Making it your own: ethnic craft in your home

Have you ever admired some item of traditional handcraft — its colors, its texture, its sense of place or history — only to end up not acquiring it for yourself because it doesn’t fit your own lifestyle or aesthetic?   To put it a bit crudely, traditional crafts may often seem ‘too ethnic’, whatever culture they come from.  Unless you are a collector or have a powerful eclectic streak, traditional things like that just seem too much for our living space. And so, with a heavy heart — heavy because we really do feel for the gradual loss of handwork and the precarious position the craft and the people who produce it are in, we leave the items behind because they just are too much for us.

Or are they?  It might just be that we are too small for them: having been fed on a diet of IKEA and the like, we need to grow so that our practical tastes will match our ideals of ethical living, including support of (local) artisans. It isn’t even that difficult; with a little thought and work, that seemingly out-of-place handcrafted object can feel very much at home.  Case in point: Moroccan carpets.  I’ve thought a lot about Moroccan handcrafts, in general, and carpets, in particular, having seen quite a lot of the latter in the last few years.  We have taken many visitors, friends, family members to look at/for carpets and bought a few ourselves as gifts.  Moroccan carpets are beautiful; most people can’t resist them.  Even people who have no plans of purchasing one, usually succumb to not just one, but several.  That said, some may feel that the design and especially colors of most of Moroccan carpets are rather particular, so unlikely to be for everyone.  What if someone’s just looking for something more, well, modern?

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Your house doesn’t have to look like that — actually, it is a shop in Fes (I think), and Moroccan homes look nothing like it.  In fact, there is a dearth of traditional carpets in  Moroccan city households — no one is exempt from the rush to modernity.

I’d like to show a few examples of how people have successfully used Moroccan carpets in their non-Moroccan homes.

The first few examples come from my parents’ apartment; when we took my mother to have a look at carpets, she had planned to buy at most one: she left with four (thus is the power of Moroccan carpets, which I have witnessed again and again).  Three of them are shown here: all are colorful, two red, which is a very common color to find, and one a muted purple, which is quite rare.  They are used in a variety of functions and places; the two reds are in the kitchen (which also doubles as a dining area), with the small rug by the stove and the narrow, long runner dressing up the black leather couch.  The kitchen has dark red cabinets, so the color fit is generally good.  More so, the couch really benefit from the carpet: the leather can have a cold, clammy feeling and annoying sound effects when seated upon, so the rug makes it so much more hospitable while at the same time providing the visual contrast of solid black and patterned red.  Overall, the red rugs, while being highly functional, reinforce emotional warmth of the kitchen; a great place for the family to come together.

The purple rug lives in the bedroom.  It is quite an exceptional piece — we were lucky to find it, haven’t seen anything like it since.  It has a toned down palette and is very finely woven.  The bedroom is rather simply furnished with mostly dark furniture, the walls are papered in textured dusty mauve, there are few decorations.  The carpet lives up to the refined simplicity of the place and brings its own character along.  On the whole, a cool, restful place.

I don’t know if my mother had envisioned in detail how she would use the carpets while she was selecting them, all at one time, but I think she did amazingly well, which makes me think that she must have had.  It is certainly not easy to keep in mind exactly what one’s looking for when faced with a multitude of choices.

It is this same clarity of knowing what one wants that runs though my second set of examples, sourced from our acquaintances who we helped to get some carpets while they were on their backpack trip to Morocco.  These are very different carpets from the ones seen above (which offers just a glimpse into how diverse carpets here are, something not easily gleaned from many a tourist-oriented shops in, say, Fes).  The rugs in the bedroom and living room are neutral-colored, using undyed yarns of naturally-occurring shades of white and brown.  They are thick-piled, as opposed to smooth, kilim-type surface.  They feature strong, clean geometric patterns (counterbalanced nicely by the freely shaggy texture) but with a pleasing irregularity of lines which adds warmth and life to the rooms.  They look definitely modern; but they are very much traditional.  And they fit nicely into the aesthetic of the place, as far as I can tell.


The last carpet is very special: it is actually not made from wool but cut strips of old cloth.  (This type of carpet is called boucherouite, using French spelling conventions, and it can also be made from leather strips).  Environmentally friendly; lots of character; beautiful.

A perfect little rug for the children’s room; the native carpet underneath looks soooo sad!

One thing which has contributed to the success of these ‘ethnic’ carpets in very modern homes — in addition to people putting them to good use having a very strong sense of what their home is about — is the effort that went into getting them.  You have to seek out these carpets, either for their variety or quality.  They are not necessarily difficult to obtain, but you are unlikely to find it offhand by just walking past some shop in Morocco displaying a few rugs on the wall.  (I cannot comment on the availability outside Morocco).  If you cannot travel to centers of regional carpet production (naturally, all artisan-made) in the Middle Atlas mountains, at the very least one should be prepared to go inside the aforementioned shop and look through a number of carpets, which are usually folded away in the dusky (and yes, sometimes dusty) corners thereof.  The extra work of finding that special carpet is worth it, and it is really nothing compared to work that went into making it.


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