THE rug, once used as something to wipe dirt off shoes or to cover unattractive floorboards, has finally come into its own. With the exception perhaps of exquisite handmade specimens from Persia, Afghanistan, Iran and China, which are still used to grace marble floors or decorate plush carpets, rugs today are being made for a myriad uses and in prints that are far from traditional. 'I took mine to the beach recently to lie down on,' says Allan Jupp, an avid rug collector. 'People couldn't really understand it, but why not?' Why not, indeed, as Jupp's clients are beginning to find out. The director of Origin, a store specialising in unusual rugs, throws, table-mats and cushions from the US, often hands out a list of 101 'fabulous things' to do with a rug, many of which are light enough to have been designed as throws. They can be used as blankets, tablecloths, baby comforters, doormats, room-dividers, wall hangings, footrests or to cover a chaise longue. There is nothing boring or bland about today's rugs, as a quick look around Origin in Lyndhurst Terrace will prove: the prints are funky, fun or traditional, others highlight a particular passion. One features golf clubs and players woven into a bright green background, another has beer cans lined up in a row, a third has cherubic children surrounded by pink whales, wolves and farm animals. Made in the US by The Rug Barn, the 100 per cent cotton rugs are machine-washable. Available around the world, The Rug Barn canvasses the services of eminent designers. Prices in Hong Kong range from $500 to $700. 'They are popular because they are accessible, affordable and adaptable, so they can be used in the average household,' he says. To some extent, the same applies for the Picasso rugs stocked by a store by that name in Ocean Terminal. Handmade in wool in China, the designs on the unusually large and graphic rugs, which are often used as wall-hangings, are faithful reproductions of the finest work from the Spanish master. Each rug comes with a tiny plaque, certifying that the 'pattern . . . is a derivative of Pablo Picasso's artwork', according to the licensing agreement between Picasso (Hong Kong) Ltd and Picasso Creations Ltd in Los Angeles. Simon Fong, marketing and sales manager of the company in Hong Kong, says the colourful renderings were considered the best alternative to the inaccessible and, for the most part, unaffordable original works by the late artist. The most expensive rug in stock is just under $43,000. From Picasso's 10,000 or so completed works, an in-house team of designers selects the prints that would translate most effectively into rugs. Attention is paid to keeping the colours and proportions as close to the originals as possible. 'Some of his works are very complex in that they involve a lot of shading and facial expressions, which would be hard to reproduce in a woollen rug,' says Fong. Of the 35 styles in stock, the most popular are a reproduction from Picasso's Fundamentalism series, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which measures more than 61 square feet and costs $42,950, and landscape print Paysage de Juan-les-Pins, which is only two square feet and sells for just over $10,000. Purists may not appreciate the work of one of the greatest artists in history being reproduced in this rather pedestrian of ways. 'But we are not degrading his work at all. We are not selling these things for $1. We find many people appreciate his work. Some of our regular buyers come here because they know Picasso's work and want to own something of his. But others buy because they like the colours and prints,' says Fong. At Origin, the sun motif has been a big seller in the past couple of years and the sunflower design is popular. More unconventional designs include prints of piano keys, colourful butterflies, fat cats and scenes from the 'Monet's Garden' series. 'People think of original ways to use them: under a coffee table or as a bedspread for a queen-sized bed,' says Jupp. 'Before, people put a rug on the floor and left it there. Now, they're doing it differently.'