Buying rugs. (Tips for the nervous rug shopper.)

Rug dealers as a “group” get a bad rap.

Everyone has heard a story, or seen an expose, on someone being ripped off on a rug purchase. They were sold an “antique”…when it wasn’t. Or they were sold a silk rug…when it was viscose or mercerized cotton.

It’s an industry that is similar to the “carpet cleaning” industry in that it’s a small percentage of unethical bad apples that ruins the reputation of the group at large. And just as not every cleaner is a bait-and-switch operation, neither is every rug dealer a bait-and-switch retailer. Great retailers are selling great textiles out there.

When I hear a “horror” story on a rug, it usually comes down to this one factor – that the buyer did not get any education on what they were buying beforehand. So they were at the mercy of the rug villain.

Whose fault is that exactly? Yes, the scheming dealer saw the person as a mark…

…but the buyer should not have been a “mark” in the first place.

So this is a post to help educate rug buyers about some of the basics of a “good” rug. This is based on my experience of growing up with parents in the rug business (selling antique rugs) and with my mother, brothers, and the team running a rug washing and repairing facility today in San Diego.

This gives me the retailer perspective (and it is hard work to run a retail shop today…especially in California) and also gives me the perspective of the caretaker of these textiles, so I know the bad fibers and dyes and manufacturers to avoid.

So if you are looking to buy a rug and are starting from ground zero and are nervous about it, here are some guidelines that I hope will help you feel like a more confident consumer.


Find the right COMPANY.

Just over a decade ago, you found woven rugs only in galleries. Today you find them all over the place and all different qualities. Especially now that synthetic rugs and inferior goods have moved into our market, and they are getting good at making a lot of low-quality area rugs, it’s getting tough to know what’s worth paying for and what is a complete waste of money.

A mass-market budget store will not sell high-quality merchandise in rugs. If you are looking to buy a quality rug for your home, and you are looking in Home Depot, Lowes, or Costco, you will not find them there.

But you knew that already. =)

They may have some good commodity rugs to use in places you need a rug to get beat up in. I use a couple of wool tufted rugs as entry mats because wool is great at grabbing and hiding soil and lasts longer than synthetic fibers. I like my woven wool rugs too much to make them my entry rugs. They are my rug friends, much older than I am, and I just respect and enjoy them too much for putting them at the front door.

So, if you are looking for rugs of quality with great colors and character, you are going to find these in several places:

Rug Galleries: There are still galleries that sell only hand-woven oriental rugs around. New and antique textiles. The stores perpetually running “going out of business sales” need to be avoided. This is where flawed merchandise is trucked in for a “tent sale” to move items that were not good enough to sell, to begin with. This is an area to ask around for who others refer to you as a good company.

A good place to ask who to buy from is your local rug cleaners. We cleaners see new and old rugs, hundreds and hundreds a week, and we know what the good rugs are and what the garbage is. So ask your trusted cleaner who they think is good to buy from.

If you are in the San Diego area (my town! ), a great gallery to visit is Prospect Rug Gallery in La Jolla for “real” investment-grade oriental rugs. And if you ever find yourself in Jacksonville, Florida, the most amazing gallery of rugs and art I’ve ever been to is Mussallem Galleries. You must add it to your trip; it’s worth the visit.

Furniture & Flooring Stores: Rugs “finish” or can “make” a room, so you will see stores specializing in furnishings, or specialty hard floors, that also carry rugs. These stores do not have the staff research that 100% of rug stores have, so they may have rugs that look good but are not high quality. With tips later in this post on determining quality, you can make a good choice, but you can often find good rugs in some of these better-quality furniture and flooring stores. You just need to know what you are looking at.

Antique Stores & Consignment Stores: You will often come across real treasures in some of your town’s hole-in-the-wall antique shops and consignment stores. Often the owners are not knowledgeable on rug quality or pricing, and you can sometimes get great rugs here at good prices as well. But I love to find new places to go and “discover” hidden rugs that beat up and dirty and that I know I can bring back to life at our shop.

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