selecting an area rug

The number of options in this product category can bit a bit dizzying, but never fear! The guide below will help you determine what makes the most sense for your space, enabling you to make a decision you’ll feel good about for years to come.

STEP ONE: DIMENSIONS

Before you start looking at rugs, it’s very helpful to know what size and shape you are looking for. I recommend getting out a roll of blue painter’s tape and taping out the general shape you are thinking about directly on the ground. While room sketches can be helpful, they are not nearly as helpful as seeing the outline of the rug in 3D. If you are purchasing a rug for a conversation area, keep in mind that it tends to create a more intimate feeling in the space when… the rug is large enough to connect the various seating elements instead of floating in front of them.

STEP TWO: COLOR PALETTE

In order to get a feeling for the general color palette that you are looking for, it’s helpful to understand how you want the rug to function in the room.

Do you want it to serve as a neutral field? A subdued rug works very well when there is something else you prefer to highlight as the primary focal point in the space (a great piece of art, for example, or a jaw-dropping view). The function of a neutral rug is to provide texture, warmth, coziness, and subdued elegance – without begging for attention.

Do you want the rug to define the space? This is a useful approach in large, open home designs. A bold, generously-sized rug circumscribing a seating area communicates, “this is the living room” in a more intimate and accessible way than furniture alone.  If you are using a rug to define a space, select a color that contrasts with the main flooring material and integrates harmoniously with your fabric choices for seating, pillows, lampshades, ottoman, etc.

Do you want the rug to be the primary focal point? This is the often the best choice if the rug will be located in an area without seating, or if your upholstery fabrics will be relatively subdued. An artistic rug works beautifully as a striking focal point of an entryway, parlor, office reception area, interior vestibule or grand staircase. When you are using a rug as artwork, you can build the entire room around the rug, so the only guideline is to find something you love! Paint, lighting and accessories can all follow the rug’s palette.

STEP THREE: MATERIAL

Some rugs are made from natural materials like wool, silk, cotton, sisal, jute, seagrass and bamboo; and some are made from synthetic materials like viscose, rayon, nylon, acrylic or polypropylene/olefin.

Most designers favor wool and wool blends over all other types of rugs. Not only is wool naturally warm and elegant, it is durable, resilient, highly receptive to natural dyes, inherently fire-resistant and inherently stain-resistant. Because wool naturally contains so many properties that are desirable in a rug material, it does not need to be treated with dangerous chemicals in order to perform well. One thing to be careful about, however, is child labor: If you decide to purchase a handwoven wool rug, please be sure to look for the Goodweave symbol, which ensures that child slave labor was not involved in any stage of production.

Silk has a beautiful sheen and is an extremely elegant option for carpets, but generally does not wear very well. You may want to consider a wool and silk blend instead. Many of the most spectacular carpets in the world are woven from a combination of wool and silk, as the sheen contrast between these two materials is stunning.

The other natural carpet options on the market are generally less expensive than wool and silk, and also have a variety of drawbacks. Carpets made from cotton tend to be colored with chemical dyes and finished with chemical flame retardants; cotton is also far less durable than wool. Rugs of sisal and jute only work aesthetically in a limited range of applications; they don’t provide the warmth and elegance that most people are looking for in a primary living space. Synthetic carpets are often very unhealthy. This industry is  actually one of the most toxic in the world, using as many as 40 dangerous chemicals at various stages of the manufacturing process (chemicals known to cause eye irritation, throat irritation, dizziness, shortness of breath and more). A handful of progressive companies have taken a strong leadership role in reducing the toxicity associated with synthetic rug manufacturing as well as closing the manufacturing loop. Among these, Interface Flor stands as the unrivaled global leader in research and development, sustainable design and attention to human health. Interface products are the only ones I specify for commercial applications. For residential applications, however, I generally come back to wool or wool/silk blends.

STEP FOUR: SHOPPING!

After all this measuring, considering and analyzing, we finally get to the fun part – looking at product offerings! For your shopping pleasure, I’ve prepared a comprehensive resource guide to the rug showrooms of the San Francisco Bay Area, which you can find here. Enjoy!

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