Area Rug DOs and DON’Ts

Area Rug DOs and DON’Ts

An area rug’s purpose in life is two-fold: (A) to define a space, and (B) to enhance your decor. Before we get into our list of Area Rug DOs and DON’Ts, let’s break down these two roles.

How does an area rug define a space? An area rug says, “This group of furniture belongs together.” It unifies whatever furnishings are placed upon it. If you have a multipurpose room, an area rug can help you designate between functional zones, as in, “this rug defines the living room and this rug defines the dining room.” The size of an area rug also helps to define a space–the larger your area rug, the larger your room feels (and vice versa).

How can an area rug enhance your decor? It’s an opportunity to bring in colors or patterns that coordinate with the rest of your furnishings. An area rug is one of those details that makes your room’s decor feel “finished.” It can also help warm up or soften hard surfaces like wood and tile flooring, which can come off looking and feeling cold underfoot.

So now that we know why you should incorporate an area rug into a room’s decor, let’s talk DOs and DON’Ts!

Area Rug DOs and DON’Ts

DO use appropriately-sized area rugs. As noted above, the size of your rug is immensely important, because it conveys the approximate size of the room. How do you know what size to get? Let’s use a living room as an example. Some designers advocate having all of your furniture sitting within the outer perimeter of a rug, but my preference is to have just the front legs of your seating pieces on top of the rug. By letting the rug run beneath the furniture, the implication in your mind’s eye is that the rug continues indefinitely, and therefore, your space feels larger.

Living room designed by Room Fu. Photo by Suzi Q. Varin / Q Weddings.

Living room designed by Room Fu. Photo by Suzi Q. Varin / Q Weddings.

Living room designed by Kim Myles. Photo courtesy of HGTV.

In a master bedroom, the typical placement of the rug is to run it beneath the bottom two-thirds of the bed, perpendicular to the bed.  You want your area rug to be large enough that you can step down onto it when you get out of bed.

Master bedroom designed by Room Fu.

Bedroom designed by London Furniture And Accessories Imagine Living, via Houzz.

Children’s bedrooms can be a little different if you have a twin-sized bed on one side of the room. In this case, I usually place a 5’x8′ rug beside the bed.

Girl’s bedroom designed by Room Fu.

The vast majority of living rooms, dining rooms and master bedrooms will require an 8’x10′ rug. Children’s bedrooms typically accommodate a 5’x8′ rug.

DON’T use a “postage stamp” rug. An area rug is not meant to anchor a coffee table. It’s meant to anchor an entire living room furniture arrangement. So when you use an itty-bitty rug in a large seating group, it will look dwarfed in its surroundings.

The beige rug is well-sized. The magenta rug on top of it–that commands so much attention that it is the rug that defines the space–is too small in proportion to the furniture.

This postage stamp rug looks like a bath mat next to such a grand bed.

DO think about what areas may be obscured by your furniture if you’re considering a patterned rug. If you want to use a rug with an all-over repeat pattern, you’re pretty safe, as there will be a consistent view of the pattern peeking out from around the furniture. The trick to using a rug with a larger, more asymmetrical design is to use it with furniture that has a more delicate or open/airy frame.

DON’T hide special parts of your rug with big, bulky furniture.

A bulky coffee table and a large patterned rug don't mix.

DO mix patterns of different proportions. If your curtains or a chair in the space features a print, you can absolutely still have a patterned rug. You just want to pick a rug with a pattern that is obviously different in scale than the other textiles sitting on or around it.

Another great trick is to make one of the patterned elements striped.

 

DON’T shy away from custom options. Square shaped rugs are hard to find, as are off-standard sized rugs. If you think you have to settle for a too-small or too-large rug in your space, think again. FLOR tiles are one affordable option for DIYing a custom rug, and they come in a wide variety of colors, patterns and textures. Since they’re modular, you can create whatever size and shape rug you want–you can even cut the individual tiles if you need to. FLOR tiles are 19.7″ square, so I usually divide my ideal rug length and width by 20″ to figure out how many tiles I’ll need to create the area rug I’m after. An 8’x10 rug = 5 x 6 rows = 30 tiles.

Rugs made out of FLOR tiles.

You can also have a carpet dealer create an area rug for you out of carpet. There are some really wonderful, modern options in patterned carpet out there, so I’m not talking standard frieze here!

An example of wall-to-wall carpet that would make a great area rug. Designed by David Hicks, photo via Wall Street Journal.

