Below is an excerpt from the book "Art Decoration Applied to Furniture" regarding Carpets. Skim the article for some interesting tidbits in what went into selecting a carpet for your home during the 19th Century. The book was published in 1878.
AFTER the appearance of the hall, the carpets give the first impression of the house to the person who enters, and they afford constant and countless sensations to the person who stays —unconscious sensations of comfort, if they are suitable; very conscious and continual ones of discomfort and annoyance, if they are inharmonious, glaring, and self-asserting.
The carpet is to the room exactly what the background is to the picture: it throws up the whole effect, the main features and their suggestions, and is content with that part. The moment it makes itself obtrusive or in the least degree noticeable, it becomes vulgar and disagreeable. It should, indeed, be such that one forgets to observe it, or if caused to do so by any accident, finds its perfection and quiet beauty with a little pleased surprise. What is usually called the quality of the carpet is of no sort of consequence in comparison to these qualities, although the want of harmony could hardly fail to be felt if a rich tapestry were laid upon the floor of an inferior little room with shabby walls and cheap chairs, or if a common ingrain were stretched upon the floor of a drawing-room with inlaid walls, boule cabinets, Venetian mirrors, and gilt sofas. It goes without saying, of course, that the unities in this regard are just as much to be preserved in the furnishing of a room as in the composition of a drama or any other work of art, and not unity of style so much as of character: the room makes its toilet; and we should think but poorly of the lady's taste who, with her trailing satins and her jewels, wore calf-skin brogans and cotton gloves.
The color of the carpet should always be chosen in relation to the general design of the room. To secure a thoroughly pictorial effect to the eye as a whole, and a comfortable one to the senses, the carpet, a little darker than other portions, should present the main body tint from which the rest of the room works up in lighter tints, unless strong contrasts rather than blending shades are desired.
The figure, or pattern, of the carpet should usually be small, and always should be treated conventionally, or with a near approach to the conventional, that is, without the attempt at natural imitations of fruit and flowers and Cupids and shells, but in the suggestions of things arranged upon geometrical base, better if the repeat is not to be traced at first glance. If the colors are well mingled, bit by bit will come out in its turn, and what produces but a negative effect altogether will be seen by itself to be bright and rich and fine.
The conventional treatment of the figure is the actuating principle of the Persian and Indian carpets; but there are other carpets quite as expensive, and by some considered as beautiful, such as the Aubusson tapestries, which are made upon precisely the opposite plan. Beautiful as the latter are as specimens of work, we cannot consider their scheme of ornament in as good taste, to be trodden underfoot or to form the foundation of the feeling of the room, if we may say so, as the conventional plan of the Oriental carpets.
Some deference in the design of the carpet should certainly be paid to the origin of the carpet. It came into use in Christendom from Spain, carried to England by a Spanish princess, if we except an occasional Persian rug used in the churches, introduced by some travelling ecclesiastic; and the Spaniards had it, of course, from the Moors, who had brought it with them as an appurtenance of their worship and their comfort from the East. Its natural design, then, would always be the pure arabesque: no vines crawling over trellises with cherubs' heads between, no huge leaves sprawling over vases, no gigantic and impossible roses, no antenatal ferns; but broken forms, hints that excite the powers of the imagination, but never swamp them with bald fact, suggestions of a beauty greater than any real beauty that we know, fresh combinations of old elements. The religion of the Saracen, forbidding the representation of living objects, vegetable or animal, compelled him to this sort of design as much on his carpets as in all else; and although the Persian did not always adhere to this in the ornament either of his textiles or his potteries, the greater body of the Mohammedans never failed to do so, and the most satisfactory ornament in those districts of the East Indies where art received any development was designed upon similar principles to that upon which Moorish art was developed. The colors of these carpets are usually the strong primitive colors—dark rich blues and crimsons; others have the deep greens, some yellow, and creamy white. We say the strong primitive colors, because those are what immediately strike our eye; but we are told that the Orientals claim to use, both in their carpets and their shawls, tints and half tints that the untrained Western eye does not perceive at all unless in the general result. However that may be, the Western eye does perceive the beauty of the result obtained and the full charm of the combination.
Although we would not limit buyers to the colors, or to our perception of the colors, used by the Orientals, but would leave them free to avail themselves of all the exquisite new tints that chemistry can give us, yet we think there is no doubt that the principle of the design is correct, and is the one to be followed by our manufacturers, and by those furnishers who would give to their work the most picturesque and pleasing combinations, together with that warm home feeling which is absolutely essential.
If we followed the spirit of the earlier carpets to the letter, as respects their origin and their manner of use by the Orientals, we should always remember that they are rugs, and are to be used as rugs; that, whatever the size, they do not quite fill the measure of the floor, but leave a border •of the bare wood or tile around their edge. This bare wood may be costly, may be inlaid, or may be merely painted and varnished; but in some variety or other it is almost a necessary accompaniment of the real India, Turkey, and Persian carpets or mats. Whenever the carpet covers the entire floor, we should demand a deep border for it, thus preserving still to some degree remembrance of its rug-like character. Whatever be the carpet, the richest Axminster or the cheapest ingrain, a border always can be found to match it, and should be used where it is possible to compass the additional expense, since a carpet is as much enhanced by the border as a jewel is by the setting.
