Popularity of natural fiber rugs and wall coverings increases with availability and a quest for the natural aesthetic
While design trends have not turned back to thatched roofs and dirt floors, there is something distinctly desirable about a more varied, less mechanically perfected look. And because people are asking for it more, more choices are becoming available.
“We have always carried sisal and jute carpets and had consistent demand from interior designers,” says Mike Smith, an account manager at ProSource Wholesale Flooring in Cincinnati, OH. “But until now, there were severe time delays in getting the product from the supplier. Today, we can get natural fiber rugs shipped in as little as two days, with more competitive pricing.”
Fibreworks, based in Louisville, KY, is the company Smith credits for the progress. The company supplies sisal, jute, seagrass, cheena, wool and leather rugs and wall coverings. Via its website, it also lets customers design their own area rugs.
“It is a great line if the designer wants to create a totally different style of rug that you will not see in stock at a high-end area rug store,” Smith says. “Just like no one wants to see someone in the same outfit as that they have on, customers who buy custom area rugs do not want to see the same rug in another home. They want it to have their own style and flair.”
Requests for jute, sisal and other natural fibers are on the rise because of the design aesthetic they offer, and because they are rapidly renewable, “very green” fibers, Smith says.
Trending natural — and locally manufactured
No doubt there are certain benefits to the use of sisal and coir,” says A. Maris Bernard, a LEED AP and interior designer in Greater Cincinnati. The fibers, she says, are remarkably durable in moderate traffic areas, and they require minimal maintenance.
The rugs often are banded with other materials, with borders placed around the edges, which adds to the design and maintains the integrity of the shape of the area rug. The environmental benefit of this now is being enhanced by using leftover textiles from other industries, such as the upholstery industry, Bernard says.
But, Bernard says, there is confusion for some environmentally conscious consumers who have begun to focus on the environmental impact — or use of fuel – in shipping products from foreign countries, including China and India, where many of the plants fibers are found. While Fibreworks imports the rolls, its rugs are made in Louisville, KY.
“Whereas bamboo was all the rage a few years ago, the ecological impact of the transportation from Southeast Asia has refocused attention on products that are manufactured right here in the US,” Bernard says. “There is now a trend toward locally-sourced natural materials such as wool and leather for carpets, reclaimed wood for flooring, and even cotton rag and woven rugs.”
Confusion over locally manufactured claims also arises when the best wool carpets, for example, are made of wool from New Zealand, which clearly has to be imported. One manufacturer who touts chemical-free carpet made in the USA still uses wool imported from Britain.
Certain materials simply are indigenous to certain geographic areas, says Kim Lewis, regional sales manager for Fibreworks in Louisville. But its rugs are made in the USA, and through its Grown Green program, customers are assured that Fibreworks products are made from renewable resources that are sustainably harvested, and, in many cases grown, harvested and processed without pesticides or chemicals.
Available in unique widths
At EcoFloors in Portland,OR, where consumers are on the front end of the green knowledge curve, wool rugs and carpets are in demand the most, says owner Sam Snow.
The more unique looks of sisal and seagrass also are appealing to green consumers, he says, but traditionally have posed some challenges that the Fibreworks program might help solve. For example, Snow notes, seaming these products together to get the coverage of carpeting is difficult, and seams will be visually noticeable.
Perhaps underpublicized is that some of Fibreworks’ lines, are 16-feet, 4-inches wide – about three feet wider than traditional lines – which often can cover the width of a room without seaming, or at least afford a larger area rug.
Cleaning natural fiber rugs, Snow and others note, also can be a challenge. This is not because natural fibers cannot be cleaned, but rather because they have to be cleaned differently than traditional rugs and carpets. Vacuuming, brushing and spot cleaning versus soaking with water are key. Fibreworks recommends and refers all customers to Host Dry Carpet Cleaning for directions and answers.
From the standpoint of ProSource Wholesale Flooring in Cincinnati, which has spent decades ordering sisal and natural fiber for designers, there no longer is any reason to hesitate because of cost, cleaning, selection or delivery time, Smith says.
“I can’t wait until l I get my next request for sisal or jute,” he says, “because now we have a lot more to show, it’s provably sustainable and there is something unique for every consumer.” ©
– Nancy Kibbee is editor at www.naturalinteriors.com