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How to Buy a Handmade Rug

Floors are the second-largest surface in any room.

Maybe because I grew up in a house where the flowers were always on the sofa, and the carpet was always beige, but I love, absolutely love working with handmade area carpets.They bring charm, warmth, and character to a room, each with personalities as different as the myriad of craftspeople who make them.

If you are contemplating a decorating project, I will make two important points here: First- don't believe there is one specific element of a room to start decorating with. Color and pattern is a very personal choice, so I counsel my clients to start with where they see the most pattern, find something they are really drawn to, and build on it. It could be flowers on the sofa, it could be a wallpaper mural, a pair of paisley chairs....or a wonderful rug!

Second, I can only counsel you on investing in your happiness. If you are looking for guidance on investing in antique or heirloom carpets, consult with an expert in this field instead. OK then-here are my three most important tips to remember when shopping for a handmade carpet:

1. LOVE IT If a handmade carpet is in your future, this is my absolute best advice. Seems silly and obvious, but many times I'd meet clients who had SO many other things on their mind about what constitutes a good decision-things they saw on TV, read on line, or heard from friends-that starting with something they love simply never crossed their minds. Choose something you feel a genuine connection with. It makes the strongest case for your parting with dollars.

2. DO NOT be swayed by 70 percent off sales, or those places that are terminally going out of business. YES of course dollars matter, and YES you could find a deal on the carpet of your dreams, but neither of these two, by themselves is a guarantee of value or savings.

Remember value is in the eye of the beholder, so first see what's out there and get a sense of what calls to you. Many times the carpets that are 'up to 70 off' are in odd/unusual color combinations or funky sizes that will not fit into your space, or with your existing furnishings so well.

Handmade carpets by definition, are not a perfect or manufactured product-in fact, as a reverence, some weavers intentionally weave an imperfection into their carpets, believing only God makes what is perfect. However, check the parallel measurements, make sure they match, or are very close...you want a rectangle, not a trapezoid on your floor.

3. UNDERSTAND how rugs are made, and the elements that make up its basic cost structure. Wool is the #1 fiber, sometimes silk is added to define and highlight the pattern.  All-silk carpets are made, but they are rarer, and much pricier. The number of knots-referred to as the 'quality' of a carpet is key. Unlike what we typically attach to the word quality, a lower quality carpet will not wear out or fall apart, it just costs less to make because there are fewer knots.

Want to be stunned? A carpet referred to as a 12/10 quality means there are 12 rows of 10 knots, or 120 knots per square inch. 144 square inches in a square foot, so these 120 knots x 144 square inches is 17,280 knots, per square foot. A 6x9 carpet consists of 54 square feet; multiply these two and you come up with 933,120 knots.

12/10 quality and a 6x9 size carpet are average/conservative markers, and 1 million knots, +/-, is the industry's benchmark of yearly production. What is truly eye-opening for me is that how little it costs to get a very nice carpet of these numbers-literally almost a year's worth of someone's work. In our market, you'd have A LOT to choose from at this level, in the $700 to $900 price range.

Next time I will cover fibers, dyes, and some history, but I will end now, with this thought: Most of these carpets come from less developed parts of the world, and while for many craftspeople it is their main, if not only source of income, the actual source of the labor has long been of concern.

RugMark International is an international non-governmental organization, incorporated in India in 1994, formed to end illegal (under age of 14) child labor in the handmade rug industry. They promote higher ethical standards, while offering educational opportunities to children in South Asia.

They have a voluntary licensing program that uses an independent verification to ensure its standards are being met. Below, at left is the RugMark label used on all rugs certified as child-labor free, shipped up through July 2009, and on the right is the current Goodweave symbol, on all products shipped from August 2009 and later. If you are looking at handmade carpets, please look for this label, tell your friends, and check out their website for more info.

Marie Graham is an Interior Decorator, a Home Stager, and Owner of The Refreshed Home. Making the most of Westchester spaces for a really long time, then helping sell them for slightly less time, she can be contacted directly at 914.607.2895, or marie@therefreshedhome.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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