DO select your seating before your rug. As a general rule, you’ll keep your sofa and chairs far longer than any rug, so they take priority in the purchasing cycle. Make sure you have those pieces nailed down before you start looking for rugs. There are an infinite number of rugs in the world but only a few sofas you will actually want in your home that fit within your space and budget. Once you know what those pieces are going to look like, you can move on to things like rugs and window treatments. For more help with this type of question, see this blog post on what order is best for making selections.

Don’t leave living room wood or tile flooring bare. Yes, having a rug makes every living room seating arrangement look better. And sound better. And feel better. As mentioned earlier, a rug in a living room is one of those don’t-miss details that makes a room look finished. Rugs absorb sound and therefore make a room quieter–a hugely important factor for those of you with kiddos running around at high decibels. Rugs also feel warmer underfoot than wood or tile, and generally feel cushier if you’re lounging on the floor. Even if you already have carpet, I would still add a rug to your living room furniture arrangement. It goes back to my point about defining the space.

DO use a flat rug in your dining space. Your dining room is one of those areas where I totally relate to anyone who says they don’t want a rug in their dining area because they have kids who spill everything within a ten foot radius of their little baby mouths while they’re eating. But if you have a formal dining space that doesn’t get used as often, I encourage you to incorporate a flat rug–like a dhurrie, kilim or FLOR tiles. I wouldn’t rule out a wool rug in the dining room, but these flatter options will be easier to clean.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to every rule. Here are a few instances where you can sneak around the rules:

Budget. In this example, I was helping a client furnish his guest bedroom. When I saw this $20 runner at IKEA, it seemed like a great way to shave a little money off the budget (a guest bedroom is a good place to scrimp a little) and still work a bit more color into the space. Using a runner near a bed is a good way to save money, but using a 5’x8′ rug when you really need an 8’x10′ rug in a living room–this is not the way to go about saving money.

Guest bedroom and home office designed by Room Fu.

Guest bedroom and home office, designed by Room Fu.

Carpeted rooms. Already have wall-to-wall carpet in the space? Then you don’t necessarily need to put a rug on top, although it does give you a more finished look.

Good Resources for Rugs

Overstock Be sure and check out reviews! Sometimes colors are way off from computer monitor to computer monitor, so read what previous buyers have to say. If no reviews exist, look for the same rug in a doormat or 2’x3′ size if you want to test the waters first. It doesn’t cost as much to return, so this beats the heck out of ordering a 50-lb. 8’x10′ and then hating it when you see it in person!

Home Goods As with everything at Home Goods, this store is hit-and-miss. If at first you don’t succeed in finding something in the size and style you like, try, try again. Their merchandise turns quickly and they get new stuff all the time.

West Elm Great place to get modern and interesting rugs. Don’t forget to hit their “sale” link as well as their “rugs” link, as they don’t always merge their sale items into their other sections.

Crate & Barrel – Another good spot for finding modern options. Ditto regarding the sale link.

Tuesday Morning – They’ve had some great options lately, if you’re looking for smaller-sized rugs like a 5’x8′. We’ll be posting pics tomorrow of some goodies spotted there recently.

FLOR A favorite, especially for our clients with kids and pets.

Lamps Plus – Believe it or not, they carry much more than lighting.

Outlet Stores – We routinely find $200 8’x10′ wool rugs at West Elm’s outlet store. Ditto with other retail chains.

If you need help selecting the right rugs and furnishings in your own home, Room Fu can help you! Call or text us at (512) 797-5821 to speak with a black belt in bad ass design and to schedule an in-home consultation.

Disclosure: Robin Callan is a paid blogger for West Elm parent company, William-Sonoma. Read her interviews with celebrity designers and articles on the design industry at their Designer Marketplace website.

78 Comments

  1. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:18 am

    BC, orange and blue are complimentary colors, so they make a very dramatic color combination. That said, there are shades of both that work better and worse with each other. I’d go for it if you like the two rugs’ colors together (even if they aren’t visible next to each other, they ought to work well together to maintain good flow). You might also want to include some of that blue in the back room and some of the orange in the front.

  2. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Thanks, Jeff! If your dining room is formal, I wouldn’t worry too much about the traffic flow in/out of that doorway (although you don’t want to prevent anyone from using it). I would keep the access point from the entry pretty open–this creates a more inviting feeling.

  3. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Michelle, if you have small children, I would avoid an all-ivory rug completely. There are advantages to having minimal contrast between the sofa and rug–you create a zen-like feeling with this sort of monochromatic combination and you have the freedom to bring in pops of color in your pillows and accessories on the coffee table.

