Subtle sophistication is afoot Design: Artistry in color and pattern turn the area rug into an important decorative element.

August 02, 1998|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

No matter what the furnishings or style of a room, a bare floor seems - well, naked. An area rug does more than provide a splash of color. It's a finishing touch that adds symbolic as well as real warmth.

Some of the most captivating interior designs are springing from what's underfoot. Subtlety and sophistication are inspiring manufacturers of area rugs today and delighting consumers, traditionalists as well as modernists.

The subtlety is in the colors, and the sophistication is in design and material - but it's the color that grabs your attention first.

It may be a single color with a slight variegation of tone, as though some of the yarns have weathered slightly over time; a pair of faintly different colors distinguished with a geometric square or swirl; or several distinct hues that are electric in effect.

Yarns, dyes and finishing are also making a huge impact, some of it attributable to Tibetan wool.

Wool from Himalayan mountain sheep is durable, elastic and rich in lanolin, which makes it feel silky.

Tibetan yarns tend to vary in natural color, some to dark gray, but New Zealand wool is white and softer, which allows it to take more subtle pastel colors.

Some of Joan Weissman's designs are masterpieces of subtlety. Blattwerk, for example, reads as a single taupe hue, but it has extraordinary depth because of its gentle color and sculpting, which makes the leafy design pop out. It's the perfect ground for a room laced with Deco-style furnishings, rich in silver finishes and textured fabrics, such as a red velvet cover on a black-framed chair.

Weissman, an artist who lives in Albuquerque, N.M., uses Tibetan and New Zealand wools for her handmade rugs, all of which are signed.

"Autumn colors, spring green, the color of berries - these are comforting somehow," she says.

Her imagery is modern, and botanical and other natural themes are supplemented by assimilated images from art that she's fond of: hints of an old Japanese kimono, an Indian miniature painting, a Mexican sculpture or simply a piece of fallen bamboo.

Weissman's prices start at about $2,800 for a 5-by-7 rug.

Improved technology over the last 10 years has allowed enormous leaps in colors. Chemical dyes were shunned by dealers extolling the virtues of the natural dyes in antique Oriental rugs, but they have found a more favorable following XTC among manufacturers of Tibetan rugs.

American attorney-entrepreneur James Tufenkian first saw Tibetan carpets at a trade show in Germany in 1985 and was struck by their textured, rich, striated quality. But he found the designs and colors bland.

He recognized the potential and started a company. He uses Swiss metal-complex dyes because they permit a greater range of color and combinations of colors.

"Our colors are sometimes on the border between two and three hues," he says. "That's why they're hard to describe. Also, we wash the carpets in Switzerland after they're finished. It's a process similar to stone-washing jeans."

Even Tufenkian rugs in a more traditional spirit (with stylized floral motifs, reminiscent of those found in Oriental rugs) are less elaborate. The designs have punch, but they're understated.

Retail prices for a 6-by-9-foot rug, for example, range from $2,500 to $4,500.

"The rug is a perfect springboard for selecting a color palette," says Karastan's rug-product and marketing manager, Anne Carley. Even if you don't have the luxury of starting from scratch, pulling hues from patterns and wall color will allow you to tie them all together on the floor in an area rug. Karastan's rugs are machine-woven, but a great deal of attention has been given to color. Among its newest designs is a collection called Lascaux, inspired by excavations from the grottoes of Dordogne in Southwest France. Cave drawings discovered there in 1940 are believed to be more than 30,000 years old. A Belgian artist interpreted the artwork on the rock cave walls, and the Stone Age drawings are the centerpiece of a design called Graffito.

This series of rugs is woven from New Zealand wool in Belgium. A 6-by-9-foot rug costs $700; for an 8-by-12 rug, expect to spend about $1,500.

Sources

* Karastan, Box 12069, Calhoun, Ga. 30703; 800-234-1120.

* Tufenkian Carpets: For a free brochure and a dealer near you, call 800-435-7568.

* Joan Weissman, Custom Rugs and Tapestries, 3710 Silver S.E., Albuquerque, N.M. 87108; 505-265-0144.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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