Original Moroccan Beni Ouarain Carpets
A very special rug has been a glorious objet d’art in the decorating world for decades – and more recently, the Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpet has filtered into the mainstream as a totally chic decorative addition. These incredibly plush, large cream rugs bring a creative spirit and a bold and powerful design to modern interiors.
Beni Ouarain carpets were first woven by the Berbers of Morocco’s north-eastern Middle Atlas Mountains, and other neighbouring tribes. The ‘Beni Ouarain’ are in fact a confederation of seventeen Berber tribes, who have been living in the region since as far back as the 9th century. They produced these textiles for protection against the cold winters, and used carpets as beds and cosy sleeping covers. That is why these rugs are long, loose, thick and flexible, and relatively narrow, comfortable enough to throw over one’s body during the harsh wintery nights.
A classic Beni Ouarain carpet design usually uses different combinations of diamonds or lozenges on natural cream base with often powerfully simple graphics. However, the oldest Beni Ouarain carpets had more rich designs and were far more decorative; as time has gone by the designs have become less complex.
These carpets began to attract a great deal of attention in the 1920s and 30s – Le Corbusier, Alva Alto, and Frank Lloyd Wright used Beni Ouarain carpets. For decades, many of the oldest, the best, and the rarest examples of carpet designs have been sought out and snapped up.
It’s now very difficult to find the old, original Beni Ouarains, and those which remain are rightly valuable and treasured. Other tribes in the Atlas Mountains also weave cream and black carpets, and these are often mistakenly called Beni Ouarain.
However, ‘Beni Ouarain’ is often now loosely used as a byword for all Moroccan black and white rugs; although, they are not the same. Their growing popularity, and scarcity, has resulted in vintage fakes, which bear few links to the tribes who first created such distinct and unique carpets. Carpets, woven by women who are usually paid very little and who use poor quality wool and dyes, are often washed and artificially aged with chemicals. Sometimes the wool is dyed a bright white, damaging it in the process.
So, how do you know if you’re buying a lovely authentic Beni Ouarain? A very old piece will usually be long, and relatively narrow. Also, very few vintage tribal carpets will be in perfect condition, so look out for this as a sign of authenticity. If the carpet has really been used in a Berber home it will have signs of its past life –low pile, marks, restoration, little patches where candle wax has dripped, or where women have dropped a little henna dye – these are all natural and welcome signs of authenticity.
Beni Ouarain weavers mainly used wool from a particular breed of sheep, and also used a specific knotting technique, which are further signs of an old original carpet. An old piece is likely to have a spontaneous and archaic lozenge-based design, often featuring irregularities and special design touches added by the weaver just for her carpet. A carpet woven by a woman for her own use would have been crafted with care and pride, using the best wool she could afford.
Maroc Tribal sources original Beni Ouarain carpets from deep within the Middle Atlas mountains, buying direct from weavers families.
copyright Maroc Tribal 2015