November 18, 2018

How to choose the perfect area rug

A few years ago, I got rid of the wall-to-wall carpeting in my townhouse and switched to hardwood floors. I love the look of hardwood floors, but more important, I found them easier to clean than carpeting, especially with dogs that like to walk through mud. The one downside, however, was I lost the cozy feeling of soft carpeting under my bare feet. And getting out of bed in the morning is even more of a jolt to the system when you land on cold, wood floors.

The solution, of course, is area rugs. Not only are they practical for keeping your feet warm, they provide a vital design component for the room — they’re art for your floors. 

But I’ve found, with friends and clients, that the task of choosing an area rug puts them in uncharted waters. Most people are not sure of the size needed, the type of material, the style or the color. And considering how expensive area rugs can be, I understand the trepidation. I follow some pretty simple guidelines for picking area rugs, and hopefully they’ll help you the next time you have to go rug shopping.

The right size

I always start by deciding what size is needed. In a living room, where you have a sofa and chairs (or some configuration of a seating area), the rug should be big enough so that when someone sits down, their feet will touch some part of the rug. This means that, at minimum, the front legs of your sofas and chairs should be sitting on the rug. It’s fine if all the furniture is on the rug, but that can be expensive — plus a lot of the rug will be hidden.

The color and style

Think of an area rug as one of the largest furniture pieces in a room. Because of its size relative to other furnishings, use it as a design counterpoint to the other pieces. If there is already a lot of color and pattern on the walls and furniture, balance all the visual commotion with a solid, neutral-colored rug. If everything else around it is more subdued, kick it up a notch with brighter colors and bold patterns. (Except don’t do chevron. I’m really sick of chevron.) 

Although it makes sense to match the style of your rug with the overall style of your room — for example, a modern rug with a modern decorating scheme — sometimes it’s advantageous to mix genres. An antique Oriental rug makes an impressive statement in a contemporary home. The converse — a modern rug in a more traditional space — doesn’t work as well, however.


As with colors, look for contrasts when choosing a texture for your area rug. In my den, which has sleek, angular furniture and aluminum-covered walls, I chose a super-thick, high-pile shag rug that is heaven to walk on. (A rug’s pile refers to the density and length of its fibers — low pile has shorter fibers for a flatter rug, and high pile has longer fibers for a shaggier rug.) It’s a nice balance to the cold surfaces in the room. That’s why fluffy high-pile rugs work so well in modern lofts with concrete floors or walls. Likewise, if a room is full of soft, overstuffed furniture and billowy pillows, a rougher, natural-fiber jute rug provides a nice textural balance. 

Consider the traffic

What kind of foot traffic will your area rug be handling? High-traffic areas such as entryways or dining areas benefit from darker colors, detailed patterns (to hide dirt) and lower pile. Synthetic rugs, which tend to be stain-resistant, are also ideal for high-traffic areas. Areas that don’t get a lot of foot traffic, such as bedrooms, can accommodate fluffier, higher-pile carpeting and lighter colors, as well as rugs that are more difficult to care for such as cotton, silk and other natural fiber rugs. 

Think outside the box

One of my favorite alternatives to traditional area rugs is FLOR carpet tiles. They are square sections of carpet, each about 20 inches long and 20 inches wide, that you can configure to whatever size and shape you want. You can mix and match colors and patterns to create your own design, and the tiles attach to each other with adhesive strips on the bottom of the rug. Because the resulting area rug is modular, you can replace any tiles that become irreparably stained. 

And how’s this for something different: In my design studio, in lieu of an area rug, I have a 12-by-12 piece of artificial turf — the really bouncy variety that resembles real grass. It was actually more affordable than an area rug of the same size, and I love how it feels to stand on. It vacuums easily with a Shop Vac, and I can even take it outside to hose it down. I have to keep my dogs away from it, though. They find it a little too tempting.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at