There is a new trend in town! If you visit decorating blogs or open any magazine with interior design articles and you will be overwhelmed with images of stylish rooms that have one singular common object: the Contemporary Moroccan Rug.
Take, for example, the resuscitated Domino magazine. In it, almost every featured room proudly boasts one of these shaggy geometrically patterned rugs – as if they are a requirement for Domino!. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering that everyone from Pottery Barn and West Elm to 1stdibs has a version for sale. You can even buy one directly from Domino (Benisouk is the best though!). But what is it that makes these floor coverings suddenly seem as ubiquitous as sisal?
While there are several types of Moroccan Rugs (Azilal, M’rirt, Beni M’guild…), the ones I am talking about today are Beni Ourain rugs from the Beni Ourain tribes of the northern Middle Atlas. These rugs have a distinctive design, from freehand expressive patterns to geometric shapes, usually in a neutral colour tone. These rugs were primarily designed to be practical, so the tradition is to keep it simple. In the cold Atlas mountains, they are used as blankets, shawls and bedcovers, and the designs are usually good luck charms (or to keep evil spirits away) as well as personal messages.
As a result, these rugs were rarely wider than 7 feet – a consequence from the Beni Ourain’s nomadic lifestyle that means that the looms used to make these rugs had to be transported, and thus limited in size. And, like the American Quilts, the methods of production are passed down from one generation to the next. The designs are usually woven from memory, leading to the quirky timeless look they have.
And it is this quirkiness that is so appealing to interior designers. They give a cold, modern room a warmth and patina as well as a dose of culture and ethnicity. The reverse is true – the idiosyncratic patterns of the Beni Ourain designs give a chic, contemporary look. It is this versatility that has given Moroccan Rugs the moniker “contemporary Moroccan Rugs”.
In the interwar years of the 20’s and 30’s – French designers used Moroccan rugs for their inherent sense of modernity and ethnographic qualities – afterall it was the French who “discovered” and bought to the world the wonders of the Egyptian Monoliths (as a consolation prize after the British defeated Bonaparte’s expedition there…).
Decades later – in the 50s and 60s, modernists such as Le Corbusier and Charles and Ray Eames were known to use the same fluffy piles rugs as counterpoint to their sleekly designed furniture. In 1972 Billy Baldwin chose a room with a diamond patterned Beni Ourain rug for the cover of his book “Billy Baldwin Decorates” – demonstrating his masterful ability to bridge comfort and style.
It has been in the last decade or so that Moroccan Rugs have become mainstream, with thanks in part to magazines such as Domino. Companies caught on, and although vintage pieces are still available on the market, they are too long or narrow for many spaces (check Benisouk for examples). Bigger, made to order rugs are now the norm, and mass market brands have tried to manufacture imitations. Ironically, however, Beni Ourain rugs are very limited in supply – as Morocco is still largely tribal and production is decentralised and spread between many families who themselves will make a limited number of rugs.
Benisouk is one of the few companies which has the connections with the Berber tribes of the Moroccan Atlas, and has a steady (although limited) supply of authentic contemporary Moroccan Rugs. In Morocco, business is largely based in building relationships, and Benisouk’s ability to supply genuine, authentic (and even have made-to-order) Moroccan Rugs from the Atlas Mountains is testament to the efforts they have made to build the relationships with the nomadic tribes.
Shopping with Benisouk will allow them to give the means for these remote, Berber tribes to access the manufactured goods of the city that can make their lives much easier. Money is of limited value in the wilderness (there are some families who have to be reached by mule), and they live in a world where bartering is more normal than buying and selling via the medium of money. They don’t want money – they want a stove. So, Benisouk will bring them a stove and cooking equipment, and they give a rug in exchange which can be then sold to recover the cost of the cooking equipment and getting it to them. Benisouk is also a support network, ready to be called upon in their moment of need (they might need some money to buy some sheep to replenish their herd after a bad winter, for example) and to advance the community by helping to fund community projects.
Benisouk has a large variety of Contemporary Moroccan Rugs, from all the tribes. They have Vintage Moroccan Rugs, large rugs, small rugs, rugs made to order and more. Visit Benisouk.com to see lots of fine examples of Moroccan Rugs at very reasonable prices.