Eight tips on buying a rug

August 15, 2014 | Paul Brucker

People have been decorating their homes with rugs for at least 3,000 years. Rugs have the power to transform a room, changing the way the space looks and feels. When a rug works, it complements the color, tones and textures of the furnishings in it. When a rug is wrong for the space it occupies, it’s often painfully obvious.

Choosing the right rug is an art, according to Suzanne Sharp, owner of the London-based Rug Company. “A room will speak to you – you just have to listen,” she says. On a more practical note, she adds, the right rug “will unify a room. It will pull everything together and make it look calmer and tidier.” Fortunately, there is an abundance of high quality, affordable choices available.

Here are eight rules of thumb suggested by rug experts:

  1. Choose your furnishings, such as chairs and a sofa, before you choose your rug. Then you can select a rug with a pattern, color and size that suits your furniture.
  2. Typically, an area rug for a dining room, living room or master bedroom is 8’ x 10’. And for a kid’s bedroom, 5’ x 8’.
  3. If you have a multi-purpose room, area rugs can define the purposes. For example, it can indicate which part of the space is the dining room and which is the living room. The larger the rug, the larger the room will feel.
  4. Already have wall-to-wall carpeting in a room? A rug on top of that will give the space a more finished look. If you want to cover your whole floor with a single rug, get one that leaves an equal amount – preferably two feet – of exposed floor showing on all sides. For a 14’ x 18’ room, that means a 12’ x 16’ rug.
  5. Want to put a rug under your dining room table? Get one that’s large enough so that when you pull back the chairs, they are still sitting on the rug. Here’s a quick way to calculate the size: Measure the length and width of your table, then add four to four and a half feet to each measurement.
  6. For an entryway rug, swing your door open and measure the space from the entrance to the far edge of the opened door.
  7. For corridors or little rooms, consider a patterned design because it will make the space look a lot bigger.
  8. When it comes to rug fibers, the best by far is wool. It’s the boldest, strongest and longest lasting. Plus, it’s the most resilient to dirt from shoes and messes from pets. Expect to pay at least $10 per square foot for average quality wool. Wool lovers include John Kurtz, former host of the Art Underfoot TV show. “Wool has the capacity to develop its own patina through exposure to light and air and feet walking on it,” he says. “It’s like having a wonderful piece of wood furniture and rubbing your hand over it every day.”
    Synthetic rugs, made of nylon or polypropylene, are also great at repelling stains and water. Plus, they hold their color well. Cotton rugs, though more affordable, are likely to stain and wear out more easily. On the other hand, they can be easily cleaned in a large washing machine. The best rugs for sunrooms and outdoor use: plant-based fibers such as sisal, bamboo, hemp and jute. Though difficult to clean, they can withstand a few years of heavy use and provide a country getaway look. Fibers to avoid because they bleed, yellow and shed: Rayon and cellulose-based compounds. And what about silk? It’s better to mount those rugs as tapestries on the wall rather than to muddy them up underfoot. 

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