magic carpets

Persian antique rug
View Gallery 6 Photos
Persian antique rug
Mike Leyden showing rug to customer
Imran showing repair in progress
Contemporary rug from Nepal
Red Gabbeh detail
Classic World Santa Fe

by Catherine Adams
photos by Amy Gross

Oriental rugs are works of art you can walk on

When it comes time to purchase a rug for the home, you can’t go wrong with an authentic Oriental rug. The artistry and romance associated with these beautiful rugs is the stuff of legends and Arabian nights. Oriental rugs are literally works of art you can walk on. Like art, they hold their value when taken care of, even appreciating into prized family heirlooms. Also as with art, determining authenticity of an Oriental rug can be a challenge, and selecting just one rug from a showroom containing thou- sands can be overwhelming, especially for the novice buyer.

determining authenticity

“Look for a reputable rug dealer in business for a long time,” says Mike Leyden, manager of Santa Fe–based Arrediamo (, which deals in top-of-the line Oriental rugs. Once you’ve found an expert you can trust, says Leyden, “The rest is fairly simple.” Legitimate dealers understand the importance of authenticating what they sell and are happy to answer questions. Where is the rug is from? How was it made, and by whom?

You may want to inspect the underside. Hand-woven pieces tend to have a coarser finish and mismatched knots, whereas machine-made products have a more uniform look. Usually, the higher the knot count per square inch, the better the weave, but it’s not always the case; some traditional rugs are loosely woven. The best rule: “Buy what you like in a size that fits,” says Leyden. “You’re buying functional, subjective art.”

Basically, an Oriental rug is evaluated by origin (country or region), age, design, and quality. As for origin, there’s some confusion over the difference between Persian and Oriental rugs. All Persian rugs are Oriental, but not all Oriental rugs are Persian. Persian rugs originate from what is modern day Iran and remain the widely copied cream of the Oriental rug world. Oriental rugs come from all over Asia and Europe, including Iran, India,

“Buy what you like in a size that fits. you’re buying functional, subjective art.” —Mike Leyden


Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Romania, and China. Designs vary from region to region and are named accordingly—Baluch, Peshawar, Turkmen, Chobi, Kazak, Qashqai—with pat- terns and symbols specific to individual tribes. These tribal rugs from nomadic communities are known for their durability, flair, and rich history rooted in the natural world. They are spun from sheep wool and dyed with natural colors extracted from vegetables, flowers, fruits, and nuts. Geometric motifs represent, among other themes, protection, fertility, and prosperity, and weaving skills are passed down through the generations.

Around Northern New Mexico, many homeowners gravitate toward ancient tribal patterns that play well with local styles. Ercan Nalkiran, owner of The Rugman of Santa Fe (, notes thatsuch patterns are found in Persian Gabbeh rugs.  The Gabbeh pattern blends well with Southwestern and Navajo styles in this area,” Nalkiran explains. “It is more tribal, primitive.”

endangered art species

Authentic, hand-knotted Oriental rugs are an endangered species threatened by mass produc- tion, government sanctions, and disappearing nomadic lifestyles. Just ask Imran Joseph, who, along with his two brothers, has owned Classic World ( in Albuquerque and Santa Fe since 1999.

“True Oriental rug artists are becoming increasing rare,” Joseph says. “We’re seeing more ‘program’ pieces created by big, automated manufacturers. They follow instructions, not their hearts.” Both Leyden and Nalkiran agree that authenticity is getting harder to come by, and both treasure what they have in inventory.

Last but not least, when buying an Oriental rug you may want to ask if it was made in a  place prone to child labor—a definite negative. On the upside, some villages utilize co-ops that give back to the community in ways like reforesting. Leyden notes, “It’s important we all be responsible.”