Choosing a new area rug is never a simple endeavor – there are so many rules and opinions, many of them conflicting, that it can be intimidating even to start the search. In this series, we’re going to take a thorough look at everything that goes into buying the perfect rug, from planning to purchase and everything in between, starting with all the information you need before you start looking.
The very first step in buying a new area rug is figuring out exactly what role the rug is going to be playing in your room. Good area rugs wear many hats, but prioritizing what your space needs most and keeping that in mind throughout the process will help you wind up with a rug you’ll be happier with in the long run. First and foremost, area rugs are there to soften (literally and figuratively) hard tile, wood, or concrete floors. They’re softer and warmer underfoot and can help prevent sound from echoing. But rugs can also be used to help define spaces, separating out a cluster of furniture or creating an intimate conversation area. Rugs can be used to cover up sub-par flooring, or even as a purely decorative statement piece.
If you primarily want an area rug to counteract your hard floors, you may wind up needing more than one in various sizes to keep all the major walkways in your house covered, while if you’re using one to visually unify a group of furniture, you probably will only need one large rug. If you’re using it to cover the flooring, the most important aspect will be the size, while with a more decorative rug the emphasis will be on the color, pattern, and material.
Once you’ve decided the why of the rug, it’s time to get out your measuring tape. There are specific guidelines for every room (which I’ll get into a bit more in part 2 of this series), but you want to have a solid idea of the dimensions of the space you want to put the rug in, as well as any furniture there. When covering the floors in more than one room, you want the rugs to be close enough to step between without touching. To create a conversation area, you want a rug that’s at least 6 inches wider on at least two sides (if not all four) than the widest piece of furniture – usually the sofa. For a very large area rug, you want to leave a 12″-18″ border of bare floor between the rug and all four walls, or, in a small room, about 6″-12″.
Unfortunately, most area rugs come in only a few standard sizes, which means these measurements will rarely be perfect – think of them more as a guideline. You should always round up to better fit the furniture, except when doing so would put the rug too close to the walls of the room. In a pinch, it’s okay to have only two legs of your furniture on the rug rather than all four, but having a rug that’s obviously too big or too small for the space is just a waste of money.
Opting for a slightly too small rug because it’s less expensive is probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a new rug. No matter how nice the rug, if it’s too small, it will never quite work with the space. If you realize you need a 9×12, instead of settling for a less expensive 8×10, wait until you can afford the bigger rug – it’ll be worth it in the long run to have a piece that really works with the space. Whenever possible, don’t let budget be a determining factor in the size of the rug you choose. Instead, shop around for less expensive materials or brand names to help make up for the extra cost of a larger rug.
Finally, don’t buy the first rug you see that you like. A big, expensive area rug is a relatively long term investment, so it’s important to shop around, both to get a good sense of what you like and to find the best combination of appearance, quality, and affordability. You’ll find the greatest variety online, from size and shape to material and style, but drop in on at least one physical store to actually touch and feel some of the options so you really know what you’re getting. If you fall in love with an expensive antique rug, keep in mind that many manufacturers produce faithful reproductions at a fraction of the price, so even if you’ve found a design you love, take some time to see if you can find a similar pattern and quality for a better price.
There are many more options out there for a rug that will fit your size, shape, style, and budget than almost any other piece for any of the living spaces in your home. But don’t let the wealth of options overwhelm you. Instead, think of them as a way to add a beautiful, customized touch to your living space that can last for many years to come. What are you looking for in a new area rug? For more information about choosing a new area rug, check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.