This story is part of Image issue 11, “Renovation”, where we explore the architecture of everyday life – and what it would be like to tear it all down. Read the whole issue here.
Eventually, anything tired, cliche, or boring is rediscovered. Old things become new again because they are recontextualized, reimagined or rehabilitated. Trends become clichés, then tastemakers and opposites return to what the current trend is rebelling against. It doesn’t matter if the trend is among the most heinous scourges of the human race, such as war, famine, pestilence. But in the case of interior design, what comes back to LA is a trend born out of the garbage cans of American culture. Chic rugs are in fashion. I just want to know why.
“The statement rug is having a moment,” according to the LA interior designer Kerry Vasquez. Vasquez has been in the game for a decade and has seen death and rebirth on the mat. She says that while it’s still a less than desirable choice for most, more and more of her customers are asking for carpet. This isn’t the shaggy dog mats of a bygone era, but what’s called a “low pile” mat that’s more like a short, manicured lawn. In the world of interior design, this type of perfectly cut rug is called “tailored,” a term used to describe the uniform and highly regarded look of the rug from a distance. Rugs are available in solid and earthy tones that act similarly to a base color in an outfit. A rust brown rug can be the first building block to create a uniform vibe for a space.
The “chic carpet” trend is best understood with a trip to Perfect house, an art gallery/concept house combination that is currently located inside a 70s Beverly Hills mansion. The 5,000 square foot home has carpet throughout. It feels both retro and modern. It’s a particular contradiction, the idea that something can be both old and new. Especially in Los Angeles, a city known for its relentless need to stay one step ahead.
This curve, however, is really a circle. Or a straight line, if you’re on the Westside. Much of West LA is flat, tidy, and indicative of the mid-century belief that the urban utopia (which was often imagined as racially homogeneous and inhospitable to people of color) could be created through unchecked development , single-family homes and plenty of parking spaces. All the creature comforts of the unnatural world. The carpet has softened this hard, industrial and utilitarian conformism. The rug adds texture to a home that is touchable. There’s a warmth and an organic character to it, even when it’s as synthetic as anything else in the house.
If you grew up in a certain sweet spot in the 20th century, and especially if you lived in California, you were probably surrounded by a lot of carpets. I remember the dark, muddy brown shag that covered most of my childhood home. I don’t think we ever cleaned that thing up. You can vacuum it, shampoo it, run a comb through it, or get on all fours and scrub it with a sponge inch by inch, and it will never look ragged.
Perhaps that’s why millennials have rejected carpeting en masse. Apartment listings touting carpeted floors are neither liked nor seen. The building managers promise to tear it down before moving in. The prevalence of carpeting in the Westside is likely related to the post-war building boom in mid-century Los Angeles. The city expanded west just as carpeting became a symbol of wealth, sophistication and taste. Companies like Shaw Industries and DuPont were raking in millions of dollars by providing Americans with the ultimate status symbol: a deeply unworkable flooring situation.
Carpets are not like the hardwood floors that are so prevalent in trendy urban centers. They cannot be casually swept and washed. They must be maintained. Regularly. Carpets are getting old. They deteriorate. They lose their luster. I think we can all relate to that. But the rug’s shelf life is part of the appeal for some. The ubiquitous carpeting of mid-century fantasies is expensive to maintain. Like a sprawling lawn in front of a stately mansion in Hancock Park, a heavily carpeted house screams to the outside world, “This person has the money to keep it going.”
This idea of maintaining equal status works in many aspects of life in Los Angeles (or America in general). If you keep your car washed and waxed, you can afford the Ambassador Wash when you take it in for a detail. If you as a person have six-pack abs, that means you can afford a personal trainer. You also have time for all that maintenance because you live the carefree life we all dream of. It’s carpet. A huge hassle for most people. And it’s always the call.
There will always be a part of the population of this city who crave conformity, who must avoid standing out in a social circle. What you wear, what you keep at home and what you drive should fit the mainstream image of success at the time. The Westside — with its high rents, sprawling homes, and many exclusive communities — is a place that draws effort. Those who want what their neighbor has, and more.
But there is also a group of people who ask for nothing more than to break this image into tiny pieces. People who want to be “tastefully left”, if I may offer another contradiction. LA is a place that celebrates rule breakers who then create the new rule by accident. At one time, carpeting was part of our urban Manifest Destiny march to the sea, and hardwood floors were left out. This dynamic was reversed in Los Angeles, and it will be reversed again. Because stagnation is the death of creativity when you live inside the dream factory. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace carpet, but give me five years and I might change my mind.
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