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Sturdy sisal is a natural for updated home decor

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," said 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 Walmart to designer stores. 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," said Washington designer Darryl Carter, who likes to use hemp flat-weaves under smaller antique rugs. "It's sort of like matting out a piece of art."

Suburban designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey is drawn to the cooler, grayer colors of natural fibers and prefers the chunkier weaves.

"They look updated," said Cavin-Winfrey, who is installing a greige thickly woven sisal in her family room.

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

Furber said 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," she said.

Many come with latex backings that don't require rug pads.

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