An expert talks us through caring for vintage and antique rugs
London dealer Mehdi Sharafi is the name behind one of Vinterior’s most inspiring collection of vintage and antique rugs. Having grown up with rugs ‘in every room’, Mehdi is versed like none other in the rich history, variety and careful maintenance of artisanal carpets. With rugs featured from many different regions of the world, the Sharafi collection is a richly varied treasure trove of vintage rugs. Many of these historical rugs represent the remarkable achievement of highly skilled artisans who have woven into their rugs practices that date back almost two millennia.
An antique or vintage rug can be a big investment (although you may be surprised to learn that they can be more cost effective than opting for a new model!) and many lack confidence to care for such a statement piece. Mehdi unpacked some valuable advice around what to look for when buying a vintage rug and how to care for it.
Hi Mehdi! Where do your rugs come from?
Most of our rugs are Persian rugs but we buy them all over the world, as they are mainly vintage and antiques. We have our own high end production in Iran for fulfilling the bespoke orders that we usually get from interior designers.
What is the difference between rugs from different areas of the world?
There are a few characteristics that distinguish carpets from one another, whether different countries or towns. In terms of priority, it is the knot, design, wool, colours, fringes, selvedges. In addition to these it is very helpful to know the history of an area, as the carpet weaving is entwined with local history.
What are some key tips to looking after and maintaining the quality of rugs?
There are two things that are extremely harmful to handmade rugs. One is moths and the other damp. You should vacuum your carpet regularly (once a week). Try not to vacuum the fringes. If they are in direct sunlight turn them around every six months. In case of spillage, try to get the product out using only water (sparkling water is better) and just blotting it out, not rub the spillage all over the carpet. Then make sure that the carpet is aerated and dries as quickly as possible. Alternatively, have an expert do it for you. As soon as the edges start fraying, have them secured professionally. This costs a lot less than having to deal with a large repair later on. A good rug lasts a very long time and is something that you can pass on or even exchange.
What kind of story could a typical rug in your collection tell?
I think Gabbeh rugs are the ones that do tell a simple charming story. They are a nomadic people. The weaver gets her inspiration from her surroundings and in some of them there are very charming motifs that tell their own stories. Some of them are woven by the weaver as part of her dowry that have pompons attached along the edges.
What sets vintage and antique rugs apart from modern day models?
Let’s not forget that all vintage and antique rugs at one point were the modern rugs of their times. Rugs can be a long term investment. The ones that have very good quality wool and dyes become more beautiful as time goes by. This is what makes a 40 year old or 100 year old rug so valuable, a bit like a good vintage wine. With the vintage and antique rugs they have passed the test of time. The colours have matured. The wool has become softer and with the very fine ones they become velvety through use, which gives them a certain sheen and look that you cannot get in modern rugs.
What advice would you give to someone searching for the right rug?
I always tell people the most important factor is to buy the rug that they like, before considering any other factor, especially people that want to buy their first rug. The sign is that when you buy a rug and you look at it in your house, in situ, first thing in the morning and it puts a smile on your face and you can say “yes this is the right one” then that is it. Unlike machine made rugs, handmade rugs have a lot of character that is difficult to describe but easy to see with the passage of time. You see things in them that you have not noticed before. Having said that, you cannot go wrong if you choose a rug which has been woven using good wool, dyes. Other than these it is very much a personal taste factor.
Do you have any rugs at home?
I was raised with rugs in every room and I have rugs in almost every room in my house.
Is there a particularly special design in your collection?
We do have rugs with rare and special designs. But there are also designs that are special to me personally for personal reasons. That is really what a handmade rug is about. It is special to the owner, regardless of what other people think. After all you are going to be looking at it on an almost daily basis.
How long will a rug last and what factors affect this?
There are many factors that affect the longevity of a rug. The finer it is the longer it will last as you are wearing more the top of the wool rather than the length of the wool when you are walking on it. The quality of the wool. The quality of the weave. Then it is how you look after it. It is important to have it cleaned professionally every so often (depending on the use). Professional cleaning gets rid of the dust and grit that sits within the foundation of the rug, which cannot be extracted by simple vacuuming. This can result in eroding the foundation of the rug. If taken care of properly a rug can last from 25 years to at least 125 years, obviously with the finer and denser rugs. By this time, especially if it is in good condition there is a good chance that it would be of good value and your purchase money would have turned to a good investment.
Lastly, what is the most spectacular use of a rug you have seen?
There are a lot of these kind of rugs and so it is very difficult to pick one. But for the message that it gives, I suppose it would be the carpet gifted to United Nations by the great Iranian producer Mohammad Seirafian. This carpet, pictured below, honours the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilisations; it is a magnificent large carpet hanging on the wall of United Nations and bears an inscription by the classical Persian poet Sa’adi (Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif-ibn-Abdullah, c.1184-1292).
Image credit: un.org