Benisouk Cofounder, Ayman Kaouss, shares his insight on the different types of Moroccan Rugs and how to appreciate them.
Moroccan Rugs have exploded in popularity, becoming a key trend and focal point in interior design, with long standing fixtures in Domino and Vogue magazines, among others, and the subject of celebrated interior design books, such as those by Billy Baldwin. Modernist furniture designers, such as Le Corbusier and Charles and Ray Eames used Moroccan Rugs to counterbalance their sleekly designed furniture. And then even the more recent evolution of the Boucherouite Rug has seen itself feature in art galleries and exhibitions the world over. It’s little wonder that “Moroccan rugs are now gracing the interiors with their earthen tones, symbolic geometric patterns and soft textures”, says Ayman Kaouss, co-founder of Benisouk, a leading Berber Rug Specialist in Morocco.
“What sets Moroccan Rugs apart from others is that their Berber creators are making tribal rugs, full of tribal symbology and made with tribal techniques passed down from generation to generation, for time immemorial. That makes them quite unlike the city, or urban rugs you might get from a factory in the city”,explains Ayman while sipping the traditional Mint Tea in a small outdoors garden, complete with Moroccan Poufs.
“These rugs”,says Ayman with a flare in his eyes that says this is one of his favourite topics – able to speak at length about, “are conceived by the imagination of the craftswomen who make them. Berbers are largely illiterate, and instead of writing with their hands, they paint with them through these rugs, weaving deeply personal messages to the intended recipient, almost sending a fixed prayer out to the diving for good luck, fertility or prosperity for the intended owner. Take this one…
You can see fish bones running up the border. These represent a holy person and are regarded to have magical or medicinal properties. Then in the top centre, there is a frog, that is even coloured green. This is associated with fertility, but also magical rites. Then at the bottom right you can see a person wearing the traditional Berber headdress for that tribe. Really, the story of this rug is of a mother drawing her hopes and aspirations for her son, praying for fertility (a strong Berber wife), praying for fertility and lots of grandchildren, and more than anything else, a fruitful life. To you it might just seem like a myriad of random pictures put together to make a pretty rug, but to the maker it is so much more.
Berber symbology and rug design were shaped by the tribal lifestyles. Punishing winters in the Atlas Mountains lent preference to high-pile rugs to provide warm bedding and clothing, while the arid Sahara desert encouraged airy, flat weave shawls. Other Moroccan Rugs would serve other practical purposes, like floor coverings or tent panels. The nomadic lifestyles limited the size of the rugs as they had to be transportable, as well as the looms they were made on. Therefore, weavings rarely extended much beyond 7 feet.
Ayman explains that the wool, or camel’s hair for Saharan rugs, is highly valued by the Berber tribes. The herds from which they come can spell life or death to a tribe – if a herd fails in the winter then a tribe will struggle to survive. Consequently, the survival of a herd into the spring is of great relief and the shearing of the wool almost has a ritualistic, relieving meaning behind it. It is only fitting that this wool is lovingly and carefully crafted into a rug, deep with symbology and meaning. Some rugs take months to craft, others - years.
The weaving culture in Morocco is living, evolving before our very eyes and responding to cultural and socio-economic changes. The Boucherouite rug is a perfect example of the pragmatism and resourcefulness of the Berber tribes, who facing a shortage in wool due to the explosion in demand for it, have turned to refashioning rags into vibrant rugs that shout the Berber energy to the world. The machine colours of the rags enable the Berber craftswomen to experiment with colours they have not had before, and project new aspects of their personality in different ways.
We move on to pick Ayman’s expertise for selecting and styling these one of a kind rugs.
Ayman: We work within a community of Berber weavers, all dotted along the Rug Road and some in rather remote places! We work with our community to ensure we get the best quality rugs, and each is truly a piece of art. In the same way someone may give great consideration to buying a painting, we think that buying a vintage Moroccan rug should be a thoughtful investment.
Quality of construction is extremely important. On collecting our rugs, we 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 unravelling or falling apart, but minor imperfections only adds to the patina, so to speak. Make sure you buy from a reputable seller.
Ultimately, when choosing a Moroccan rug, I suggest you follow your heart. They’re so unique and soulful that it’s really hard to offer rules beyond quality, so choose the one that speaks to you.
Ayman: There is much literature on this in interior design magazines and the internet, that you can easily be awash with ideas. As with everything at Benisouk, we think it’s about creating balance and harmony. Neutral rugs are good for busy and colourful rooms, whereas brighter, bolder rugs, compliment neutral furnishing and décor. But then again, with a maximalist decor, why not have fun and pair a bold rug with a bold interior?
Ayman: We recommend keeping them clean the old-fashioned way—shaking them down outside or beating them over a balcony to remove dust and debris. I suggest doing this weekly. And once a year, you can leave it in the sun for the day. Wool loves the sun.
If you’re going to vacuum it, avoid using a rotary vacuum, because this can damage the wool fibres. Depending on how heavily it’s used, just once or twice a month is fine - just bear in mind too much vacuuming can wear down the knots and fibres 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 – avoid getting it 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.