How Beni Ourain Rugs Made It From the High Atlas Mountains to Our Homes

In an increasingly digitized world, the handmade charm of Berber rugs injects much-needed tactility into home interiors.
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Weaving has been intrinsic to the culture of the semi-nomadic Berber peoples of North Africa for centuries. Their rugs and tapestries thrive on imperfections, with crooked lines and asymmetrical compositions that are both geometric and soulful, minimalist and lively. 

Traditionally Berber rugs were made by women deftly weaving tapestries from wool or recycled textiles at home, with little changing from generation to generation, while the men were working outdoors tending to sheep and goat herds. It was not until around the 1920s that European tastes evolved and decided that these traditional weaves were now "modern." 

A Pampa rug draped amidst the landscape that inspired it.

A Pampa rug draped amidst the landscape that inspired it.

Le Corbusier is credited with turning the heads of his fellow modernists to Berber weaving traditions. He used Beni Ourain carpets when he designed Villa La Roche in Paris in 1923–25. There are several rugs of the same tradition on the floor of Villa Mairea, Alvar Aalto’s rural retreat in Finland, and a photo taken in 1938 of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania shows yet another.

Tigmi Trading imports new and vintage rugs from Morocco to their boutique in Byron Bay.

Tigmi Trading imports new and vintage rugs from Morocco to their boutique in Byron Bay.

Shop the Look
Ben Soleimani Performance Double Diamond Moroccan Rug
A modern spin on antique Moroccan carpets, this luxurious rug has a sketched diamond design that's hand-knotted from soft, smooth yarns. High-performance fibers look and feel like wool but resist stains and moisture.
Lulu & Georgia Moroccan Flatweave Rug, Black and White
Inspired by traditional beni ourain designs, the neutral-hued Moroccan Flatweave Rug features a simple, sketched pattern in a flatweave construction, making it both a versatile and durable choice.
Tigmi Trading, Australia

Tigmi Trading, Australia

The Beni Ourain people are thought to have lived in the Atlas Mountains from the ninth century AD, and the name refers to 17 Berber tribes who primarily live there. The thick pilewoven, cream-colored rugs are traditionally made from the wool of the ancient breed of Beni Ourain sheep and have thin black lines crisscrossing to form a diamond shape. "That symbol is actually an ‘X’ to symbolize peace and harmony," explains Amy Elad-Echariti, the founder of the Marrakesh-based homewares label Laith & Leila. Elad-Echariti, who married into a family of Berber weavers, works directly with craftspeople across Morocco to champion their craftsmanship.

The Rug Trade, UK

The Rug Trade, UK

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Woven Névé Rug
“We’re always experimenting, which is unusual in a field that can be quite cerebral about rugs,” says Christina Tullock.
Laith and Leila, Morocco

Laith and Leila, Morocco

Beni Ourain rugs are traditionally made by women with no formal training and are woven from memory. Often improvised and asymmetrical, in the context of an austere, modernist interior they provide much-needed warmth. In the High Atlas Mountain region, where Mount Toubkal stands as the highest peak in North Africa, they were traditionally used as blankets and shawls. "One of the weavers I know, Miriam, puts her rug over her shoulders like a robe when she wakes up in the morning," says Elad-Echariti.

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Burrow Ridge Rug
This beautiful, shag tufted wool rug is made in the style of the Beni Ouarain tribes of Morocco. Some of the most renowned artisan rugmakers in the world, they're known for simple designs over a blank neutral field.
West Elm Souk Wool Rug
West Elm's interpretation of a traditional Moroccan Berber, our stunning Souk Rug is handcrafted of 100% wool. Soft and elegant underfoot, it's perfect for a bedroom or living room.
Sashi Geo Shag Rug
If a degree of plushness has a direct effect on happiness, then you’ll be overjoyed to step onto our Sashi Geo Shag Rug, a signature Unison design.
How Beni Ourain Rugs Made It From the High Atlas Mountains to Our Homes - Photo 6 of 9 -

The rugs from the Azilal region of the Atlas Mountains are quite a bit more expressive. Using the same creamy wool as the Beni Ourain, the free-moving abstractions and crawling patterns are dense with symbolism. Each rug tells its own story. "They incorporate symbols like the Hand of Fatima or an evil eye for protection," says Elad-Echariti. The tints of wool are dyed using locally available plants and berries.

London-based designer Ella Jones works with Moroccan craftspeople to produce her own designs—a geometric interpretation of the traditional. The rug pictured follows the Azilal style.

London-based designer Ella Jones works with Moroccan craftspeople to produce her own designs—a geometric interpretation of the traditional. The rug pictured follows the Azilal style.

Comparatively, the Boucherouite rugs are a more universal weave and not necessarily attributed to any one Berber group. "These are one of the few rugs that don’t use wool," says Ella Jones, founder of east London boutique A New Tribe, which sells rugs sourced from Morocco and produced in direct collaboration with Berber weavers. "Instead, they use recycled textiles. These are made all over the country and come from areas where it’s not as easy to get hold of wool." Jones has been working with Berber weavers ever since she started her own rug brand, The Rug Trade, in 2013. She goes to Morocco twice a year to work with the weavers and buy rugs. "I buy way too much," she says, laughing. "Last time I bought 60 rugs when I was meant to buy 40."

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Sera Helsinki Luoto Rug
Luoto rug is a part of the Saaristo collection designed by Anna Pirkola. Saaristo was inspired by the sea – ever-moving, ever-changing, yet always calming and comforting.
MINNA Wandering Mark Rug
Made by Wool Pedal Loom Weavers in Momostenango, Guatemala. High up in the mountainous region of Momostenango, Guatemala are three co-ops who weave our wool pillows, flat weave rugs and shaggy rugs. They use handspun wool dyed with sustainable, non-toxic dyes.
A vintage rug, part of Laith & Leila's Desert Escape collection, photographed at the Berber Lodge just outside Marrakesh.

A vintage rug, part of Laith & Leila's Desert Escape collection, photographed at the Berber Lodge just outside Marrakesh.

Vintage Moroccan rugs are especially favored for their beautifully faded appearance.

Vintage Moroccan rugs are especially favored for their beautifully faded appearance.

The New Mediterranean: Homes and Interiors Under the Southern Sun
The New Mediterranean shows you how to bring this sumptuous, sun-drenched minimalism into your own home.  A welcoming, new, down-to-earth modernism is gaining momentum, from California to Morocco, Portugal to Mexico.

Chapter excerpt pp. 26-35 from The New Mediterranean, Copyright gestalten 2019. Reprinted with permission from The New Mediterranean, text by Eliora Stuhler. Copyright gestalten 2019.

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