Object Matters A fuzzy history of the carpet.

Object Matters A fuzzy history of the carpet.

  • Words Stephanie d’Arc Taylor
  • Photograph Todd Hido

Human feet have a natural predilection for coziness. The richest among us have been snuggling our toes into pile for at least 25 centuries, according to a 1940s discovery by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko. While excavating the Siberian tomb of a Scythian prince, he discovered the world’s oldest carpet, miraculously preserved through the centuries in a block of ice. 

By the 1950s, though, it wasn’t just princely toes that could afford to be warm and toasty. As the United States emerged from the Second World War, people’s minds turned from sacrifice to convenience and consumption. Gone were sugar rations and margarine—and with their new disposable incomes, Americans demanded comfort from head to literal toe. Advances in fabric technology meant that homemakers had access to more durable, inexpensive carpets than ever before. And they wanted as many of them as they could get. 

By the more-is-more 1970s, tufted carpets grew into long shag carpets in modish colors like harvest gold and burnt orange. The trend seemed indefatigable, colonizing not only bathroom floors but even toilet seats, like the vine of an invasive species. But in fashion, as in life, change is ever constant. By the 1990s, carpeted floors were relegated to the realm of kitsch (or at least the suburban). 

Any home furnishing trend on which there is an official fact sheet distributed by a nonprofit called the National Center for Healthy Housing is worthy of a second look. Carpeting was a mid-century trend that went against the prevailing ethos of wipe-down minimalism. Carpets are bacteria havens, but steam cleaning a carpet is significantly more annoying than grabbing the dustpan and broom, so people do it a lot less. This leads to nasties like mildew, pet dander and dust mites—whose main source of food is accumulated flakes of human skin. Wall-to-wall carpeting is officially not recommended for people with asthma or allergies.

Armed with this knowledge, even those with comfort in mind will likely be able to resist the allure of wall-to-wall tufts, so irresistible to our ancestors. But in fashion, of course, we can never say never. If avocado green can make a comeback, maybe carpeting isn’t far behind.

You are reading a complimentary story from Issue 43

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