The Breakdown

The $40,000 Rug

By Kara Baskin
September 27, 2017

Why are rugs so expensive? Assessing the value, craftsmanship, origin, and material of a vintage rug from eBay Collective’s Doris Leslie Blau.

The right rug can tie a room together. But why are rugs often so expensive—and, given that, how do you safely buy one online? While this vintage Swedish rug looks interesting on the surface—funky geometric patterns, a soothing blue hue—is it worth $40,000?

Most definitely, says Nader Bolour, who sells it at Doris Leslie Blau, a 50-year-old Manhattan shop that specializes in unusual pieces found at estates and foreign auctions. We asked him to explain the cost.

Provenance: Sweden is hot right now. “Swedish rugs have been fashionable for the past five to seven years, and they have another five or so years to go thanks to the spike in sales of midcentury furniture at Sotheby’s and Christie’s,” Bolour says. “There’s a big correlation between the midcentury movement and decorative rugs.”

The 40 K rug conversation piece.

Primary Color: Unusual hues can increase worth, and this rug’s electric blue background is rare. “Most blue rugs are either light or dark blue, or some where in the middle,” says Bolour. This one is powder blue combined with a bright, electric blue. This might make it harder for designers to create a room around it, but someone who loves it will pay a premium. “It’s a room-maker,” he says.

Secondary Colors: The rug’s geometric patterns are an offbeat mix of beige, gray, and black. “This combination of colors and patterns working together was unusual for the 1940s and 1950s: Most Swedish rugs are one color,” he says. “This gives it more charm.”

Swedish rugs have been fashionable for the past five to seven years, and they have another five or so years to go thanks to the spike in sales of midcentury furniture at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Texture: This half pile rug is multi-textured, combining flat pile with a hairier, shaggier striped design in heather gray and black with geometric shapes, lines, and Xs. “This combination is beautiful,” Bolour says.

Pattern: The rug’s shapes and lines are asymmetrical, making it difficult to duplicate.“This adds a value of primitiveness, which isn’t standard in Swedish rugs,” Bolour says. “Buyers of vintage rugs want to see a primitive element. This could never be mass produced, because it would be impossible to make the same patina.”

Pro tip: When buying a rug online, says Bolour, always ask if a rug’s been restored. “If it’s in great condition and never been restored, it has a higher value,” he says, though a well-restored rug is worth more than a rug still in need of restoration. And always feel free to contact the dealer for more information or for additional photos, especially ones taken in natural light, which are best for showing not just condition but also the most accurate color. That said, says Bolour, keep in mind that a vintage rug won’t be, and needn’t be, perfect. Like many antiques, the best vintage rugs are often what he calls the “perfectly imperfect” —and, of course, the perfect for you.