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DECOR : A Rug Renaissance Unrolls Underfoot


Floor rugs, too, are coming in for special treatment in these days of colorful, personalized home decor. Tradition isn't being ignored, but it is being shaken up by rug designers in search of novelty, color and excitement.

Baltimore-based artist Pat Burgee has a twist on traditional American canvas floorcloths by painting them with Italian designs that evoke the Renaissance.

Before being superseded by linoleum, canvas floorcloths were a popular and inexpensive choice for area rugs in American homes from the 17th through 19th centuries. The motifs were usually simple geometric patterns. Burgee's rugs feature Renaissance motifs, faux marble and portraits copied from Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

"I use heavyweight, marine-grade canvas just as they did in the 17th and 18th centuries," said Burgee, but with modern latex paints and polyurethane coatings instead of shellac.

Burgee markets the rugs under the name Tapetto Marmo, which in Italian means "marble rugs." The floorcloths come in standard sizes and in 10 colors. Custom sizes and colors are also available. Prices for the ready-made rugs range from $800 to $2,200, depending on size and pattern.

Christine Van Der Hurd's wool area rugs are made by a conventional hand-tufted process. What distinguishes them are their brilliant colors and bold designs that reinterpret the past.

The New York designer has introduced a rug called "Scheherazade," which is shaped like a cartoon version of a flying carpet with indented sides. The rug is available with a large tassel at each corner and is accentuated by its swirls and arabesques based on traditional Arabian designs.

"It is a versatile shape that is used like a rectangular rug, but adds a bit of whimsy, especially with an oversize tassel in each corner," Van Der Hurd said.

Standard and custom sizes are available. Prices are about $100 a square foot, plus the cost of the optional tassels.

Van Der Hurd also has an extensive line of other colorful rugs. As in many modern paintings, the designs in the rugs clearly have a relationship to traditional patterns, but would never be mistaken for them.

To broaden her market, Van Der Hurd recently began marketing flat-woven wool dhurrie rugs of her design that are made in India. Prices range from $260 for a 2-by-3-foot rug to $1,200 for an 8-by-10.

Liora Manne's area rugs are built up from layers of a colored felt-like blend of acrylic, wool and rayon in a process that the designer describes as "almost like painting with fiber."

Available custom-made for more than a decade, now a less-expensive version made in India is being marketed through Pande Cameron and Co. of New York for about a third the price of a similar rug made in Manne's Union Square studio in lower Manhattan. The rugs fabricated in India are less intricate and take less time to make, but otherwise are made by the same process.

The design can range from a representational or geometric motif to a free-form swirl of rich color. After the pattern is created on a backing, the design is tacked into place with a hand-held needle punch. Then the textile is sent to a factory, where a mechanical needle loom fixes the pattern permanently and the rug is saturated with latex to seal it and make it cleanable.

Many of Manne's soft-surface patterns imitate antique hard-surface flooring, such as inlaid marble and mosaic.

"Normally in hard-surface flooring, you do not get this kind of color blending," Manne said. "The rugs are in a recognizable tradition, yet they offer the warmth of a textile."

About 14 area rugs in Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Pietre Dure patterns are made in India, in sizes ranging from 4 feet by 6 feet to 9 feet by 12 feet.

Price for a 6-by-9 rug made in India is about $1,200 contrasted with $3,500 for a rug made in Manne's New York custom design studio.

Van Der Hurd's rugs are available at Modernage in New York and Modern Living in Los Angeles. Her custom designs are marketed through designers.

Manne's rugs are available through Pande Cameron in home furnishings and rug outlets.

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