Persian Rugs 101

Persian Rugs, Are They Really A Symbol of Wealth & Prosperity?

Persian carpets and rugs of various types were woven in parallel by nomadic tribes, in village and town workshops, and by royal court manufactories alike. As such, they represent different, simultaneous lines of tradition, and reflect the history of Iran and its various peoples. The carpets woven in the Safavid court manufactories of Isfahan during the sixteenth century are famous for their elaborate colours and artistical design, and are treasured in museums and private collections all over the world today. Their patterns and designs have set an artistic tradition for court manufactories which was kept alive during the entire duration of the Persian Empire up to the last royal dynasty of Iran.

Persian rugs lasts a lifetime but it’s not just a piece to cover the floor—it’s a work of art

A Persian carpet shop in Isfahan.
A Persian carpet shop in Isfahan. dbimages / Alamy

YOU DON’T NORMALLY spend thousands of pounds on a piece of art, then walk all over it. Unless you’re in the market for a Persian rugs, that is.

I recently picked up the keys to my first apartment, and my mind was full of rugs— the colorful beauties that covered the marble floors of my grandfather’s home in Homs, Syria. These are gone now (while a Persian rugs can survive many things, a civil war is not one of them), but the thought of them always conjures images of a large house full of people, welcoming and open to all. This is, I think, the kind of home most of us hope to make.

Persian rugs early 20th-century Isfahan rug, woven from kurk wool, with floral scrollwork details.
An early 20th-century Isfahan rug, woven from kurk wool, with floral scrollwork details. Essie

 

My dad tells me his father took great care in picking his persian rugs. Apparently he would scratch the back of them before buying. This sounded a little odd until I started looking for myself, and I realized the back of a handmade rug gives up many secrets. It’s here you really get to appreciate the intricacy of the weaving, with some rugs counting more than a million knots per square meter.

My grandfather had persian rugs from Isfahan in central Iran, I am told, which means he had good taste. If he was buying today, he’d need deep pockets. They are often made of high-quality kurk wool woven onto silk warps, and can easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds to buy—particularly those from the famous Seirafian workshop.

I was drawn to the carpets from Nain, a smaller city in Isfahan province that shares many design characteristics with its illustrious neighbor. Nain rugs are woven of wool and silk, typically in creams and blues, and can be a little easier on the wallet—but not much.

Persian Rugs Artin Markosian, a professor at Isfahan's Art University, measures a carpet during his visit to Iran's Persian handmade carpet fair in Isfahan.
Artin Markosian, a professor at Isfahan’s Art University, measures a carpet during his visit to Iran’s Persian handmade carpet fair in Isfahan. Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters/Corbis

Setting out to find the right persian rugs is a journey that should not be rushed, and not just because of the sums involved when purchasing fine pieces from cities such as Isfahan, Tabriz and Kashan. You can look on Persian rugs as an investment, but never forget they were made to be used in the home (or indeed palace), not hidden away in vaults.

My own search began with a simple enough request: “I want a blue one.” What followed was a bit of a rug odyssey. I spent weeks trawling London’s carpet shops, large and small, and wholesalers in trading estates off the beaten track in the north part of the city, where there’s a community of dealers.

Buying this way means you have to learn with your eyes. Persian Rugs from different cities have their own characteristics: the fabrics used, the colors of the dyes, or design signatures that range from naturalistic flowers and animal patterns to mosque domes and calligraphy.

Sellers are happy to talk and show off their stock, but there’s always the possibility you’ll be spun a yarn on the fabric, the maker, the age, the region, or all of these—this is also one of the big risks of buying rugs online, unless you buy from one our recommended suppliers

If you want to avoid blowing a small fortune on an “authentic” Qum silk rug that has actually been made in, say, China, find a reputable dealer. And, as Essie Sakhai, an Iranian authority on these persian rugs who runs Essie Carpets in Mayfair, warns: “

Keep away from anyone who tries to ‘sell’ you a carpet.”

My grandfather had rugs from Isfahan in central Iran, I am told, which means he had good taste

 

I saw many Nain rugs of varying quality, but eventually found the blue one I was looking for, rolled up like a giant cigar in the darkened storeroom of a shop on Highgate Road in north London. It’s from Iran’s pre-revolution years, and is unusual in that the design has no central medallion but rather displays its floral pattern across the entire “field” of the rug.

My persian rugs has its imperfections, but anything handmade is supposed to have flaws—therein lies much of the charm. I happen to love fishing, and every time I look at it, the persian rugs reminds me of leaves on the water in fall—a flurry of browns and reds, greens and blues.

I bargained over the price, but I have a terrible poker face and in the end the entire £1,000 furniture budget got blown three times over. While my grandfather would have had a few things to say about my haggling skills, I like to think he would have approved of my choice.

Click here to see our list of recommended online persian rugs dealers.

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