How To Choose The Right Area Rug

We’re laying down the rules.

2019 Idea House Living Room
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Liz Strong

Much like a piece of art, the right area rug can completely change the look or layout of a room. Characteristics such as a rug's material, size, color, or shape will impact not only design but functionality as well. For example, if you have pets, a wool rug is better than a jute or sisal rug for hiding stains or drying after soils. A high-pile rug is comfier underfoot than a low pile. A rug pad isn't just a nice suggestion, it's a requirement for maintaining the longevity of both the rug and the flooring underneath. And the list of what you need to know goes on from there. Use this comprehensive outline to serve as your go-to rug guide for years to come.

Before Investing

As you start rug window shopping, experts recommend that you consider your lifestyle and needs first and foremost. A foyer rug is likely to receive more wear and tear than a formal dining room rug. Likewise, a luxurious, high pile rug is more appropriate for a primary bedroom while a low pile rug is best suited for a dining room for cleaning food spills. If you're replacing a rug, consider if you are seeking a new, updated look or want to keep things traditional. Having a clear path will help you stay on track and not get overwhelmed with the options.

Rug Style and Patterns

For rug styles and patterns, you're no longer limited to traditional options. There machine washable rugs like those from Dash and Albert. There are rugs with a cause like those by Georgia-based Enkay. There are monogram rugs like those from June St. George in Raleigh. And there are traditional rugs like those from Birmingham's Hazel House. Each of these rug types speaks to a different interior decor personality and need. "One of the largest surface areas in a home is the floor, and it is often a missed opportunity to express yourself," says June St. George founder, Ally-Catherine Trenary whose custom rug line showcases motifs such as monograms, bows, and other custom symbols. Don't be scared to be playful in your choice.

layering rugs October 2022 crop
Laurey W. Glenn

Rug Materials and Colors

You might hear rugs described as being made of natural fibers. Those materials include bamboo, cotton, jute, silk, or wool. Founder and CEO of Enkay, Asha Chaudhary says, "Natural fibers are a great option for consumers who want durable products that are made with sustainable practices. Their neutral tones with subtle variations provide a great foundation for any space and serve as a clean slate to layer materials and aesthetics."

Synthetic materials are well cushioned, fade resistant, low maintenance, and budget friendly. Synthetic rugs are a good option for homes with small children and pets because they don't require a huge upfront investment, but Elizabeth Lee of Hazel House in Birmingham eloquently explains, "Rugs are not fragile; I've heard people say they'll wait to invest in a rug until their children are grown. Trust me; you'll throw away 15 Target rugs compared to one really nice, well made wool rug."

Rug Pile and Weave

Lee also says, a rug's weave and pile are an important part of the selection process, and like any expert, she has her favorites. Lee is particularly drawn to Persian rugs, "You just can't beat the craftsmanship of a Persian rug. Now, I love a Turkish rug, too, and I sell them every day, but the weaving of a Persian rug is so tight and so specific that they will last hundreds and hundreds of years." Low pile rugs are more durable and are easier to clean whereas a long pile rug will feel extra soft underneath your feet.

Dining room with oriental rug
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Barbara Schmidt

Rug Cost and Size

With all of these different piles, materials, purposes, and styles, how do you prepare your budget and your space? If a rug is handmade, that means each part of rug making process must be completed by human hands. Of course, a handmade rug is going to be a bit more of an investment piece, but it is likely to last longer, too. In addition to how a rug is made, the materials and size will also affect the overall cost.

Betsy Berry, principal designer at B. Berry Interiors in Charleston breaks down a few tricks of the trade for selecting and measuring for rugs:

  1. Using the room as a guide, make sure that the rug is approximately 4 to 6 inches away from the wall all the way around.
  2. For a living room, Berry advises floating the seating area to the center of the space for intimacy, so the rug should contain all the furniture, including front and back legs of each piece.
  3. To get an accurate measurement, use painters tape to measure the perimeter of the space where you'd want the rug. This extra step will give you a rough estimate of the size rug you'll need.

As with any other home furnishings, Trenary says, "The most important rule of design is to make it something you love." And that most definitely includes rugs.

The Right Rug By Room

Christin Terrell of Birmingham-based Kings House Rugs advises to look for high-quality rugs that last. "A well-made, wool flat weave, whether vintage or new, tends to be budget-friendly, practical for many spaces."

Traditional decorating advice says to anchor rooms with rugs that fill the room except for a one to two-foot perimeter of bare floor. Luckily Terrell has caught up to the times of the open floor plan. Rugs are crucial to create separate spaces. Avoid cutting into the walkways between the living, dining, and kitchen. Treat rugs within an open floor space as a collection that works together rather than trying to match them.

The Living Room

While it's best to fill as much of a larger room as possible (as pictured above), that can be cost prohibitive. Instead, think about your seating areas, and find several rugs that will anchor those. For added interest, float one small patterned rug atop a larger floor covering in sisal or seagrass.

Living Room Rug Placement
Ellen Antworth

The Dining Room

Eating spaces typically offer the least flexibility for rugs, since the objective here is to have something that grounds the room and ties the table and chairs together. To find the best size for your set, measure your table and add 4 feet to both its length and width to accommodate pulled-out chairs. No one wants to fall off the rug when they're sitting at the table.

Dining Room Rug Placement
Ellen Antworth

The Bedroom

Bedrooms generally demand large square rugs underneath the bed while leaving room on the sides and at the foot so you can step onto something cushy in the morning. If that's out of budget, however, consider going for a matching collection of smaller rugs or runners on each side of the bed. For smaller spaces in your home, choose a rug that fits the space. Often times, the room will feel more open and offers a generous base layer to build on.

Bedroom Rug Placement Options
Ellen Antworth
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