Vintage or Contemporary Moroccan Rug? What is the difference and which one to choose ...

Almost a century ago, interior designers Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloys Wright made the Moroccan rug renowned outside its birth country. Since then, with the mid-century modern, global and bohemian styles in the rise, the demand for these tribal berber pieces has only increased.

There is no way to know exactly how many types of Moroccan rugs there is. I asked a rug dealer he told me 30. Then a weaving cooperative manager counted 40 and online some articles state up to 90. But whatever the real number is, there are many. However, only a few are sought after in the west. Among them, the famous Beni Ourain, Beni Mrirt, Azilal, Boucherouite and Boujaad rugs. 

In this blog I am going to concentrate in the difference between a newly handmade rug and a vintage one, no matter the type (or the tribe that made it). I will try to outline the pros and cons of each, and I hope it can help you decide which one to invest in. 

Vintage Moroccan Rug Jilianne Moore house

Pictured is Julianne Moore's living room by Architectural Design

First, lets start with vintage rugs:

Why you should? 
  • It's a true investment: Buying a piece that is aged and keeping it in good condition for years will only add to its value. 
  • Their history: They have a unique history and If you are lucky to get the story behind the rug, the piece become truly soulful.
  • Their faded vintage look: They have imperfections and signs of wear that add charm and character to the rug and make them not only unique, but also very hard, if not impossible to duplicate.
  • They were made with love. They were not made for the market, but for home use or gifting (to a pride for example) and that add to their uniqueness.

What you should consider. 
  • Their price: They tend to be pricier than a new hand-knotted rug. And unless you are an expert or you bought it from a trusted expert, it is hard to assess if they truly deserve the price.
  • They could be in a bad condition. There is a fine line between imperfections and sign of wear that add charm and the ones that make it unusable.
  • They could have a smell: Not always the case, but they could have a different smell that might bother you or is hard to get passed by.
  • Their dimensions: They were made in unconventional dimensions for the berber Moroccan home, that don't quit fit with modern spaces. Sometimes too narrow, sometimes too square. It's impossible to find them in classic sizes like 5x7, 8x10 or 10x12. 
  • Middleman model: Chances are that the weaver behind the rug was very poorly compensated for her work. A late research confirmed that from the price you pay for your rug, over 95% goes to all the people in between the transaction including rug dealers, wholeseller and retailers and only a remaining 5% to the actual artisan.

Now, contemporary (or newly hand-knotted) Moroccan rugs :

Why you should?
  • Ethical: You can choose the retailer and ensure he buys the rugs directly from the weavers or a weaving cooperative and that the weavers are ethically compensated (Paid fairly and on time). 
  • The quality of the material: In choosing the right retailer you can ensure they use the finest quality of wool available and that cultural techniques (such as dense knots, all the steps done by hand...) are respected. Just head to the about page or ask the retailer directly.
  • Made for modern homes: The new rugs have modern designs or traditional designs that are made in the right size that fit our modern spaces. Some are even bolder and go beyond just modernising Moroccan tradition patterns, but include contemporary and abstract designs.
  • Their price: They tend to be slightly cheaper than vintage rugs. However, beware, if they are to be too cheap, it is likely they were made with medium or low wool quality or are part machine made.  
Terracotta Beni Mrirt Moroccan Runner Neutral Earthy

What you should consider. 
  • The quality of the material: I know this was a pro, but can also be a big con. There are SO many rug retailers who sell Moroccan rugs or Moroccan style rugs (made elsewhere like India, China...) And it's easy to be disappointed in the quality. Luckily you can read about the seller, who he works with, what material he uses and pictures can also help you assess (look for lustre and plushiness) 
  • They dont have that faded vintage look: Your new contemporary will be beautiful and unique in a way (since she is handmade) but wont have that unique faded vintage look
  • The smell: Many rug dealers use chemicals to bleach (whiten) your rug, in order to make it snow white. The use of such material will give your rug a smell. Your rug should be off white or cream, not snow white.

I would like to conclude with this. There is no perfect choice and at the same time they are both good choices. But most importantly, choosing a handmade Moroccan rug, vintage or new will always be a better choice than any machine made rug. Not only for their quality and beauty, but also their better environment and ethical impact.

I chose through my shop to only sell newly made rugs because I wanted an ethical model that makes a direct impact on the artisans community and by partnering directly with the weavers, not only I can ensure they profit from the sale and are fairly compensated, but I can also contol the quality of wool and cleaning materials used through helping soucing the best quality of yarn and making rugs in our chosen designs.

Finally, my love for Moroccan rugs goes beyond measure. But I know loving something is not enough to be an expert of it and I could never pretend to know more or as much as the women who have been weaving them for decades and grew up sitting by a loom watching their mother and grandmother doing the hard work. But through Amazigh House, I was lucky to meet some amazing knowledgable people. From weavers to rug dealers, rug washers (yes it's a thing) shepherds, dyers and retailers in the rug business, they all thought me something and gave me the confidence to write this blog. I am beyond thankful to have met them and I hope reading this was helpful. 

Have any questions? Do not hesitate to type it in the comments :)

New Moroccan Beni Mrirt Rug Jilianne Moore
Pictured is Julianne Moore's living room by Architectural Design

About the author:

Boutheina is the founder of Amazigh House, an online shop of Moroccan rugs, specifically custom made and bespoke Beni Mrirts. Based from Montreal, Canada, she partnered with berber women weavers in the Atlas mountains of Morocco who use centuries old  authentic techniques combined with the highest quality of wool to make the pieces. Read more here.

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