RYA RUGS are easiest to recognise due to their pile – much like the 70s shag pile carpets we’re all familiar with. Thanks to the appeal of Mid-century interiors and the more recent Hygge epidemic, vintage Scandinavian rugs are making a strong come- back.

Surprisingly, there is very little written about the history of the Rya rug, but we were fortunate to cross paths with 20th century modern design researcher and dealer, Julia Salisbury, who shared her knowledge of their history, and her passion for the Danish carpet producer that defined an era – Ege Rya. 

Dating from the 15th century, the first Scandinavian ryas were coarse, long-piled, heavy covers used by seal hunters and deep-sea fishermen instead of furs. Later the rugs became lighter and more ornamental, and in the 19th century were often splendid festive tapestries regarded as valuable articles of inheritance.

By the mid-20th century the rya has become a sort of painting in textiles, with the individual artist identifiable by the colours, patterns and techniques in much the same way that one identifies a painter’s canvas. By the 1950s and 60s, rya rugs with their deep, luxurious pile, geometric and abstract designs made a big impression on the American market. Postwar families were together again, furnishing contemporary homes that needed the warmth of colourful and modern furnishings. Scandinavian modern furniture and furnishings featured big in the department stores, and Nordic countries sent travelling exhibits to tour the USA. In New York City Georg Jensen featured Scandinavian design and awarded prizes to the best designers, whilst home magazines featured them. There were 30 articles about Rya covered between two magazines in the 1950s and 60s – no wonder the American’s fell head over heels for this look. 

Today, the rya bears witness to a culture in which the cosy indoor warmth is a vitally important complement to an often severe climate. And still today, are often displayed on a wall during the warmer summer months and taken down for use on the floor or even the bed during the cold Scandinavian winters. 

Read more in Issue 32

Woo Gilchrist