For several decades in the 20th century, wall-to-wall carpeting was the modern standard of luxury and comfort for most homes. Many of us have lived in a home featuring powder blue Saxony, avocado shag, or beige Berber at one point or another. But with the return of hardwood floors—along with the rise of tile, cork, and concrete alternatives—area rugs have once again become a key design element. Aesthetically, they anchor your furniture, define a space, and set the tone of the room. Practically, they provide warmth, soften acoustics, and protect the floor from wear and tear.
If you’ve been eyeing an outdated or worn-out area rug for a while now, chances are you’re still trying to figure out what you want next, and what will work in your space. With so many options out there, where do you start? Here, some local experts weigh in with a few tips and guidelines to help you find the right rug for your space.
Measure Your Space
Let’s begin with size. Cindy Adams, co-owner of Carpet Plus, advises that you should always measure your room before shopping. She suggests leaving about 18 inches of exposed floor around the perimeter of your room. “Keep in mind, too, that a larger rug can make the room feel larger,” she says.
When placing furniture on the rug, in a family room for example, the front legs of the sofa should rest on the rug. Sometimes the furniture can sit entirely on the rug, especially if the seating is centered in a large room. In dining rooms, Adams says to make sure the rug is large enough for all of the chair legs to sit comfortably on the rug, even when the chairs are pulled out. This amounts to about 2 ½ to 3 feet from the table edge. In bedrooms, Adams suggests, “You can place smaller rugs along the sides and foot of the bed, or one large rug—placed horizontally—under the bed while still exposed at the foot and sides.” If using one rug next to a twin bed, try a 5 by 8-foot rug for a good fit.
Consider Color and Pattern
The most obvious feature of an area rug can also be the trickiest for many shoppers. More than anything else, color and pattern can establish the feeling of a space. Adams says, “Lighter colors can make a room seem more spacious, while darker colors can give a room a cozier atmosphere.” If your room already has bold patterns on the furniture or walls, she advises sticking with a subtly patterned rug. Or a solid neutral can work well by providing a resting place for the eye. If you want to mix patterns in the rug with other textiles in the room, make sure you vary the scale so that patterns complement, not compete. A good guideline is to have one large, one medium, and one small pattern in a room. Repeating a color or motif will help tie your rug to other room elements.
While Adams notes that current trends include bold patterns, geometric shapes, and dramatic colors such as purple and orange, she advises following your instinct and personal taste. “An area rug is an investment that you will have for a long time. You don’t want to buy something that will go out of fashion before next year,” she says. Oriental rugs are, of course, classic, and flat-weave rugs including kilims and dhurries have become increasingly popular in recent years, showing no sign of fading away.
Find Your Fiber
It’s important to know what a rug is made of and whether it will fit both your lifestyle and your space. For example, a natural-fiber rug like jute or sisal can look terrific in a living area, imparting a clean, modern feel and wonderful texture, but would you enjoy it in your bedroom, where it’s the first thing your bare toes touch when you get out of bed in the morning? Also, how much traffic does your space get? Do you have young children, or pets? If so, durability and ease of care will need to be considered. Flat weave rugs, with their dense construction, handle wear and tear better than pile, and are easier to keep clean. A high pile rug will be soft to sit on and give your room a cozy, luxurious feel, but will show footprints and so might be better suited for a less-traveled area. Rugs constructed with loop fibers (like Berber) are not a good choice if they will be in contact with things that snag, such as pets’ claws or children’s toys.
Brad Ostrowski, of Floors Are Us, says that while it’s helpful to do preliminary research online to get a general sense of what you’re looking for, there’s no substitute for seeing the real thing in person. “Actually seeing and feeling a sample is the only way to ensure you’ve made the right choice,” he says. This is one shopping decision in which it’s hard to beat physically laying your hands on the goods.
Consider too, the dreaded stain factor. Adams says that most modern fibers are treated with a stain protectant, but points out other caveats to consider. “Wool is naturally stain-resistant and is great for wearability and color, but keep in mind that wool is not a continuous filament fiber so it does ‘shed.’ The shedding will decrease after the rug is regularly vacuumed for a few months.”
Determine Your Budget
Last but by no means least, your budget will usually help narrow down the field considerably. Are you looking for something affordable to get you through a few seasons, or a timeless piece to enjoy for years? A hand-knotted Oriental rug is an investment piece, and it’s not uncommon for designers to purchase such a rug first and choose furniture to match. Hand-woven and wool rugs are naturally going to be pricier, while machine-made synthetic alternatives are easier on the wallet and a great way to enjoy trends without overspending.
Once you’ve made your decision, Ostrowski reminds us of a detail that’s tempting to overlook. “Pick up a non-skid pad to keep the rug from sliding, and also to protect your wood floor from dirt being ground through the carpet,” he says.
Use these parameters to help make your choice, but remember that ultimately, you should buy something you enjoy looking at and feeling beneath your feet. If you buy what you love, it’s hard to go wrong!