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From the Ground Up
Rugs are a key design element of any room—but they can be confusing to buy. Here’s how to choose the right size, style, and pattern.
By Kate Parham
Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles is a designer favorite for its selection of handmade rugs. Photograph courtesy of Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles.
Comments () | Published May 10, 2012

Shopping for a rug isn't always easy. It can be expensive, and there's a lot to consider--size, color, pattern.

"It's the foundation of any room," says Paul Morgan Sherrill of Solís Betancourt & Sherrill, an interior-design firm in DC. A rug needs to "make sense with the architecture of the space and the palette of the home and, most importantly, be something we love and want to live with for years to come."

A common mistake people make when shopping is to look at a rug as an isolated item. "It's not about just picking the one we like most on its own," says DC interior designer Nestor Santa-Cruz. "One has to concentrate on the big concept for the room. "

Unless you're starting with a bare room and choosing all new furniture, you'll want to pick a rug that fits into your current design scheme. You might bring along fabric samples and photos of the room.

We asked interior designers and rug experts for other tips.

Knowing The Basics

It helps to understand how rugs are made. Rugs are either handwoven--sometimes called hand-knotted--or partially or fully machine-made, also known as hand-tufted or broadloom. "The main difference is that the handmade rug will have, to some degree, variation in weave and color," says Timothy Paul Worrell of Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles in DC. "A machine-made rug will have few flaws, and the color will be very consistent." Although there's no difference in wearability between handmade and machine-made, handmade ones are usually more expensive because of the labor involved.

Wool is the most common material used in rugs, followed by plant-based materials such as sisal, jute, hemp, and cotton. A room's foot traffic and its function, plus whether you have kids or pets, are factors to consider. "The most important thing to remember is that wool will clean best due to the natural lanolin oil found in the animal," Worrell says. "Plant-based materials lack this oil, making them hard to clean."

Adds Sherrill: "If you are sensitive to foot imprints, avoid carpets with a high silk or linen content, which has less resilience than a wool fiber."

Sherrill also suggests looking at the density of the weave, meaning how close together the strands of yarn are--think knots per square inch: "Density affects the rug's appearance and performance. For a high-traffic area, consider a more dense weave so that the rug will wear better and last longer."

If it's an antique rug, look for any wear and tear and any restoration that may have been done. Sometimes rugs are dyed or painted to disguise wear. "A good restoration involves actually reweaving the worn area, which is more evident from the back of the carpet," Sherrill says. The restoration will affect the value, so it's important to know what you're looking at to ensure you're getting a fair price.

Deciding on a Size

The next consideration is size. You'll want to think about traffic patterns, the room's layout, your budget--and what you want the rug to do. "Rugs can define areas within a room, be the whole field of the room, or be art pieces," says Santa-Cruz.

To cover an entire room, the general guideline is to allow for 12 to 15 inches of flooring, or a consistent margin, to be exposed to frame your rug, says Old Town interior designer Barbara Franceski.

Furniture placement is key, she says: "If your desire is to ground a seating area in a larger room, at least the front legs of the larger upholstered pieces should sit on the rug. For under dining tables, the rug should be large enough to allow guests to push their chairs back and stand up without the back legs of the chair going over the rug edge."

Says Sherrill: "Make sure the rug will not cover any HVAC registers and that doors are cut to clear the thickness of rug and padding."

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Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 05/10/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles