New Carpets for Interiors
Picture, if you
will, that most sublime of art deco interiors, Eltham Palace, without
its Marian Dorn Donegal carpet reflecting the sheer style and opulence
of the Courtauld era – or the Egyptian Hall at the Mansion House without
its patterned Wilton carpet reflecting the room’s vibrant colours and
architectural magnificence. Each of these carpets is a new introduction
to its location. The first is a curatorially accurate re-make of the
original (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), the second is a new
design to enhance the existing features of the room; both examples representing
a functional yet aesthetically pleasing response to the problems of
large visitor numbers in an historic setting.
of any new carpet into an historic interior is bound to make a considerable
visual impact simply because of the proportionately large area involved.
Too often a ‘safe’, insignificant carpet is chosen: its purpose being
not to draw attention from the walls, ceiling and other decorative features.
The effect, however, is to reduce the visual impact of those very features
so that the interior becomes a shadow of its potential beauty. Not all
carpets of course are intended for magnificent or elegant rooms. However,
the importance of the choice of carpet in any location cannot be underestimated
simply because the carpet provides a background to the features surrounding
it and items placed upon it.
In situations where
a curatorially accurate reproduction of a carpet is required, usually
because the original has become fragile or has been destroyed, strict
control must be exercised over the drawing, colour palette, yarn, construction,
quality and finish: all of which vary considerably from culture to culture
and from time to time. Where possible, the new carpet should be made
in the same way, in the same materials and, ideally, in the same country
as the original or, at least, under the supervision of experienced workers
from that country or culture.
Palace entrance hall with the re-created 1930s Engstromer furniture
and Dorn carpet (Photo: English Heritage Photo Library, photographer
question of cost arises and this type of work is seldom the cheapest
option. However, carpets that are considered for reproduction form an
integral part of their location and must be treated as of equal priority
with other fittings and finishes such as plasterwork, gilding and hangings.
If the cost is considered on a ‘whole life’ basis over the life of a
carpet of high quality, it will be seen that creating a carpet of the
quality of the original usually represents best value for money.
The production of
an historic replica obviously starts with an historic, aesthetic and
construction survey of the original. Once the facts are known, the process
of replication can begin. Sometimes, the construction of the carpet
is one that it is not possible to reproduce as the original skills and
technology have been lost. Many carpet manufacturers have ceased to
exist and their looms have been discarded. These cases pose an added
challenge as it can be extremely difficult to recreate the very special
character of the carpet using a different construction. Where mills
of the appropriate type have survived it is important to use them, not
only for historic authenticity and character, but also because many
of them are struggling to survive, and their skills and technology may
otherwise soon be lost.
Carpets can be dated
by receipts, inventories and the colour palettes and construction methods
of the originals. For example, sometimes construction methods like pre-printing
the yarn were used for only a short period of time so their styles and
colour palettes are limited and distinctive. Fortunately, other historical
floor coverings such as India matting and English bull-rush matting
are still available from their original sources. Even painted floor
cloths are still obtainable although the caveats regarding design and
colour palettes apply.
New designs of carpets
for historic locations can, like the Mansion House carpets, be very
successful but mistakes are easily made. It is vitally important that
a close affinity exist between the new carpet and its surroundings and
it should enhance, not dominate nor detract from, the features around
it. This does not mean that it should be a shadowy element of the interior
design but that it should adopt or reflect the aesthetics of the other
of such a carpet can be expected to vary depending on the use of the
area. New hand-knotted carpets can be designed to order as can Axminsters
and narrow-width Wiltons. These traditionally constructed carpets have
excellent wearing characteristics and keep their good looks over many
years, providing they are properly maintained.
Many good quality
ranges of commercial carpets work well in areas such as offices and
retail areas however the choice should never be seen as an easy option
but as a deliberate and carefully considered selection. In some cases,
such as offices, shops or restaurants where the setting does not necessitate
the introduction of fine carpet, other options can be very effective.
Good quality woven nylon and printed tufted carpet can be less expensive
and more practical and even carpet tiles may be appropriate under certain
circumstances. However, for the carpet to be appropriate to even these
spaces, the historic design and colour palette should be carefully considered.
The shock of the new is not usually attractive or appropriate in an
coverings have an important role in all historic locations, be they
protecting historic floors and carpets against the unwelcome introduction
of dirt and grit, the ravages of a modern footfall considerably in excess
of their historic usage, or the chicken masala stains left on a marble
floor after a wedding.
