The Little Rug that Could Not

It was Tuesday, 28 April 2015 and I was reading The Facebook as it was originally called, checking in on the musings, rants, political and culinary adventures, and the like of my friends. Nothing particularly worthy of note as it were, when suddenly, ‘Lo and behold! What is this?’ I imagined myself exclaiming as though I had a live audience. There on the screen before me was the kitchen shown above. What caught my eye was not the striking visual contrast of the black and white, no that combination has been seen before, nor was it the perfectly coifed, polished, and styled aesthetic commonplace in our marketing driven western world, no I’m used to that as well. It was of course: the rug. Or as it happens to be in this case: The Little Rug that Could Not!

The Exchange!

As you can imagine, I was disappointed to see yet another example of our nobel art of rug making used improperly. There, held up for the world to see, is an undersized and poorly placed rug. I am sure I sighed aloud. Thusly, I did what any person who had anointed himself as ‘The Ruggist’ would do, I hastily and perhaps without forethought made a critical comment. Verbatim, it reads: ‘The rug is poorly placed and/or too small for the space.’ A harsh and abrupt statement, but nonetheless one from which I shall not waiver. Time then passed as it does and the following day a condescending and haughty (not that I wasn’t, but I digress) comment was made in reply. Again quoting, it reads: ‘Thanks for your input Michael A.C. Christie, but I am happy with it as it is. It’s a galley, and I like to be able to to cook and splash and do all the things I can easily wipe up without worrying about pulling out the vacuum for the rug as often.’ And so the discussion herein begins!!

Kitchen designed by Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo of ABCD Design, as featured in the Wall Street Journal.
Kitchen designed by Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo of ABCD Design, as featured in the Wall Street Journal.

What is your Problem?

Let us begin with what I perceive, err, think, err, believe, no, no, what I know to be the readily apparent problem: The rug is too small. Specifically in this case the rug is just too narrow. This mundane and seemingly innocuous problem however is not simply the matter of a rug guy giving you his Sixth Opinion, it is a larger problem encompassing interior design, function, and the Death of Expertise.

As a wise man once (and by once I mean repeatedly over the years) stressed to me: Certainly problems are real and genuine and they may in fact need to be overcome, but if we are to succeed in mastering them, we must focus not on the problem, but rather the solution. Think of it this way. The problem is the set of circumstances and requirements you’re given. The solution is how you analyze those criteria and craft an outcome that you’re happy with (if the problem is subjective), or that is correct (if the problem is objective). Rugs and interior design it seems are never clearly one or the other. Rather, due to our ‘friends’ at figuratively every shelter publication adopting a ‘You too can do it!’ attitude, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry, Jonny-come-lately so called lifestyle expert or blogger (ouch!), buying into that rubbish, we are confronted with this chimeric, bastardized Hodge-Podge of widely accepted mediocrity in design (and by extension rugs) simply because everyone has their own opinion. As Tom Nichols (author of the ‘Death of Expertise‘) says ‘To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.’

Problem Summary!

In examining the sum of the problem at hand, I looked at my own comment, the size of the rug, its placement, and most importantly the response of the designer/owner of the kitchen. Certainly she is allowed to like whatever she wants, but the insistence that what ‘we like’ is what is ‘right’ is not necessary true. I will even go further to say that she is 100% right, correct, un-wrong (I made that up), to want a kitchen that is easy to clean. Reading her own words tells us as much: ‘…I like to be able to to cook and splash and do all the things I can easily wipe up without worrying about pulling out the vacuum for the rug as often.’ The result presented however does not take expert advice into account, rather it provides a naive solution that creates a far more serious problem than whether or not we like the way it looks. In examining the kitchen one can immediately take note of the classic work triangle between refrigerator, sink, and stove. Moving betwixt refrigerator and sink is without concern in the existing layout, but turn to cross over to the stove from either and just behind your feet you’ll find the edge of a rug, pronounced or otherwise. The same is of course true when crossing back from the stove. In either case, the possibility for tripping exists, and with the inherently more dangerous nature of the kitchen, it is best to minimize the risk of tripping and/or falling. So given all of this, what should have been done?

Solutions Exposition!

If we are to be fair (that seems unusual does it not?), we must take to heart what the designer/client stated, it is part of our job after all – listening to our clients. She wants, meh, let’s be bold and say she requires an easy to clean kitchen floor. What could have been done instead of this? What solutions as a rug expert would you have offered? What about as a designer? In the interest of brevity and because I like to mix things up as is said, I present the following short quiz to help you decide.

The Quiz – Worth 50% of your Marks

Problem: You are presented with a galley style kitchen as shown above, with the requirement that it be easy to clean, without vacuuming quite so often as sweeping. Furthermore, the client would also like the floor to have a decorative element about it. What do you present to the client?

