It all starts with place. “Every knot, stitch, and tassel of a Moroccan rug holds the stories of the village where it was made,” explains Mostafa Raiss El Fenni, the third generation in a family of rug dealers and owner of Sahara Import in Oakland, California. “This is how strongly Moroccans feel about their rugs: When one is old or torn, we cut it and use it for a doormat or something. We just keep recycling the piece until it’s gone.”
Boucherouite-style rugs, the “rag rugs” of Morocco (the word comes from a Moroccan-Arabic phrase for torn, repurposed clothing), are the ultimate expression of this spirit of creative reuse. Artists weave colorful scraps of wool, nylon, and cotton clothing into extravagant, whimsical patterns. Once considered fit only for local homes—a practical, affordable solution to the problem of chilly floors—the rugs are now popping up in homes and galleries (and on design blogs) around the world. For the real deal, head to the city of Beni Mellal, halfway between Marrakech and Fez.
Buying tip: Look for loops of yarn and fabric strips that are wild and appear to be sprouting (as opposed to flat, with a machine-woven feel). This is a sign of authenticity.
BENI OURAIN It may take years, and the work of an entire Beni Ourain family to complete the thick, wool rugs of the High Atlas Mountains. Traditionally, women weavers create geometric designs and abstract shapes that tell the story of their ancestry, using only the wool sheared from the head of the sheep—the silkiest part. As Raiss El Fenni puts it, “When wool meets wool, there is a harmony, and that harmony lasts forever.”
Where to buy yours: Find yours in the souks of Fez. Buying tip: Flip the rug over to inspect the reverse side—irregular knotting is a sign of a genuine Beni Ouarain.
KILIMS Winters in the High Atlas region are extremely cold, and rugs are meant to keep the home warm. Travel into the Low and Mid-Atlas regions of Morocco, and you will find the opposite; lightweight, detailed rugs made in Berber villages with a flat-weaving technique. Intricate in design, kilims are flat-woven and easy to roll up for transport.
Where to buy yours: Go to Khemisset in the northwest, or Taznakht in the south. Buying tip: Test one by holding it in two hands and gently pulling. If the rug does not stretch easily, it’s a keeper.
CACTUS SILK With one glance at a lightweight, hand-embroidered cactus rug, it’s easy to see why the painter Henri Matisse was inspired by the Moroccan landscape—and in particular the many colors of the country's souks. In the northwestern city of Tifelt, weavers turn agave cactus fibers—dyed with pomegranate skin, henna leaves, tea, tobacco, and saffron flowers—into minimalist designs.
Where to buy yours: Check out the souks of Tifelt. Buying tip: A true cactus silk rug is nonflammable. Hold a flame up to it, and see what happens.