Egyptian Hall at the Mansion House (Photo: Laing Photographic Services)
Even these utility
floor coverings, be they carpets or matting, should be sympathetic to
their surroundings like the well-mannered grey-green felt drugget on
the main visitor route at Syon House, quietly protecting the famous
scagliola floor without affecting the impact that the floor creates.
The ubiquitous red runner can be unnecessarily intrusive, unsympathetic
to every room it traverses, and there are better options in most situations.
The choice of utility carpets needs to be as carefully considered as
any other, as they welcome the visitor and often constitute the main
visitor route. It must be remembered that, historically, druggets like
these were removed when important visitors were expected, to enable
the rooms to be seen to their best advantage. Appropriately designed
druggets and barrier mattings can provide acceptable modern solutions.
Important as the
carpets themselves are, fitting and maintenance are essential parts
of any successful installation. Correct fitting and maintenance prolongs
the life of any carpet and a little extra investment in these areas
provides long term savings in both time and money. The methods of fitting
vary according to the construction and contribute to the overall appearance
of the carpet. For example, a 12 wide broadloom Wilton will not have
the same character as an identically patterned 27 wide Wilton sewn together
in the traditional manner. One is not better than the other: simply
more appropriate to a specific location. Like the reduced number of
looms however, the number of fitters trained in these traditional skills
is also decreasing. Fitting details like border, especially on stairs
and landings, can also change the historical character of an installation
and determine whether the carpet can be moved regularly in order to
prolong its life.
During the refurbishment
of a building, particularly where there is a change of use, the purchase
and installation of new carpet needs to be considered early in the process
to display the building to its best advantage. All the decorative features
need to work together to compliment each other fully. In this situation
it is likely that an appropriate carpet can do more to enhance the interior
than any of the other features can do singly. This is why carpet should
not be regarded as just something to cover a bare floor as cheaply and
quickly as possible. In this context carpet is often seen as the poor
relation in a major contract: being added at the end and often under-funded.
A more accurate, appropriate and better value specification can be proposed
if it is taken out of the major contract which will also allow a more
successful installation to be completed when the site is clear and clean.
The new carpet can
reflect the age and style of the location, the past and present use
of the building and, possibly, the family history and connections of
the past or present owners. Different areas of the same building will,
of course, dictate different choices of carpet.
In the case of a
more protracted restoration of an historic building, a survey of the
requirements for the floor coverings should provide proposals for both
short term and long term investment and an holistic and planned approach
to protection and maintenance enhances the performance of this investment.
The long and uninterrupted
experience of owners and developers of historic properties in the United
Kingdom, be they national organisations, government bodies, trusts,
architects or individual owners is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Elsewhere, there is a growing awareness of ‘heritage’ and increasingly,
UK expertise in the proper conservation and development of this area
of activity is being valued.
- C Gilbert et al, Country House Floors 1660-1850, Temple Newsam country house studies no 3, Leeds City Art Galleries,
- SB Sherrill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, Abbeville
Press, New York, 1996
- CEC Tattersall, A History of British Carpets, F Lewis Ltd, Benfleet, Essex, 1934
- M Thompson, Woven in Kidderminster 1735-2000, David Voice Associates,
Late 18th and early 19th century hand-knotted carpets and, from
last quarter of the 19th century, patterned, machine-made, cut-pile
wool carpets; derived from Axminster in Devon.
Machine made, cut (velvet) or loop (Brussels) pile wool carpet,
from second quarter 18th century, derived from Wilton in Wiltshire.
Protective everyday cover for fine carpets and floors; could be
plain or patterned. Intended to protect against, sun, wear, food
particles, wig powder and spillages.
Prepared, painted and varnished canvas to protect floors or in
place of carpet, sometimes painted to look like marble, tiles,
stone or wood (a precursor to linoleum). Popular from early 18th
to early 20th century, particularly in hot climates.
Flat, grass or reed matting woven in wide strips then sewn together
to form a planned floor covering. Commonly used in the 18th and
19th centuries under area carpets and on its own, in bedrooms.
Early 17th century matting made of bulrushes, plaited in narrow
strips then sewn together on the reverse. Sometimes extended to
protect the lower walls against furniture damage.
article is reproduced from The
Building Conservation Directory, 2004
LUCKHAM has worked with international designers and manufacturers
for over 30 years, specifying, developing and supplying textile floor
coverings to a very wide range of clients including architects, decorators,
the National Trust, English Heritage and owners of historic properties.
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