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Rug Designs: More Than Meets the Eye

May 27, 2010 3 min read

Our recent post “Know Your Rug Style” shared a bit about the patterns and designs you’re likely to find on today’s rugs—many of which have been passed down from generation to generation. We talked about the flowers, borders, medallions, and geometric shapes that manufacturers and weavers use to create beautiful and unique designs. Now here’s where it gets juicy: there may be more to these rug designs than tradition and aesthetic—subliminal messages, if you will. Okay, we’re just trying to spice up the blog a bit. Of course the rug manufacturers of the world aren’t slipping in brainwashing messages like “You need this rug...and another, and another, and another!” with their products. The messages we’re referencing are much more subtle than that. We’re talking about the use of symbols in rug design; in other words, the use of elements that, in addition to being beautiful, have powerful meaning behind them. Many flowers used in rug patterns fall into this category. Take the lotus, which in Buddhism is regarded as a sacred flower that represents summer, happiness, and maturity, or the peony, which symbolizes wealth and respectability. But, it’s not just flowers that can have deep significance. Here’s a handy list of symbols often used in rug designs and their meanings. (Even if you’re not in the market for a new rug, read on. The meanings are useful bits of trivia you can keep in your back pocket, whip out at the opportune time, and use to really impress friends!)

Bamboo: A symbol of longevity; a favorite motif in Chinese art.

Butterfly: A Chinese figure that connotes great age when used in conjunction with other symbols.

Canary: A symbol of family togetherness; regarded as a good omen.

Chessboard: One of four emblems of literature and science. Others are the harp, books, and paintings.

Lotus flower: A Buddhist emblem of summer, happiness, and maturity; regarded as a sacred flower.

Peach blossom: An emblem of spring, which is considered the blossom of the fruit of life.

Peony: The flower of wealth and respectability.

Prunus (plum blossom): A symbol of beauty that often represents winter. As you’re now familiar with, and hopefully inspired by, these symbols, you’re likely to start noticing them everywhere, especially if you think outside of the box. Sure, a rug may feature an exact, literal representation of a symbol, like the bamboo below.  However, a rug’s design may also feature a loose interpretation of the object, like this sleek, contemporary take on plum blossoms. Even though the design inspiration may not be obvious to everyone, the symbolism is still there!

We hope this post inspires you to think in new ways about design and the items you choose for your space. Maybe you’ll look for a rug with a lotus flower pattern in hopes of bringing beauty and happiness into your home. Or, maybe you’ll choose a rug featuring peonies for your office to help bring your business success and send a message of strength and authority to employees. And don’t forget that these symbols hold their meanings away from the fibers of a rug. Also look for them in everything from art prints and paintings to accessories. Here’s to your next symbolic shopping spree! (CLICK HERE to shop online; source for symbol meanings: Nourison’s ‘Glossary of Terms’)

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