As I've said many times here on the Fiorito Interior Design blog, each aspect of interior design brings with it an unexpected amount of information, options, nomenclature, and choices...more than a lay person could have imagined. So let's dive into a little subset of flooring information: rugs and carpets can come in many different materials, and sometimes the most overlooked category is that of natural fiber rugs. We've all seen them, but do we really understand what they are made of?
1) I think the most common term we've all probably heard is "sisal." But what is a sisal rug? Woven from the stiff fibers of the Agave sisalana, a type of agave plant that looks a little like a palm, a sisal rug is one of the toughest materials out there, suitable for higher traffic areas.
Sisal comes in a variety of organic, neutral colors and naturally resists allergens. Look how the sisal rugs installed in a home by Michael Abraham Architects below lend a textural element to the room without becoming a pattern. When used as area rugs, the edges can be bound with tape in any color to coordinate with an existing color palette. Sisal is however fairly rough to the touch, so be careful when installing in areas where one will tend to be barefoot...and because it is a completely natural fiber, it will absorb water so be very careful of spills!
2) Jute is a material we have all used at one time or another in the form of twine, rope, Hessian cloth, and some sacks which hold, for example, rice or coffee beans. It is made from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus capsularis) and tossa jute (C. olitorius).
As a woven rug material, it is softer than sisal with a feel closer to cotton and for that reason is better in lower traffic areas of the home. It tends to be thicker than sisal, so the profile of the rug can be substantial. And like sisal, it is a natural material that will quickly and eagerly absorb liquids.
3) Seagrass, as its name implies, grows under the sea. Rugs are made from a variety of grasses and not from one specific type.
There's a very thick seagrass that can be woven into a rattan-like material and made into tables, chairs, and ottomans but rugs are made from a type more suitable for the function. These fibers are extremely tough and cannot be dyed so seagrass rugs often have a greenish cast to them.
4) Coir (pronounced COY-er) is an astonishing material. It is a yarn made from fibers of the discarded husks of coconuts! Brown coir is made from mature coconuts while the white variety is made from green husks of unripe coconuts.
Coir can be woven into a pile for bristly door mats but can also be made into yarn for rugs similar to sisal, jute, and seagrass, with a texture like that of a Berber carpet.
The advantage of these materials is that, when grown judiciously, they are all sustainable, coming from plants that renew quite quickly, or in the case or coir, coming from the cast off of a plant, leaving the living tree untouched.