  4. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Cathy, it is hard to say based on a verbal description of the space. If you are still confused about what to do in this room (I’m sorry I’ve been lax in responding to all of these inquiries, I’m no longer actively blogging), you might consider having us do a spaceplan of your great room. It would probably take 1-1.5 hours for us to create (rates: https://roomfu.com/rates/) and it would not only include recommendation on rug size/position, it would also feature all recommended elements in the space, such as side tables and floor/table lamps. All we would need from you are some photos of the space and your existing furniture, plus detailed measurements of every part of the room. I’m not trying to put the hard sell on you…I just can’t offer a recommendation on the size of a rug with any certainty without actually mapping everything out to scale. Contact us here (https://roomfu.com/contact-info/) if you’re interested, to get started.

  5. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Hi Abby, great looking rug! Have you considered FLOR tiles? They are very kid-friendly and easy to replace one tile in the unlikely event that your kiddo ends up ruining one. Check out http://www.flor.com

  6. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Paula, you do want to put your front furniture legs on the rug, if at all possible. I wouldn’t worry about dents in the rug unless you’re prone to moving the furniture around a lot. If you’re like me and the furniture stays where it is for a while, you won’t ever see the dents. You can also minimize those dents using this trick: http://www.wikihow.com/Remove-Furniture-Dents-from-Carpet

  7. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:35 am

    In all cases, there may not be a perfect solution, but typically this off-centered-ness doesn’t really bug me. It’s better than the postage stamp rug, by all means 🙂

  8. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Ashley, I wouldn’t hesitate to put a rug on top of carpet, but a low pile rug won’t stay put in this situation, so the heavier the rug, the better it will stay anchored in place.

  9. Robin September 9, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Allyson, see my note to Cathy above if you’re interested in getting our recommendations for rug sizes. In terms of color, you have a lot of neutrals in the dining room and den/TV space, so you have great opportunities for color, especially yellows and grays if you want to unify all of these spaces. Another off-palette color would give you a nice pop (navy? teal? eggplant?). If you aren’t such a huge fan of color, I’d focus on texture and/or contrast.

  10. Ligy September 28, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Hi Robin, thanks for the tips…its so helpful to us who dont know much about decorating but would still love to have that awesome look. I am buying my first home, and very excited about it. I finally decided on a rich merlot ( more like deep coffee brown color) plain leather sofa set, and would like your expertise suggestion on how to chose the perfect rug. There are so many colors and designs that I get overwhelmed.I know I should go with a light color rug, but dont know where to go after that. could you please suggest what kind of design/pattern/ color to go with the sofa. And by the way its maple hardwood floor. Thank you

  11. Carol October 11, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I have a den that is 19 ft. X 10 in. Long and 13 ft. Wide and a centered fireplace juts out 21 inches into the room on an outside wall. I have a sofa 7 ft. and love seat 5ft. with bookshelves behind the loves seat.
    I would like to know if a 5ft. 7 in. by 7 ft. fits the room or am I better off with an 8 by 10 ft. 5in. area rug.
    I’d appreciate your help in deciding!
    Thanks,
    Carol

  12. JoAnn Knott November 17, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I was reading the article of Area Rugs DO’s and DON’Ts and found it quite helpful but had a question. Upon entering my home, there is a kitchen to the left and to the right is a hallway leading to bathrooms and bedrooms, and stairs leading up to a loft, bath and additional bedroom. I have a combination dining/living room area about 14′ x 20′. The visual from the foyer is the stairs, dining room pass thru, living room and glass back door leading to the deck. I have placed a finished piece of carpet 6′ x 8′ in the living room area in front of the sofa and matching runners in the hallways(the carpet is carved and solid in color). The rest of the floors are completely bare so it looks a little unbalanced. Question is, do you think an area rug in the foyer, below the stairs and at the back door would balance things out. I tried it with some old rugs and thought it pulled everything together, however, I’m not certain if an area rug at the bottom of the stairs is appropriate. If so, how do I determine the size? Also, I was thinking of having the area rugs made from the same carpeting used in the living room and hallways. I am not a bold person and like things fairly simple and neutral. Your opinions or ideas would be appreciated.

  13. Allison June 22, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Hi. I have a question about area rugs and runners. Are you still there, answering questions?

  14. Shannon August 5, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Hello! I am redecorating my home office. I have all black and silver furniture. I am painting the walls a light gray with white trim and have darker hardwood floors. I want to get a rug to put in the middle of the office. No furniture will be on it (I don’t think). I am nervous about buying my first rug online without being able to see it. I don’t have to worry about color matching given its all black. I am torn between these two rug options (http://www.overstock.com/#/9913432/product.html) – Aqua and gray. I think the Aqua will pop more, but I think I like the gray better. My main concern with going with gray is with gray walls it will get lost in a sea of gray. Any advice on choosing colors?

