How to Choose the Best Area Rugs for Any Room

Amanda Bell
Written by Amanda Bell
Updated September 19, 2016
leather chair on black, white striped area rug
This light brown leather, mid-century modern chair pops against the graphic black and white striped area rug.
Frank Espich

Interior designers share tips on what to consider when picking area rugs, and offer suggestions on what area rug sizes, colors and textures will match each space.

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When it comes to refreshing a room, area rugs often take a starring role. Not only do they provide cushion, comfort and warmth, but they also define a space and enhance its decor.

Between area rug sizes, and the materials, patterns and colors of rugs available, where do you start in deciding what’s best for your space? Interior designers offer their advice on buying area rugs below.

When to buy area rugs

Designers agree, first things first: Pick your rug before purchasing the other design elements of a room.

“It's so much easier to match your sofa or wall color to your rug than it is to find the perfect rug to match your sofa or wall,” says Tess Leeds, owner of Ruby Shoes Redesign in Newton, Massachusetts.

Aesthetics and rug material

To help narrow your search, first think about a room’s use, then the design style:

• Consider function and feel first. Need a kid-friendly space? Try floor tiles that can be easily swapped out in the inevitable event of a stain. Want a cozy family room? Go for a thicker pile. On a budget? Go for a jute rug or stylish wool dhurrie, which don’t offer as much comfort but come in lots of colors and patterns, Leeds says.

• Mix patterns. If you have a window treatment or upholstered chair in a small pattern, try a rug with a large-scale pattern in a complementary color to avoid creating a competition between too many patterns in one space, says Jodi Schavone, owner of Decor Coach in Apex, N.C.

• Color contrast. If you have a dark floor, go for a lighter rug. Darker area rugs can work with lighter flooring colors, including low-pile berber carpet, she says.

Buying Tip

Standard area rug dimensions range from 2-by-3 feet to 9-by-12 feet, but many carpet companies can cut and bind carpets for an average of $3 per foot, if you want a custom area rug, Schavone says.

Area rug sizes and placement

Different guidelines for determining size and placement of rugs apply depending on the room:

  • Living room: For this room, many designers say the larger the better. “Each piece of furniture should also have at least its front legs on the rug to anchor the space,” Schavone says.

  • Dining room: Look for a rug at least 24 to 30 inches larger on all sides of your dining table so chairs don’t catch on the edges.

  • Master bedroom: If space allows, two small rugs or runners on either side of the bed can look just as high-end as a large rug placed under the bed, Schavone says.

  • Entryway: Place rugs no further than 4 inches in front of the door threshold, so guests can step onto the rug as they enter your home.

  • Hallway: Leave at least 6 inches of floor space between the wall and each side of the rug in a material that can withstand high traffic.

  • Kitchen: Leave at least 6 inches of space between your cabinets or the wall and the rug so the room won’t look crowded. The best kitchen rug will make the room feel bigger, like a striped runner in a smaller kitchen.

Before you buy

Keep the following in mind when buying area rugs:

• Never trust your computer screen. If you plan to buy rugs online, order a sample first. If a store doesn’t offer samples, order the smallest size. “It’s much easier to carry a 2-by-3-foot rug to furniture stores to help you select textiles for your sofa and chairs,” Leeds says.

• Don’t forget the rug pad. In addition to preventing slips and slides, pads help extend the life of your rug and the floor underneath, Schavone says.

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