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Team of Experts Rolls Out Reproduction of Henry and Clara Ford's Sun Porch Rug

The installation of the recreated Sun Porch rug instantly transformed the room from staid to stunning.

Its palate of vibrant blues, rose beige and golden mustard, draws out the warmth of the room’s limestone walls and wood tones.

Add its dramatic arrangement including phoenix and a pride of Fu lions, and something about the rug beckons you to enter and, perhaps, asks you to stay. The hand-tufted rug really has a personality, a texture and richness that make you think it actually may be embroidered.

Replace or re-create?

When approaching the Sun Porch project, the team of curators, craftspeople and historians debated whether they should search for antiques to duplicate Henry and Clara Ford’s cozy space or recreate the items originally found there with modern materials and techniques. The initial discussion centered on whether such a rug could be found based on its age, size and quality. Beautiful Chinese rugs may be plentiful, but few matched the Fords’.

Estate caretakers, including Mark Heppner, Vice President for Historic Resources, brought in the rug specialists from venerable Michigan-based Hagopian to lend their expertise to the conversation. Ed and Suzanne Hagopian learned the business from their father, Edgar. Their knowledge of the industry, research capabilities and relationships with rug artisans provided the soundboard the Henry Ford Estate staff needed.

The Fair Lane team and the Hagopians decided they would need to recreate the rug based on historic photos, the Hagopians’ understanding of antique rugs of that era and the wealth of archival material the Henry Ford estate had compiled. They needed the new rug to be about 12 feet by 33 feet, made from wool and to reflect the Fords’ taste and style.

Color and design

The major challenge: The only photo initially available was black and white and showed less than half of the rug’s ornate pattern. The rug in the photo also had furniture scattered on it, further obscuring the design.

After a few design attempts, a second photograph culled from a 1951 auction catalogue offered a wealth of new detail, including the rug’s overall motifs. Ed Hagopian compared the moment he saw that image to waking up on Christmas morning. The photograph was the best kind of gift, Hagopian noted, in that it showed a larger portion of the rug.

“It was as if the rug’s DNA was revealed,” Ed Hagopian said.

That photo exposed another feature of the rug that surprised yet pleased the Hagopians. Those wriggling Fu lions that seem to dance across the rug’s surface show up in one corner but not another. The rug’s two mighty phoenixes – symbols of queens and royalty – faced two different directions rather than one uniform position. Also, the rug did not have any dragons, which also made it unusual for its era.

The next step was determining a color palette. One bit of detail from the March 1916 issue of Architecture magazine noted its tones of “imperial blue and yellow.” An auction catalogue’s description provided additional direction. It noted that the rug had a “mustard yellow field” with “brilliant deep blue tendrils” and “rose beige phoenix and peony motifs.” With this evidence, Suzanne Hagopian began to pull together a color story, understanding the era’s use of vegetable dyes. She also studied the antique rugs within her family’s collection, looking at century-old examples for inspiration.

Passion project

With the design and colors selected, the rug moved into its manufacturing phase. Vendors the Hagopians trusted began the process that took a record-setting four months to complete. Typically, such a project would take much longer, but the Fords’ rug became a passion project for all involved because of its weight and importance, Ed Hagopian said.

After a year of anticipation, the Hagopian crew brought the rug into its new home in September. A small crowd of a dozen people gathered outside the Sun Porch to watch the Hagopians lovingly install the rug inside the space, worrying whether its higher pile could clear the doorway to the outside landscape (it could) and if its asymmetrical size would provide it enough room to miss the radiator covers (it would). Standing back, Heppner, the Hagopians and the rug’s new admirers saw a sunny glow fill the space as the rug’s saturated hues warmed the room – for the first time in many decades.

After a year in the making, the Sun Porch rug’s re-creation and installation proved that old adage that it is the little things that make a house a home.

By Karen Dybis for the Henry Ford Estate