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Identifying Common Rug Designs

Design by Amber Interiors | Photo by Jess Issac

Understanding the design of your rug can help you determine whether it was made in a booming city, a quiet village, or along a road by a nomadic tribe, and the designs and motifs offer some interesting insight into the lives of the artisans who created it. I've given a primer for identifying a rug's origins here and in my Instagram stories, but let's dive a little deeper into the specific design elements found in vintage rugs and antique rugs.

There are five common rug designs, but I will focus most heavily on the two types that I most often source.

Five Common Rug Designs:

  • all-over design
  • medallion design
  • pictorial 
  • tree of life
  • prayer


living room with vintage rug

Design by Kate Marker Interiors | Photo by Margaret Rajic

All-over Design

All-over design is a broad category that includes repeating and symmetrical designs. Evelyn and Laurel are good examples of rugs with a small-scale repeating pattern, a design I source often for my shop. This category includes rugs that have a repeating lattice design, where a singular motif is enclosed within a lattice-type pattern over and over again across the rug. See Simone for an example.

entry with vintage rug

Design by Studio McGee | Photo by Lucy Call


Medallions are extremely common across vintage rug styles. Sometimes soft and floral (like Blythe and Daphne) and other times more angular and geometric (such as Beatrice or Staci) they most commonly depict a symmetrical design inspired by the lotus flower. The most common example of a concentric medallion is the Heriz rug.

One medallion style that you will likely recognize is Shah Abbasi, a small central diamond medallion with corresponding designs in all four corners (Bronte and Kora are good examples). Medallions can also be found in linear patterns, such as Colette and Mira.


Pictorial rugs are not often found in decorative shops like mine, but they are gorgeous examples of rugs that depicted people, vivid gardens, and hunting scenes and are prized by collectors worldwide. They are also common in tapestries.

Tree of Life

Tree of life imagery is sometime incorporated in miniature form into other rug styles, or it can be the inspiration for the entire field. The tree of life is thought to symbolize immortality and "the bridge between paradise: the world of men, and the world above."


Prayer rugs typically come in smaller sizes, 3x5-5x7 and are unidirectional. Their designs indicate where the worshipper would have place his or her head, and sometimes their hands, too.

I hope this offered some insight into the different patterns and motifs of vintage rugs. If you would like assistance finding a particular motif or style, be sure to check out my custom sourcing service.