The Rich Have Abandoned Rich-People Rugs

Blame our increasingly casual culture, one in which the perfect pair of jeans replaced the ornate Christian Lacroix gown as a status object. There has in fact been a 40-year move toward folkloric, less formal carpets. Wool is the new silk. Established imperfections are part of the sales pitch.

The film director Joel Schumacher was part of the first wave of design geeks collecting Navajo rugs, which started becoming more popular in the 1970s.

“I got to Hollywood as a costume designer, and one of the things you do as a costume designer is shop all the time,” Mr. Schumacher said. Around the time he was outfitting Diane Keaton for “Sleeper,” Mr. Schumacher walked into an antiques store and spotted a chandelier wrapped in what turned out to be a Navajo rug. “I said to the guy, ‘Could I buy the rug?’” Mr. Schumacher said. “He said, ‘No, I use that as padding.’”

It took just $50 to wear the shopkeeper down, and Mr. Schumacher got hooked (no pun intended).

He loved the way the kaleidoscopic geometrics looked with wicker furniture and books strewn all over the place. So he bought more and more Navajos, plunking the larger ones on the floor, the midsize ones on top of beds and the smallest over banisters and pool chairs.

Andy Warhol and Ralph Lauren began collecting Navajo rugs, too. Sotheby’s held auctions for them. Still, prices remained relatively close to earth, at least compared to Persian rugs.

Mr. Schumacher’s biggest splurge was on a rare chief’s blanket that he bought in the 1980s in the Southwest. “I was either in Sedona or maybe Taos,” he said.

The asking price was $20,000; he paid half that, in cash.

In the 1990s, ABC Carpet on lower Broadway ushered in its own major rug trend, selling Orientals that had been dyed in bright colors like pink, blue, red or silver. Seemingly every well-off woman who instructed her hairdresser to give her the “Jennifer Aniston” had one.


Rugs at ABC Carpet and Home in New York. Credit Stefania Curto for The New York Times

But ubiquity has a way of creating openings for new things to come along. Or as Ryan Korban, the design guru to the fashion designers Alexander Wang and Joseph Altuzarra, put it: “ABC carpet hasn’t changed substantially in 10 years. Tell me you don’t agree with me. It’s the same chairs and the same rugs as they had when I was in college. There’s only so many times you can go to the same place and look at the same kind of stuff.”

Over the last 15 years, Janis Provisor and Brad Davis, the owners of Fort Street Studio, have made plush and shiny silk-knot carpets for clients including Brad Pitt, Madonna, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. (Although Mr. Arnett and Ms. Poehler divorced a few years ago. “Who got the carpet?” Mr. Davis wondered.)

Prices for a large living room rug typically start at about $21,000, though six-figure carpets are not unheard-of, said Ms. Provisor, showing off a 150-knot wild silk rug with metallic soumak that she once made for a client in a custom size (17 feet by 18 feet) for $147,000.

Whether these — or the shiny, envy inducing carpets of their closest competitor Joseph Carini — are good investments or merely terrific splurges is a matter of debate.

“Some of them have held their value,” Ms. Provisor said.

Today, the most obvious trend in upscale carpeting is the Moroccan Berber rug, which is not, though it may appear that way, a discovery by trust-funded Brooklyn millennials or the design firm Roman and Williams.

Jean-Michel Frank, France’s resident godfather of minimalist design, used them in the early part of the 20th century. There have also been Berber rugs in the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modernist Pennsylvania pièce de résistance, Fallingwater, since the 1950s.

In the early 2000s they began popping up in European design magazines. The designer Jenna Lyons plunked down a few thousand dollars at Nazmiyal for a shaggy six-foot-wide, brown-and-white, diamond-patterned Beni Ourain (named after the nomadic tribespeople of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco who make them).

It went into the Brooklyn townhouse she lived in, got photographed for Domino magazine in 2008, became one of the most repinned images of all time on Pinterest, and the rest is fuzz-story.


Moroccan rugs at Nazmiyal Antique Rugs in New York. Credit Stefania Curto for The New York Times

Unlike the best Persians, Beni Ourain Moroccan rugs (and some of their popular cousins including Boucherouites and Azilals) can be completed in a few months, so they are plentiful and relatively cheap.

They were shaggy enough to stage orgies on, but not so louche as to turn anyone into a 21st-century Austin Powers.

“For four or five thousand dollars, you could get a good one,” Mr. Korban said. “People went to Morocco and brought them back. They were on eBay and 1stdibs. With a Serge Mouille sconce and a fig tree, your house looked like the Céline showroom. Now, I think it’s a bit of a Domino magazine-Whole Foods cliché. No offense to anyone who has them, but on to the next.”

Amy Astley, the editor of Architectural Digest, said, “That’s why I don’t buy the traditional crème and brown.” Ms. Astley has a Beni in bright orange and blue at her Long Island vacation home that she purchased from Double Knot in TriBeCa for a few thousand dollars.

“The knockoffs are the worst,” she said. “But I understand the desire for a uniform. It’s easy, it’s foolproof, and it’s great for most people who don’t want to spend tons of money.”

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