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How to choose an area rug

An area rug can transform a room in

An area rug can transform a room in the time it takes to unroll it. Credit: CreativaStudio/Getty Images/TNS

When dressing up a room, don't look to the furniture or the walls — look to the floor! Sometimes a rug is all you need. A rug can be the defining feature of a room or it can blend in and serve a function. No matter your reason for wanting a rug, there are a lot of questions to consider before buying an area rug. Read our all-encompassing guide below to make sure you're buying the best rug for your space.

What are the types of area rugs?
Knowing the lingo helps you shop smart. These terms refer to construction methods.

Tufted: Pieces of yarn are punched through a backing then cut to create a smooth surface (called pile). Tufted rugs shed more than others.
Hooked: Though similar to a tufted rug in that loops of yarn are pulled through a backing, the yarn isn't cut, leaving a looped pile.
Knotted: Pieces of yarn are tied, often by hand, to warp fibers on a loom. It's the most labor-intensive way to make a rug.
Braided: Lengths of fabric, yarn or natural fibers are braided then sewn to one another.
Flat-woven: Often called kilims or dhurries, these are woven on a loom, either by hand or machine. There's no backing, so they are lighter and reversible.
Shag: Any tufted, woven or knotted rug with long, plush pile.

How big should my rug be?

Your furniture arrangement and room function should factor as much as room size.

Living room: You want either all the furniture to sit on top of the rug comfortably or all the front legs to be on the rug.

Dining room: Let the chairs guide you. The rug needs to be large enough that the chairs remain on it even when pushed back from the table.

Bedroom: The rug should frame the bed. That means you need an 8-by-10-foot rug for a queen and 9-by-12-foot rug for a king. The front feet of bedside tables can sit on the edge.

What if I love a rug that's too small?

Layer it. Because bigger often means more expensive, it can be tough to find the right rug in the right size (in your price range). So layer a small statement rug on top of a less-expensive one that covers more area. One popular combination is tight-weave jute or sisal under a showpiece. When layering, the bottom rug should be smooth so it's a stable base for the top one.

What if my room is really big?

A large, open space benefits from being broken up by two or more rugs. "A rug can make a declaration: The breakfast table is here. Come sit and socialize in this spot," says Los Angeles-based designer Greg Roth of Home Front Build. If you choose to cover most of the floor, leave a bare border at the wall. A good rule is to stay 6 to 14 inches from the wall, sticking to the wider end of the range in a large room.

What rugs are good for high-traffic areas?

In high-traffic areas and homes with kids or pets or both, area rugs can take a serious beating. Sound like your house? Here's what you need.

Durability: Places like entries, staircases and hallways call for a tight weave or high knot count (100 to 150 per square inch). Hand-tufted or hand-knotted rugs can handle the pressure. Or try nylon or micro-hooked wool. Avoid plant fibers (jute, hemp, sisal, bamboo) and silk because they break down easily.

Cleanability: "Outdoor rugs look great, and you can take them outside and hose them off," says L.A.-based interior designer Betsy Burnham. Look for one made from recycled polyester or polypropylene. If you prefer natural fibers, a wool rug with a busy pattern works too. Stick with low pile in the dining room. It's easier to clean and allows chairs to move easily.

What shape should my area rug be?

There's no ruling dictating that your area rug has to be a rectangle. Shop for area rugs in different shapes that complement your home's furniture and rooms.

Furniture: A rug should echo the shape of the furniture that will sit on it, like a rectangular table-rug combo. Use the same approach in the living room. If you have a rectangular furniture arrangement, "a rectangular rug that encompasses the entire grouping makes the most sense," says designer Annie Selke, founder of Dash & Albert.

Room: Another strategy is to let the shape of your room dictate your pick. "If a room is narrow and long, avoid a circular (or square) rug. It will alienate the corners of a room," says Bob Margies, director of installation for Merida Studio, maker of natural-fiber hand-finished rugs.

Do I need a rug pad?

"You always need a rug pad. Rugs wear from the bottom up, so the pad is essential to protecting the fibers from constant abrasion," Roth says. Rug pads also prevent slipping, add cushion and stop the rug from rippling. Look for one that's a quarter-inch thick and 2 inches smaller than your rug on each side (so it won't show).

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