There are many varieties now in the manufacture of carpets: the Aubussons, the Wiltons or Moquettes, the Axminsters, Brussels and tapestry Brussels, Venetians, and ingrains or Kidderminsters, not to speak of the felts, the druggets or booking, the hempen, the oil-cloth or canvas, and the cocoa-nut and grass mattings, and still others. Almost all the world is so familiar with these last and cheaper varieties that it is hardly necessary to speak of them at length: the striped hempen, used for upper halls and where little wear comes; the Manila mattings, used on school-rooms and offices; the drugget, a sort of coarsely woven flannel stamped in a brilliant pattern, serviceable as crumb-cloths; the felt, of a matted wool, either of soft natural grays or printed in colors; the canvas mattings, made by several coats of paint on a canvas foundation—sometimes on the foundation of old Brussels carpet from which the wool is thoroughly worn away, an imitation of which, by those who cannot afford even this, is very well made by papering the floor with newspaper, over that laying on, with thick flour paste, a wall-paper of decided pattern, sizing it then with common glue, and varnishing it with common varnish. Meanwhile all those who wish for the aboriginal rag-carpet, woven of narrow strips of old rags, endless balls of which the housewives send to the looms, probably know how to make it. The Venetian is nearly as old a carpet as any we have; its pattern is in simple stripes, the woollen warp woven over woof of coarse linen strands. The two-ply ingrain is within the means of almost everybody; it comes in exceedingly neat designs, mixed and mossy and mottled and geometrical, for those that desire them, as well as in exceedingly ugly ones for those that have not learned the beauty of the others, and in a good imitation of the best Brussels patterns; it usually turns well, having a reverse of the colors of the figure simply; and put down over a carpet-paper — a thin layer of cotton-wool pressed between sheets of brown paper—is pleasant and comfortable to the foot, and endures a good deal of wear. The three-ply, which is very much heavier, wears still longer, and is about as serviceable as Brussels. Brussels is made by weaving into a linen body loops of woollen threads, three to a loop customarily; as they are dyed in the wool, the color is almost ineffaceable. Upon the so-called tapestry Brussels, on the other hand, the pattern is stamped after weaving, and it does not require long use to wear it off. There are no prettier carpets than the Brussels, although others may be more luxurious to the foot; but with the proper padding they may be made equally luxurious, and more durable than any. They are a universal sort of carpet, not too rich for the poor, nor too poor for the rich; and the best talent, such as that of William Morris and Dr. Dresser, and, indeed, of the owners of many other distinguished names, is employed upon the designs, which are softly illuminated by quaintly blended colors as brilliant or as subdued as the buyer pleases. The ingrains, Brussels, and Axminsters are all made quite as good in America as in Europe. Many of the most marked improvements in their manufacture are American.
The Moquettes, the Axminsters, and the India and Turkey and Persian mats are all made in a manner much similar to that in which the Brussels is made; but the loops, which in the Brussels are left double, are in these cut and sheared, making a velvety pile in which the foot sinks. The Moquettes are finer and thinner than the others, and consequently less enduring; nor can they, after being soiled, be clipped and shorn off again, and come out freshly as good as new, as the Turkey can.
The pile of the Axminster is exceedingly thick and soft, and it is thought to exceed the Oriental carpets in richness. It comes either in breadths or in whole pieces filling a floor, and is very expensive. At present one of the best, in a piece that will fit a small oblong drawing-room of some twenty-four by eighteen feet, is sold for about five hundred dollars, although that price is, of course, variable. Both Wiltons and Axminsters are to be had in the India patterns; but they are ordinarily to be seen in those floral designs whose coarse roses and lilies seem as if seen through a huge magnifying-glass, and which assume life to be one long wedding procession with baskets of flowers tossed beneath the feet. The same class of design is most frequently to be seen in the Aubusson tapestries, perhaps the most expensive of all carpets, and, if work is a criterion of value, certainly the most valuable, and which, in spite of the reprehensible character of their design, are very beautiful. The Aubusson is not a velvety or pile carpet at all; it has no loop, but is merely a larger rep, but little more than the rep of the common furniture covering. We are told that the pattern is wrought upon it with needle-work, and pulls apart very easily. In those most commonly seen, the groundwork is of the extremely delicate shades: the tender blues and greens and grays, sprinkled at good intervals with starry blossoms perfect as if dropped upon it, and in their natural size, or but a trifle beyond. There is usually one central medallion, filled with other flowers upon a white ground; all around the whole runs a deep intricate border ill wreaths and broken garlands of buds and blossoms, laurel leaves and oak, ribbons, shells, and some slight peculiarly Renaissance ornament, usually on a maroon ground, but little of which is seen. A wide maroon rep comes in rolls to make an exterior margin where the shape of the room demands it. In all this ornament every detail is so fine, the drawing so excellent, the tinting so perfect, that water-colors could not surpass its delicacy and charm; so that, judged by its own standard, it is impossible to find fault with it. Beside it the same character of pattern on Brussels, Axminster, and Wilton seems infinitely coarse and common. A carpet of this description is so frail, both as to soiling and wearing, that it can with propriety be used only in the scenes of very gay and festive life, where this sort of decoration is not so unsuitable as elsewhere. It is for those who literally tread on flowers, who "have fed on the roses and lain in the lilies of life." An Aubusson carpet of the same size as the Axminster just .mentioned is not dear, it will be seen, at five hundred dollars, which is the usual price asked nowadays, although frequently less will be taken, as the demand for them is small; but it can accompany only the richest, rarest, most showy, and costly furniture, the marquetry and gilding of the Quatorze styles, lace and mirrors and Sevres; in fact, it has a strange family likeness to Sevres itself, and is as much like a superb dish of French china as anything else.