Rugs
Considering a vintage rug for your home? It can be an exciting and stylish addition to your décor. However, it's essential to make an informed decision and buy from reliable sources.
When looking for a vintage rug, be cautious about deals that seem too good to be true. A very cheap rug from an unknown seller might turn out to be of poor quality or not authentic at all. To avoid disappointments, it's best to work with qualified and reputable dealers.
Trusted dealers have the expertise and knowledge to guide you through your vintage rug purchase. They can help you understand the unique features of each rug and ensure you find the perfect fit for your preferences.
Don't hesitate to ask questions and seek advice from experts. Look for sellers who specialize in the types of vintage rugs you're interested in; they can offer valuable insights and a curated selection.
Worn or Washed, Modern Vintage Rugs Aren’t Fading Anytime Soon
Vintage rugs continue to be enduring sweethearts of the design industry. They look great and retain value for years.
The key to getting the best vintage rug for yourself is understanding the unique characteristics, history, and craftsmanship of each rug.