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Beni Ourain Rugs: Tribal Tradition, Mid Century Modern

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These incredibly soft and luxurious rugs are all the rage right now in modern design. In fact, they are in higher demand than ever due to a variety of different cultural factors. Beni Ourains are admired and sought after by designers and the masses alike. So what’s all the fuss about? What is a Beni Ourain rug, and what makes it so special?

Origins
The Beni Ourain are a group of Berber people from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco that is actually made up of 17 different tribes. They are traditionally shepherds and goat herders who move their herds from one grazing land to the next, high within the mountains. Although these tribes all produce rugs which are similar and known as Beni Ourains, there are subtle differences in design elements and colors – all natural dyes or no dye at all. A big factor when it comes to the quality of these rugs is the superior wool produced by the sheep in this region.

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The Beni Ourain rugs are hand-woven by women and the skill and knowledge is passed from mother to daughter. The design elements used in the rugs are reflective of the weavers real life. Traditionally, the rugs record regular life events and represent major themes such as birth, fertility, nature, femininity, rural life and religious beliefs. Some people who weave the rugs believe the rugs themselves are barriers against evil spirits so they purposefully include lucky charm symbolism and tribal ceremonial symbolism. The detail and design of the rug is also used to tell the story of tribal ancestors or the life of the weaver combined with tribe superstitions which are a strong aspect of culture in these rural regions.

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6.9″ x 9.7″ Moroccan style


Patterns
Patterns usually consist of brown and black lines or abstract shapes against a white or cream background. Other designs are the Ancient Berber alphabet, geometric designs similar to Navajo-Native American patterns. Most do not have a border. Some have fringe and others not, some have fringe on one side only. The rugs tend to last a lifetime or more.

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Production
Though they are typically used as and known to be rugs, Beni Ourains were traditionally produced to be blankets or bedspreads and not floor coverings. Their loose structure is meant to conform to the body. They have thick, soft pile which is deep or shallow according to the purpose. Knots are tied in a very specific way. The rugs are woven without any pattern or diagram to follow, which is why they are all unique.

The originals were not mass-produced and no two are alike. Many of the new Beni Ourain rugs are not made in Morocco but they are referred to as “Moroccan style” rugs because they were created to mimic the original Beni Ourains. The older carpets however are softer and more detailed and varied in design. The “real” beni ourains were never made larger than 7 feet. A Beni Ourain larger than 7′ is most likely a reproduction, not made in Morocco and not old.

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Rise to fame
The Beni Ourain rugs were used by the most renowned mid-century modern designers such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ame Jacobsen, Alvar Allto, Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames. Shag carpets were extremely popular during this time, and the Beni Ourains were a step up from the average shag because of their sophisticated nature. History and cultural developments have made Beni Ourains so popular.

“It is a fascinating set of historical and cultural developments that have made Moroccan rugs as popular as they are today. The Beni Ourain – with a penchant for abstract symbolism and geometry as well as a steady supply of fine grade wool – happened to be weaving rugs and carpets that would be perfectly suited to the design aesthetics of the Western World in the decades following the end of the Second World War. Moroccan rugs by the Beni Ourain remain among the most desirable pieces today, and are sought after the world over, both by experts in antique Oriental rugs and everyday people who appreciate the lasting artistic value of such rugs.” Ubrandsbag

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A photo of an authentic Beni Ourain in the home of Frank Lloyd Wright