Whether you’ve scored the floors of your dreams or you’re currently saddled with less-than-stellar surfaces underfoot, a vintage rug can elevate, enhance, and—yes, when necessary—hide them. Whereas newly purchased rugs run the risk of feeling soulless, vintage rugs are character-laden. Delving into the world of vintage rug shopping can be overwhelming, though, especially if you’re not physically able to see or touch what you’re considering. That’s where our vintage rug guide comes in. From Turkish Oushaks to Chinese Art Deco rugs, we’ve rounded up the vintage rug styles you’re most likely to spy in those picture-perfect Instagram shots and giving you the scoop. Get intel on common sizes and colorways, plus, discover some of our go-to vintage rug shops!
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With their rich earth tones and bold geometric patterns, Kilims have long been killing us softly. Originating in Turkey but now present in many areas of Asia and Africa, including Pakistan, China, Iran, Afghanistan, and Morocco, kilims are flat-woven rugs—meaning, they’re created without knots—and have no pile. Historically, this aligns with their usage not just as floor coverings, but as tent hangings, storage sacks, and more.
Unlike Persian rugs or Oriental rugs which tend to showcase ornate botanical-inspired scrollwork, kilims’ patterns are more geometric and simplistic in nature. Many feature central vertical diamond patterns or all-over stripes. Kilims can generally be sourced in a wide array of palettes, but the majority showcase a red palette. Shades of red can range from bright tomato red to deep burgundy and maroon hues. If you’re not in the market for a red rug, it is possible to find Kilims in other shades, such as brown or beige, but keep in mind, that they’ll be much harder to track down. Another thing to note is that traditional Kilims tend to be smaller in scale than rugs from other parts of the world, but runners, both short and long, are widely available.
If you’ve ever been scrolling through your feed and spotted a worn, faded-to-perfection rug in what looks like a designer-picked color combo, chances are it’s a Turkish Oushak. These thin rugs don’t have much of a pile, making them prone to balding in areas. Remarkably, this balding doesn’t detract from the rug’s beauty as you might think, making these rugs perfect for anyone seeking decor that ages gracefully.
One of the Oushak rug’s main appeals is its unique color combinations. Unlike rugs from other parts of the world that showcase deep, vivid colors, Oushaks often feature soft, pastel hues. Pink Oushak rugs are among the most common on the vintage market today, with many featuring accent colors of light blue, lavender, or sage. If you’re in need of a small Oushak to use as a bathmat or kitchen rug, you’ll discover an even wider array of color options. Small-scale Oushaks frequently include jewel tones, including navy, burgundy, tangerine, and deep purple. In terms of patterns, large-scale Turkish rugs are often decorated with medallions or star motifs, and have a patterned border. In contrast, small Oushak rugs are often more geometric in nature.
Crafted in China, Peking rugs are notable for their uncrowded patterns and deep cobalt or rust colorways accented with beige. Unique to Peking rugs is the large amount of empty space or “white space” in their designs. Many showcase large, uninterrupted fields of color, making them appear less busy than traditional Persian or Oriental rugs. These gemstone-colored rugs are perfect for setting the stage in splashy maximalist or eclectic interiors. Alternatively, you can use them to add a thematic element to a Hollywood Regency or Chinoiserie interior.
Most Peking rugs are crafted of hand-spun wool, with a small percentage featuring 100% silk construction. In terms of design, Peking rugs typically showcase medallions, florals, or a mix of both. Many showcase small central medallions surrounded by floral sprays while others have no central element and instead appear to be “peppered” with florals. Regardless of their center decoration, Peking rugs virtually always showcase a wide border. In general, it’s easy to find medium to large-scale Peking rugs in cobalt. Smaller scale rugs as well as rust-colored Peking rugs tend to be much more difficult to pin down.
The term “Persian rug” is tossed around a lot, and while it’s often used to describe an extremely orante rug in a red color palette, these beauties don’t even begin to sum up the categorie’s sheer breadth. Persian rugs are predominantly handwoven in Iran or Pakistan using a unique asymmetrical knotting technique known as the Persian Knot. The most common patterns are all-over patterns or central medallion patterns. The all-over pattern is composed of a geometric or floral design that repeat over a rug’s entire area, while the central medallion pattern showcases a center diamond or oval pattern surrounded by concentric diamonds or ovals.
Persian rugs generally showcase jewel tones, and while red is almost always incorporated in some fashion, Persian rugs can showcase alternate color palettes like orange and blue, peach and navy, or beige and cream. In line with their hefty price tag, most Persian rugs are large in size. Persian runners are also not as common as other types of rugs.
Chinese Art Deco Rugs
These days, there’s no talking about vintage rugs without taking about Chinese Art Deco rugs. Like a maximalist’s fever dream, these fabulous floor coverings hit all the right notes: punch drunk colors, offbeat palettes to suit any persuasion, romatic bird and floral motifs. Intersetingly enough, most of the world’s most recongiable Chinese Art Deco rugs were produced by a singular maker: Walter Nichols. Although American Nichols produced the rugs in Tientsin, China throughout the 1920s and 30s.
The Chinese Art Deco style melded notable elements of Peking rugs with Art Deco sensibilities. Many could be mistaken for Peking rugs if not for their fearless color pairings like fuchsia, canary, emerald, and cobalt and their extremely sparse, asymmetrical patterns. Today, large Chinese Art Deco rugs will easily run you thousands of dollars, but don’t loose hope if your budget isn’t so grand. Smaller-scale Chinese Art Deco rugs in bathmat sizes do exist and can often be scored for less than a grand.
Lead photo by Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh / Styled by Jeffrey Miller