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.


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.