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Choosing A New Area Rug Part 2: Rules For Every Room

When it comes to choosing a new area rug, there are so many guidelines, opinions, and tidbits of advice out there that the prospect of buying one can feel much more daunting than it actually is. This series aims to collect and distill some of the conventional wisdom about how to find the perfect rug. Today, I’m taking it room by room and taking a look at the rules that apply to buying an area rug for a specific space.

Living Room

Having all your furniture entirely on the rug gives the whole set a cohesive, intimate appearance you won't get from any other setup (by Heather Garrett Design)
Having all your furniture entirely on the rug gives the whole set a cohesive, intimate appearance you won’t get from any other setup (by Heather Garrett Design)

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The living room is easily the most difficult room to pair with an area rug for the simple reason that all living rooms are different – both in size and shape and in terms of what furniture you’re using. There’s also more than a little disagreement between designers about the “right” way to do it. That said, the first thing you need to do is figure out the dimensions of the space and the furniture that will be sitting on the rug. You want the rug to be oriented to the room, so the rug is longest where the room is longest and the two flow together. It should also large enough for your main cluster of furniture to be at least partially on top of it, and at least six inches wider than your sofa on both sides. In a larger room, you probably won’t have to worry about a border along the edge of the room, but in a smaller space, you want to make sure you have 18 inches of floor showing all the way around the room.

You can get away with centering a small, colorful or boldly patterned rug underneath your coffee table, but unless it will fit at least half way underneath your sofa, keep the other feet off it!
You can get away with centering a small, colorful rug underneath your coffee table, but unless it will fit at least half way underneath your sofa, keep everything but the table off it!

Now, the big debate when it comes to rugs in the living room is: feet on, feet off, or half on/half off, but there isn’t really one definitive right way (though don’t tell anyone I said so!). Placing all your furniture completely on the rug creates a clearly defined conversation area. Having only the front two feet on leaves the area more loosely associated. A half on/half off style generally works better when the sofa is closer to the wall (as it’s a little harder to tell that it doesn’t go all the way back), but in a larger space it can make the rug look undersized. And remember, “half on” means the rug is at least half way under the sofa, not that the feet are just barely touching – a rug where all your furniture only barely fits will simply look too small. Many designers pooh-pooh the idea of having a small (“postage stamp”) rug centered beneath the coffee table and not touching any of the other furniture, but this is an option if you’re on a tight budget, and can add a nice splash of visual interest. Above all, though, it’s important to be consistent: whatever you decide to do, make sure all your furniture has the same number of feet on the rug, and that they’re spaced more or less the same distance in; it’ll help make the arrangement look more intentional.

Great Room

The area rugs in this wide, open greatroom keep each group of furniture from feeling adrift, while the matching color schemes of the rugs help give the whole space a unified appearance (by Rodriguez Studio Architecture)
The area rugs in this wide, open great room keep each group of furniture from feeling adrift, while the matching color schemes of the rugs help give the whole space a unified appearance (by Rodriguez Studio Architecture)

If choosing a rug is a bit problematic for your average living space, in a very large great room or other big, undivided space like a loft, it’s positively imperative. Because there aren’t walls to divvy up your space, you have to rely entirely on area rugs to do the job. Each rug should define its own space, usually a main living room set, a separate conversation or game area, and maybe a dining space. Ideally here you want all your furniture to sit entirely on top of the rug, leaving  several inches of floor visible between each rug. Exactly how much space will depend on the constraints of the room, of course, but this small gap helps keep each zone distinct. That said, look for rugs in the same general color scheme. They don’t have to be the same rug or even in matching patterns, but carrying variations of the same color throughout each zone of a great room will give the whole space a nice visual unity.

Bedroom

Tucking part of the rug underneath the bed creates enough overlap on both sides to guard against chilly morning floors (by Laura Michaels, photo by John Neitzel)
Tucking part of the rug underneath the bed creates enough overlap on both sides to guard against chilly morning floors (by Laura Michaels, photo by John Neitzel)

The main purpose of having an area rug in the bedroom is to create a buffer between a cold, hard floor and your toasty warm feet first thing in the morning. But a small rug on the side of the bed looks a little too much like a bath mat – they’re fine if you need the pure functionality, but if you can afford it, a larger rug is always better. Ideally, you want to lay the rug about 2/3 of the way underneath your bed, with about 2 feet of overhang on all sides. This will put the edge of the rug right where your feet go when you get out of bed and create a U of safe, warm, cushiness all the way around the bed, all while giving your bed a grand appearance. Unfortunately, this means most of your rug will be underneath the bed, and for a king sized bed you’ll likely need a large, 8×10 rug. If that isn’t in your budget, consider opting for multiple long runner-style rugs (rather than small postage stamp rugs) to border the edges of the bed or in strips underneath it and at the foot of the bed.

Dining Room

There's nothing worse than your chair leg catching on the edge of your dining table rug, so be sure to add a few extra inches in every direction to account for it (by Lilium Designs, photo by Dane Wirtzfeld)
There’s nothing worse than your chair leg catching on the edge of your dining table rug, so be sure to add a few extra inches in every direction to account for it (by Lilium Designs, photo by Dane Wirtzfeld)

Adding an area rug to a dining room is a necessary evil. Really nice floors – especially hardwood floors – can easily be damaged when dining chairs are repeatedly dragged over them, and putting a simple rug underneath the table and chairs is one of the best ways to prevent this from happening. But chair legs can easily get caught on the edges of rugs that are too small – a petty but perpetual frustration you and your guests will have to live with if you measure wrong. Dining rooms are also a high spill-risk area, which isn’t great for the longevity of your rug. With that in mind, be absolutely sure that you buy a rug that’s big enough – at least 18-24″ longer on all sides than your dining table. Ideally, you want to pull your chairs as far as you’d need to to sit in them, measure the space, and add a few inches to be safe. Be sure to account for the table leaf if there is one, and look for a material that you’ll be able to vacuum and spot clean if necessary. One of the biggest difficulties when it comes to adding an area rug to a dining room is that most rugs only come in a few standard sizes that may not match up with the dimensions of your table or are so big they bump into the surrounding walls. If you have a particularly odd-shaped space, consider having a rug custom fabricated from a carpet manufacturer or building one of your own from carpet tiles to ensure you get a rug that really fits the space.

Hallway

In a furnished hallway, you want to leave enough room for the furniture to be freestanding while keeping the gap on either side of the rug symmetrical
In a furnished hallway, you want to leave enough room for the furniture to be freestanding while keeping the gap on either side of the rug symmetrical

Whether you’re covering up ugly floors or just trying to ensure your feet will never touch cold tile, hallway rugs are actually among the easiest to add to your space. Ideally you want a rug that’s approximately the same length as your hall, but whether it’s longer or shorter, you simply need to make sure the gaps or overlaps at the ends of the hall are about equal in length. Make sure your rug is wide enough to walk on comfortably, but narrow enough to leave a 6 inch gap of visible floor on either side. If you use multiple shorter rugs, leave about 6 inches of space in between them, too. This is just enough to make them distinct, but still close enough to step directly from one to the next. Keep in mind, furniture should never touch a hall rug; the two on/two off rule doesn’t apply here. So if you have a larger, furnished hallway, leave a large enough gap for furniture to stand on its own.

What room in your home is in need of a new area rug? Let me know in the comments! Or, for more information about getting the ball rolling, check out Part 1 of this series.