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Natural-fiber rugs, a staple of home decor

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Sisal rugs have become the jeans of home decor. You can dress them up, dress them down and layer them. And you can afford them.

“Sisal speaks to a casual lifestyle,” says Eileen Applebaum, Crate and Barrel’s product manager for rugs. “I think of rooms with sisal rugs and slipcovered sofas sort of like Gap’s khakis and T-shirts. It’s a utilitarian, casual basic that always looks great.”

Sisals, as well as cousins sea grass, jute and other natural-fiber rugs, have been around for centuries in tropical islands and country homes. In the 1980s, these crisp floor coverings showed up in America’s living rooms, stairways and foyers. They never left. Now, they are commonly found throughout the house and are sold at places from Wal-Mart to the Washington Design Center. Pottery Barn has versions that mix natural grasses with other fibers for strength and comfort. Crate and Barrel sells faux sisal made of polypropylene that can be hosed off, making it well-suited for kitchens and mudrooms.

Interior designers continue to evolve the earth-friendly look. “They are part of almost every job I do. They are a note of modern in a home,” says D.C. designer Darryl Carter. He likes to use hemp flat-weaves from Logan Circle’s Timothy Paul Carpets under smaller antique rugs. “It’s sort of like matting out a piece of art,” he says.

Alexandria designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey is drawn to the cooler, grayer colors of natural fibers these days. She prefers the chunkier weaves. “They look updated,” she says. Right now, she’s having a greige thickly woven sisal installed wall-to-wall in her family room. (She is using the Sunshade color from the Sun Sisal collection at Sisal Rugs Direct.)

Another plus: “They act as a great foundation throughout the year, not just the summer season,” says Laurie Furber, Pottery Barn’s senior vice president of merchandising. “They are cool and relevant for today’s home.”

Furber says the sisal rugs of the 1980s were different: very fine weaves that were rough on your feet and bad for bedrooms. “Now there are so many different fibers that people use to create these beautiful rugs. They are weaving in cotton, wool, chenille to make a very rough rug something very durable.” Many come with latex backings that don’t require rug pads.

Washington designers still recall the gasps in 1989 when Georgetown decorator Antony Childs lined the formal entrance hall and grand staircase of a gilded Embassy Row show house with black-bordered sisal carpet. Childs, an early adopter of natural-fiber rugs, told The Post at the time: “I like the idea of dressy furniture on something as rough and tough as sisal. It brings a traditional room into the 20th century.”

And even into the 21st.

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