Moroccan rugs have exploded in popularity, gracing interiors with their plush textures, earthen tones, and geometric patterns. Yet, the image that likely comes to mind is just one type among the myriad. The highly recognized design is considered a "tribal" rug as opposed to a "city" or "urban" rug, according to Ben Hyman, CEO and cofounder of Revival Rugs, a California-based, direct-to-consumer vintage rug company that has newly expanded operations to Morocco. He explains these are commonly called Rabat rugs, bearing a traditional Persian influence.
"These are rugs whose design and processes were originally conceived and woven by nomadic Amazigh tribes—also known as Berber tribes—all over Northwestern Africa, with a concentration in Morocco," explains Ben.
While these pieces vary greatly in design and construction, most use a Berber knot, which Ben describes as something of a complex double-knot, wrapped twice around two wefts.
The designs were shaped by climate conditions and tribal lifestyles. Punishing winters in the Atlas Mountains gave rise to high-pile rugs used for bedding while the arid Sahara produced airy, flat-weave shawls. Other rugs were intended to be used as floor coverings or tent panels. Semi-nomadic cultures required looms and carpets to be transportable, so weavings couldn’t extend beyond seven feet.
Ben explains that wool, considered sacred, is processed with care to honor its value. The tribes source the material from their sheep herds, though goat and camel are not unheard of, "to make pieces for comfort, protection from the elements, and ultimately, beauty."
Far from just aesthetic, the motifs are symbolic, revealing a narrative passed down through generations. "Each rug can take up to a year to complete," says Ben, "and the designs depict everything from spirituality, to femininity, to male protection, while the interaction of the symbols narrate the weaver’s life."
"Morocco has a complex, fascinating history full of many different cultures melding together to ultimately create this extremely storied, deep, and exuberant culture," Ben continues. "The relationship to language and religion is multifaceted, and there is a deep tradition of storytelling that runs through all of their art forms."
The handmade details were heralded in the 1930s when designers like Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, and Alvar Alto incorporated Moroccan pieces to counterbalance their sleek furnishings. Even Frank Lloyd Wright handpicked carpets for his clients.
While the black-and-white styles of the Beni Ourain tribes are admired for their minimalism, Azilal rugs—produced by the Ait Bouzid, Ait Shokmane, Ait Bou Oulli and Ait Bougmez tribes in the Atlas Mountains—are one-of-a-kind pieces created from a combination of dyed and undyed sheep’s wool. Similar to Beni Ourain rugs, diamond-lattice patterns crosshatch a neutral palette; however, Azilal rugs display an array of abstract elements and henna, saffron, indigo, and madder root hues. Each rug acts as a talisman, a defense against the elements and negative energy.
Says Ben, "[The weaving culture in Morocco] is living, breathing, and morphing before our very eyes, responding to environmental, cultural, and market changes." He cites boucherouite rugs as an example, as the colorful, exuberant designs are woven from scraps of readymade textiles such as clothing and sheets.
Shop the Look
Ben and his wife, Amber, conceived of Revival Rugs during their honeymoon. While in Istanbul, they connected with friends who were working with regional artisans; struck by the level of craftsmanship, they were inspired to bring handmade, vintage pieces to the U.S. while cutting out the middleman, offering an eclectic selection at attainable prices. After multiple research trips to Morocco, they’ve opened an office in Casablanca, complementing their existing Turkish collection.
"We think it's really important to have a local presence when you’re buying overseas—it helps you really understand the culture and also develop solid relationships based on trust," says Ben.
We picked Ben’s brain for tips on selecting, styling, and caring for these one-of-a-kind rugs.
How to Pick the Perfect Moroccan Rug
Ben: We select our Moroccan rugs based on their design and quality. Each is truly a piece of art, and we think that buying a vintage Moroccan rug should be like choosing a painting.
Quality of construction is extremely important. You should be able to pick up the entire rug by grabbing one pile! That’s how strong these are, and that’s how you can tell the yarn is of the highest quality. You obviously don’t want to buy a rug that’s unraveling or falling apart, but minor imperfections aren’t dealbreakers in my eyes—it only adds to the patina, so to speak. Make sure you buy from a reputable seller.
Ultimately, I suggest you follow your heart when choosing a Moroccan rug. See what speaks to you, what moves you—they’re so unique and soulful that it’s really hard to offer rules beyond quality.
How to Style Your Rug
As with everything at Revival Rugs, we think it’s a balance. For the brighter, bolder rugs, it’s nice if there are colors in your walls and furnishings that pick up on accent colors in the rug—or you can make the rug a focal point in the room by using neutral furnishings and decor.
With a more neutral Moroccan rug, it’s easy—they work with both minimalist, neutral rooms as well as colorful, maximalist ones. (But then again, with a maximalist decor, why not have fun and pair a bold rug with a bold interior?)
How to Care for Your Rug
We recommend keeping them clean the old-fashioned way—shaking them outside to remove dust and debris. Give a few hard shakes with a friend, if need be! I suggest doing this weekly. And once a year, you can leave it in the sun for the day. Wool loves sun.
If you’re going to vacuum it, don’t use a rotary vacuum, because this can damage the wool fibers. Depending on how heavily it’s used, just once or twice a month is adequate. Too much vacuuming can wear down the knots and fibers more quickly. If you have a suction attachment on your vacuum cleaner, use that instead of a rotary vacuum. Every few months, you’ll also want to flip your rug over and vacuum the back to get the grit out of the foundation of the rug.
Every three to five years, we recommend getting your rug professionally hand-washed. Please do not take it to get steam or dry cleaned—this will almost certainly damage the rug!
Otherwise, just generally be mindful of the art on your floor. Flip it over now and then (you can try using them on both sides because the back is often as beautiful as the front), and switch its direction periodically, so it doesn’t wear in only one spot.
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