  15. Robin September 15, 2015 at 10:23 am

    I would definitely go with the aqua. All gray with no accent color = sad 🙁

  16. Robin September 15, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Not often, I’m afraid, but if you’re not on a strict timetable, feel free to leave your question here.

  17. Charlotte Della Vecchia September 21, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Hello, My master bedroom is 13×16 and I just had hardwood floors installed. I would like to purchase an area rug for the room. I have a king size bed and was thinking about an 8×10 rug for under the bed. After placing all the furniture back in the room I discover my desk chair legs would be in the way of the rug. (no other place to put desk). What is another option? Would smaller rug around the bed look ok? I would appreciate any advice on placement of rugs in a bedroom.

  18. MissTangieSings September 28, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for this write up! This is my first house with hardwood floors. I don’t have a clue about rugs but now, I feel empowered!

  19. Danielle October 4, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Hi Robin! I am in desperate need of rug help! I have the most fabulous teal wingback accent chairs (http://www.worldmarket.com/product/mobile/pacific+blue+elliott+wingback+chair.do). The website says they are Pacific Blue, but after getting them home…they are a deep, rich teal. My couch is the color “Chex” which I would consider beige (http://www.havertys.com/furniture/caroline-sofa). As seen at he website, my couch has 5 pillows…two solid brown, two with a brown, teal, and gold paisley pattern, and a small lumbar pillow (that I don’t use because the color is off). My living room also had an espresso colored entertainment center and recliner. I have a metal, muted gold coffee table with a glass top. I purchased a white garden stool to sit between the teal accent chairs which also feature white, furry lumbar pillows. Finally, the painting above my couch features white birch trees with teal, gold, and rust foliage (http://www.pier1.com/Birch-Trees-Art—Teal/2973885,default,pd.html?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PLA&utm_campaign=google_pla&utm_content=2973885&s_cid=pla0000003&s_kwcid=AL!4347!3!46548599837!!!g!158671593197!&gclid=CP6c9IqNqcgCFZQdgQod83UPHw&ef_id=Vb3NVAAAAZCNNfw1:20151004151157:s). So, with all that said…I was thinking of using a rust and ivory geometric patterned area rug to pull in the beige couch, the paisley throw pillows, the teal chairs, my gold accents, and the rust in the painting. I would also add rust pillows to the couch. Is this a smart design choice or am I way off? Please help!!! Here is the rug: http://www.overstock.com/#/9442180/product.html. THANK YOU!!! Ps. Great article!!!

  20. Britt October 8, 2015 at 9:34 am

    I am an attorney and I am putting together my first office. I am wondering about the proper placement of a rug underneath my desk, and in the office space in general. Should I get a rug that can span from underneath my chair, behind the desk, to past the sitting chairs on the opposite side of my desk? Or, should the end of the rug be placed underneath the middle of the desk (somewhat like in a bedroom) and similarly, span past the sitting chairs on the opposite side of my desk. My office is 11’8″ x 13’8″ and the top of my desk is 6’10” x 3’x7″. Thank you for any help you can lend!

  21. Robin October 14, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Hi Britt, I would keep the rug on the seating area side (with the front legs of the desk landing on the rug as well). This way you don’t have to deal with rolling your desk chair on it, which isn’t always easy, even with a shorter pile. Good luck with your new endeavor!

  22. Robin October 14, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Blue & orange (or in this case, teal and rust) is one of my favorite color combos. I’d go for it. You’ll end up with a dynamic space that looks and feels happy 🙂

  23. Robin October 14, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Excellent!

  24. Robin October 14, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Charlotte, I wouldn’t do anything less than an 8×10 with a king size bed. Don’t worry about the desk–err on the side of making your bed the feature in the bedroom.

  25. Patty October 18, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Hello Charlotte,

    We have a living area with shades of brown,gold with a little maroon in a chair. The carpet is a brownish gold. This is a living room with a dinette off to the side. I just need an area rug to make the room pop a little. Just outside the area in a hall we have a small red Persian rug. I am confused on the color and size. I know the information is not much to
    work with. Any help would be appreciated..

  26. Robin October 21, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Hi Patty, I would definitely run with maroon or red in the rug. Size-wise, I don’t have enough to go on to actually give you a definitive recommendation, but most LRs work best with an 8×11 rug. You want all front legs of the furniture on the rug, so measure it out in your space and make sure that will work for you or if you need something smaller/larger.

  27. Maria October 26, 2015 at 12:04 am

    hi! i wanted a rug for my home office b/c my rolling chair was sliding all over the place- i bought an 8 x 8 lovely blue wool rug, but now it’s MUCH harder to move my chair…. i really wanted to stick with wool b/c it’s such a superior material…what should i do? sad.

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