Open any design magazine and you will most likely find a Beni Ourain featured in a room somewhere. Its popularity is attributed to its simple, classic design that works with most styles of interiors. So what makes a good Beni Ourain rug? Here is the 101-
Beni Ourain rugs generally have a cream or beige background with dark brown or black diamonds or geometric designs. They are hand woven by the Beni Ourain tribe from the middle Atlas mountain area.The rugs are woven mainly for function - originally made for bedding, blankets, or capes to keep warm during the harsh winters. In cold weather, the thick wool pile helps to retain heat; in the summer, the rugs are flipped over and used with the knotted side up. So while we may think of the rug as having front vs. back sides, true Beni Ourains are reversible and used both ways - how cool is that?
Another aspect of the Beni Ourain rugs is the wool - the wool used for the rugs is live wool, shorn from a specific breed of Berber sheep while it's still alive as opposed to wool taken from a sheepskin. Live wool is said to be softer as it still contains the oils from the sheeps' skin and also fluffier. The Berber sheep wool is a bit more yellow in color, more on the beige and cream side as opposed to white. With demand for whiter rugs, some Beni Ourain style rugs nowadays use New Zealand or European wool instead.
Uneven knots on the back of a handmade Beni Ourain rug
What should you look for when purchasing a Beni Ourain rug? A genuine Ben Ourain that is handmade will have subtly uneven knots on the back, whereas a machine-made rug will have even-sized knots. Also note the color of the background. Even with New Zealand or European wool, the color of the wool should be cream or off-white, not a bright white, which indicates bleached wool or artificial blends.