15609 Fri, 11/14/2008 - 12:49pm
By Jennifer Alexis
Rug manufacturers and designers are finding more ways than ever to work with wool—arguably the most popular and fundamental of fibers used in rug constructions—and the result has been a burgeoning assortment of fresh new designs, interesting textures and eye-catching color.
At the same time, some manufacturers are emphasizing a couple of selling points that are particularly relevant to today’s consumer: It’s eco-friendly, and wool has become more price-competitive with synthetic fibers lately.
The term “wool area rug” is nearly redundant as rugs and wool are inextricably linked. For centuries, generations of rug makers have used this versatile and malleable fiber, from the least expensive to the highest-end varieties, to create countless designs and textures in an almost endless spectrum of color.
The ancient traditions are just as strong today, but many designers and innovative manufacturers are tapping into a virtual wellspring of ideas that make what’s old new again.
Meanwhile, the plethora of new design ideas are challenging traditional weavers to employ techniques to create innovative textures and looks.
The Rug Company specializes in low-run and custom high-end rugs hand-woven of hand-spun wool and designed by fashion designers, artists and decorators. The company is committed to using an ancient and traditional skilled art form to create contemporary works of floor art.
“The world-class designers we collaborate with bring a different perspective as they don’t have any limitations,” said Amanda Price, spokeswoman for The Rug Company. “We then work with our weavers to find a way of producing what they’ve designed, which means we are constantly evolving.”
The skill of weaving is passed down from generation to generation, Price added, meaning designers are “working with people who know the best possible techniques and have paramount knowledge of their craft.”
The Rug Company is working on a new design of very finely woven cut-pile wool with intricately carved patterns that Pierce said demonstrates this evolution of technique and design. “We work with our weavers to try and explore new techniques,” she said. “It is a work in progress.”
Nourison is another company that prides itself on taking a fundamental element of rug-making and spinning something new. The company, known for luxury handmade area rugs, has built itself into a multicategory source by focusing on all the creative things that can be done with wools and natural blends.
“The core of any successful company’s business comes down to the value of time,” said Alex Peykar, Nourison president. “While the industry giants can quickly turn out excellent synthetic products to meet the needs of a large part of the overall carpet market, we have the ability to concentrate more on labor and time-intensive constructions.”
Nourison products are made in company-owned facilities overseas. “We are as vertical as anyone can be, so we have the luxury of twisting our own yarns, and we can afford to take the time to create product that is different,” Peykar said.
The company works with various ways of twisting yarn, and creating different textures in both its broadloom and area rug business. It also strives to bring new constructions to the market regularly. Its newest signature collection, called “Reflections,” features transitional designs made from a light-reflecting blend of wool and silk.
“Many of our best-selling collections feature pure New Zealand wool fields with designs of genuine silk,” Peykar said. “With Reflections, however, we’ve combined the wool and silk fibers in the individual yarns. The light-reflecting properties come from the gradual differences in the percentage of silk in the blend, and that can only be done by hand.”
When it comes to rugs, weavers and designers have long valued wool for its natural malleability, durability and stain resistance. Quality wool also gives off a luster that wool-lovers say can’t be replicated. And wool is generating even more interest these days, according to Elise Demboski, consultant for Wools of New Zealand.
The all-natural fiber is becoming increasingly attractive to the growing numbers of consumers looking to make their homes more “green,” or eco-friendly.
“It is a renewable, sustainable, biodegradable fiber that also contributes to a healthier indoor environment by improving indoor air quality,” Demboski said, explaining that New Zealand wool is able to absorb airborne contaminants and purify indoor air.
Meanwhile, from a cost perspective, wool may be giving synthetic fiber a run for its money. Rugs made with synthetic material appeal to many consumers, especially as manufacturers find more ways to produce inexpensive yet fashionable rugs that rival the look of the real thing. But the price gap between the two has been narrowing, further increasing the value of authentic wool products that vendors said tend to wear better and last longer than their synthetic counterparts.
“Rising petroleum prices have led to synthetic price increases, which have reduced the delta between wool and synthetics,” Demboski said.
Still, the price gap does remain. High-quality wool rugs can cost into the thousands and, even at lower price points, are generally more expensive than synthetics. Rug vendors stress, however, that it’s important not to forget or underestimate the inherent value of wool rugs.
Its main selling point, according to Austin Craley, Momeni’s vice president of sales, is its resiliency. “The bottom line is that it’s the best fiber for area rugs,” he said. “You can walk on them for years, and they always spring back.”
Lee Harounian, of Harounian Rugs, agreed.
“Nothing can replace it,” Harounian said. “Synthetics and the lower-end machine made products will still sell in high volumes, because they are affordable. But wool will always play a huge role in the business for many years to come.”