Or should I say "underfoot"?
When I first contacted Max Sinsteden—an interior designer who I first read about in a New York Magazine feature on his super-luxe dorm room in which layered family rugs butt up to walls painted "Ralph Lauren’s Tapestry Green"—it was back in spring. We were looking for some creative centerpiece ideas, and he sent back these pictures:
Irish lead glass, pierced copper planters, leaves, and whole fruits make up the autumnal centerpiece, and the china is a set of "Indian Tree" luster Spode—his mother's, which she inherited from her mom who in turn inherited it from a kindergarten teacher. "It's not really my favorite color scheme for everyday entertaining; however in the fall it just sings!", he wrote, and then almost as an afterthought: "I've taken a great antique Persian carpet and put it on the table." Wait, what?
Max has been "occasionally" using rugs as tablecloths "for a decade or so," but he told me that it's actually been a decorative practice for centuries. "Everyone is such a neat freak/germaphobe these days," he says, bemoaning that reason it eventually fell out of vogue.
Max prefers using antique rugs if he's going to put one on the table, as "they are rich in pattern and aging which I think is the whole point," but you could use any that you have in the house—he advises choosing one with an allover pattern rather than a center medallion design, and colors that are muted rather than brand new (we'd say the same about choosing a linen tablecloth). Give the rug a good vacuum if it's been folded up, and you can clean it yourself if it's been down on the floor. "Take it out to the backyard and hose it down," Max says, "that's the best way to clean a wool carpet!"
To me, the effect is lush, cozy, and charmingly unexpected—which is pretty standard for the work Max does with his partner Catherine Olasky at their firm Olasky & Sinsteden. "I have a rug I call the Party Carpet and I bring it with me anytime I do an outdoor party, formal or informal, BBQ or picnic," Max carries on. "Just as a rug helps define a space in a room, I find that a rug out next to the polo pitch or in a park gives your event boundaries and a focus." Christmas dinner in the back yard, anyone?