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Trust your gut when choosing an oriental rug

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The stunned crowd at Sotheby's burst into a rare round of applause when a museum-quality Persian carpet sold for a record-setting $33.76 million in June.

“It was extraordinary and wonderful and the carpet deserved it,” says the auctioneer, Mary Jo Otsea, Sotheby's senior consultant for rugs and carpets. The hand-knotted, 17th-century Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet, with a red ground and dark blue border, is “still dazzling to the eye,” she says.

While few of us can fathom spending so much money on a showpiece, Oriental carpets, made in countries from Turkey to China, are available at various prices and have long been a popular part of home decor.

Stacy Weiss, president and owner of Weisshouse in Shadyside, says a rug is “the soul of the room.” If possible, she suggests starting with the rug when decorating to create a jumping off point for selecting fabrics and wall colors.

“It's like buying a work of art for your floor,” she says. “The rug grounds the room, gives warmth and pulls the furniture together.”

Weiss “only believes in wool” for Oriental rugs because it dyes better. She also suggests seeking out hand-knotted pieces rather than those made by machines.

“Hand-knotting will show imperfections, and that's what you want,” she says. “Something perfect says ‘machine-made.' ”

Unless one is making a serious investment, Weiss suggests rug-buyers select something they simply love.

“Buy something you're going to love for a long time,” she says. “They last forever.”

Oriental rugs aren't limited to the somewhat stuffy designs some might immediately think of when considering the style, designers say. Liz Murphy of Liz Murphy Design in Edgeworth says more clients are gravitating toward Tibetan designs, which use more geometric and contemporary patterns.

No matter the pattern, Oriental rugs can “fit into any decor,” Murphy says. She used them in just about every room.

“The thing I love about Oriental rugs is that with one purchase, you can add so much color, texture and pattern to a room,” she says.

Murphy urges shoppers do their homework before buying by finding a good dealer and learning as much about the rug's origin as possible. Many are made from synthetic fibers and dyes and won't last as long as the real thing, she says.

“A good dealer will explain to you how it was made, in what village, what the process was,” Murphy says. “There is a story behind it.”

Kristen Rockwell, owner of O'Bannon Oriental Carpets in Lawrenceville, suggests shoppers look through magazines and home-design books to get ideas about what they might want in a rug. Photos help dealers find the perfect piece, as do paint chips and fabric swatches, if you're not starting from scratch.

It's also important to trust your gut when you find something you love, she says.

“Be open-minded,” she says. “See everybody. The beauty of it is that shops have very different styles.”

Maggie Shehady owns Shehady's Carpets & Rugs, Downtown, with husband Richard, a third-generation rug dealer. Customers should be thinking about size, budget and color when they start shopping, Shehady says, though she's seen people change their minds about the latter.

“They'll come in and say they want a blue rug then see a red one and go crazy,” she says. “There are no absolutes in this business.”

The seemingly limitless number of options can be overwhelming, Shehady says, so at least knowing what size you need can help narrow things down. Even if customers are initially intimidated, once someone makes that first rug purchase, they're often back for a second or third, she says.

Transitional pieces with neutral themes are trendy now, Shehady says, as people look for more modern rugs to work with their older pieces. Grays are particularly popular, she says.

Her customers range in age, and she does have younger clients who inherited their first pieces and wanted to add more.

“People wait until their kids gets older, but they really don't have to,” she says. “A good rug holds up.”

Doris Athineos, arts and antiques editor for Traditional Home magazine, says the sale of the Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet may inspire people to look at the carpets with a new eye, mindful that an eight-figure sum was just shelled out for one of the finest examples.

“It gives them confidence to pull the trigger on something they may be eying, and confidence if they've inherited them from a great aunt or have them rolled up and stored. They might think, ‘Hey, maybe I should put that out,'” Athineos says.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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