Decorating With Antique French Aubusson Carpets

Aubusson Carpets and Post Modern Decor

Aubusson Carpets – While the very idea of woven decorative floor covering is virtually synonymous with the Oriental rugs, rugs have also been produced in Europe and the Americas for centuries.

Aubusson Carpets
Aubusson Carpets

The foremost productions of this kind in Europe were the Aubusson tapestry rugs and the pile carpets of the Savonnerie manufactury of the eighteenth century, which virtually eclipsed the European taste for Oriental rugs until the 1880’s. For most of the twentieth century, however, circumstances were once again reversed. Aubusson and Savonnerie carpets, and their English cousins, the Axminsters, lived in the shadow of Oriental carpets, although they continued to maintain a certain market niche. Aubussons became the quintessential symbol of traditional European décor. For those who still enjoyed the great period styles of Louis XV or Louis XVI, or their neo-classical successors, First and Second Empire, and English Chippendale, nothing could pull a room together more effectively than an Aubusson or a Savonneriet. Consequently, Aubusson, Savonnerie, and Axminster carpets tend to be associated with old fashioned, conservative taste.

Aubusson Carpet
Aubusson Carpet

But truly great carpets, like all great works of art, transcend the immediate circumstances that created them. Oriental carpets are the product of Islamic art, yet they have long been treasured as vital components in western European interiors. And no westerner who owns an Oriental carpet feels compelled to accompany it with Persian metal tableware and lamps or Moroccan inlaid furniture. Instead we combine antique Oriental rugs freely with western furnishings of all types, periods, and styles. So why then have Aubusson and kindred European carpets become period decorative pieces considered inseparable from some hidebound notion of neoclassical conservatism?

Antique Aubusson Carpets
Antique Aubusson Carpets

The answer is simply that we have come habitually to think of them that way, when in fact Aubussons are remarkably adaptive to a range of modern or contemporary uses. From the standpoint of color alone, this is eminently clear. Aubussons tend toward a dominant cream, bone, or light tan ground, with darker colors like deep tan or browns limited to outlines. Larger swaths of color are confined to cool hues such as tan, rose-magenta, or mauve. Much of their effect is the same sort of tone-on-tone approach so cherished by contemporary interior designers. Some Aubussons have monumental, almost architectural designs with grand moldings, frames, and baroque cartouches. But these qualities are always mollified or offset by the neutral, restrained palette, and the use of open, quiescent, undecorated spaces.

Antique French Aubusson Carpet
Antique French Aubusson Carpet

It is perhaps the graphic flourish of scrolls and vines in Aubussons that seems antique and old fashioned by today’s standards. Or perhaps the degree of floral or vegetal naturalism they utilize seems too lifelike for a modern sensibility focused on geometric abstraction. But modern architecture and interior design have today achieved a Post-modern aesthetic that transcends such constraining categorizations. Classicism has been de-constructed and re-examined to expose new potentials and possibilities. Classical works or elements can be quoted and re-contextualized within a modern ambience. Aubusson carpets no longer require Louis XVI or Empire furnishings as accompaniments. Rather, it is exciting to explore how effectively such carpets may complement a range of twentieth-century modern and contemporary styles, especially those that utilize curvilinear design elements. The results are novel and surprising, demonstrating once again how much is possible if one can simply abandon the burden of habitual opinions and preconceptions.