  1. I like the existing solution and find the layout pleasing on the eye. The Ruggist is wrong, and the space with the rug looks great!!
  2. I like the existing solution already presented and ridiculed by The Ruggist. The narrow rug looks great as an airstrip down the middle of the kitchen, and my ninety (90) year old grandmother be damned: “If she trips and spills a pot of boiling water on my son/daughter/dog just one more time, it’s off to the nursing home for her. Oh! And don’t get me started if she falls and breaks her hip. You know what happens to ninety (90) year olds who break their hips? They go to the hospital, get pneumonia, and die. Argh! I cannot handle that right now!”
  3. No rug at all. Quelle horreur!! The client’s requirement to make the floor easy to clean without a vacuum all but necessitates no rug, sad as it is for any rug salesman to admit. A rug is not the solution for this problem. In its stead however, a more decorative and colourful floor tile, perhaps even a mosaic, could be substituted which would add much needed visual interest over the basic cream coloured floor.
  4. Choose a different floor colour. Let’s not espouse the glorious trend of black with white kitchens as though they are a far superior panacea over that of white with black kitchens; they are the same basic formulaic design. This approach to design is pandering to the concepts of trends and resale value, terms we must always remember to never use when talking of design. Choose a colour that is less de rigueur (god (or not) forbid) and more forgiving to dirt and crumbs.

The one and only correct (certain restrictions, limitations, conditions, terms and caveats apply) answer is: Two (2), Three (3), and/or Four (4). In all seriousness, it is simply irresponsible as a designer, or rug expert, to suggest a narrow rug for the space due to the potential safety hazard. Design (broadly) is not just about making things look pretty, it’s about making functional spaces that are also attractive (in the case of Interior Design). Further, given that the client does not want to need to vacuum often, the actual only way to accomplish this safely is to not have a rug.

WWTRD? – What Would The Ruggist Do?

You may have gathered that I am not like other people, but in one regard I am exactly like the aforementioned client who hates to vacuum; I hate to vacuum. But I also love rugs. A lot. Probably too much with some weird pathologies involved, but I digress. In discussing this rug conundrum, I was confronted with the need to ask myself: “What rug would I place in a kitchen?” And so I did ask myself that, and a few other questions. “What are my cleaning criteria?” “Am I messy?” “How do I feel about dirt and stains?” So I thought for a brief philosophical moment and concluded that I do indeed want a rug in my kitchen, I don’t mind vacuuming it as needed, but I am, with an extremely high degree of certainty, going to spill things of a stain producing nature on it.

My first thought was an inexpensive (read: cheap) traditionally styled commodity quality handknotted rug. If it were placed in the kitchen above, it would cover most of the width of the kitchen floor thus allowing my feet to always be on it, and the design would help hide stains and crumbs. Further, since it was cheap, there is little concern for its longevity. This is the obvious, consumer driven, disposable society answer. But then I kept thinking and my real answer, the one that satisfies my requirements, and fulfills many of my lofty and sublime rug ideals follows accordingly.

The Perfect (Kitchen) Rug

Last November circumstances varied and unmentioned conspired as it were and I found myself vacuuming the single colour plain indigo dyed hemp carpet that was on the bedroom floor. After moving the furniture, and as I vacuumed (both sides!) of the carpet, I began to notice the wear and aging, seven (7) years or so of use had given the piece. There across one end is a slightly faded foot path, there in a corner was a permanently set stain from some form of pet accident, there in another spot appeared to be some continued oxidation of the colour. All of these unplanned variations in the colour of a rug whose entire premise is colour, suddenly seemed less like flaws and more, to romanticize it, like they had be preordained. Moreover as the carpet was already heavily abrashed (oh sorry… we’re calling that ombre these days) these variations only added to the character and soul if you will, of the carpet. It is developing that aged, time worn, well used and loved aesthetic, one that our industry tries and succeeds in reproducing and selling, but this piece was no (mere) artificially worn and aged reproduction. It is real, it has that desired look, but the patina is genuine and authentic, and I got to experience the process, over time, with the rug, slowly changing together until not so suddenly, but now readily apparent: Voilà! What could be better?

So with that, I present my solution to the dilemma herein described prior to my digression. A red hued plain carpet, preferably dyed with natural dyes, sized appropriately (as described) to avoid tripping hazards:

Youngtse Plain shown in colour V18 from Odegard Carpets
Youngtse Plain shown in colour V18 from Odegard Carpets

I’m a messy cook. Just ask my sous chef and other non-existent members of my kitchen brigade. I’m going to spill, splatter, splash, step on, grind in, and otherwise subject this poor rug to all manner of sauces, foods, greases, and so on. But… who cares?! It’s wool, it cleans well. Even when it inevitably stains, who cares, it’s part of the process. This carpet, when used over time and allowed to age just like the aforementioned hemp carpet, will develop all the provenance we as an industry spend so much time attempting to replicate, only in a far more nuanced and genuinely authentic manner. And we, as consumers of handwork can truly appreciate what we might otherwise fritter away.

TL;DR

The Ruggist really hates undersized rugs, and speaks out against personal opinion over expert advice when it comes to rug placement and sizing. Personal style and taste do not trump safety and function in design. Make sure your rug is The Appropriate Rug that Can, and not The Little Rug that Could Not. Names were not changed because it’s already online in one form or another so why make you work for it?

*Substitute the maker of your choosing here.