Whether your floors are wood, tile, concrete or cork you'll probably want to cover some of them with area rugs to protect them from wear or to make them more comfortable to walk on. What to put on the floor has been the concern of homemakers and decorators since cavemen first softened their caves with skins.
Area rugs add warmth to a room, both physically and visually. They reduce noise, create a softer step and protect your floors all at the same time. In terms of color and fashion, they make a major decorative contribution to a room.
Buying a rug involves obvious choices like size and color. But you also need to think about durability and stain resistance and how they are affected by location and traffic patterns in your home.
Area rugs run the gamut from simple woven rugs to elaborately patterned pile weaves. Braided, hooked and rag rugs of all kinds are perfect for country decorating, while Orientals and needlepoint rugs speak to a more sophisticated theme. If you're lucky enough to own a hand woven Navajo rug - or other textile work of art - you might want to design your whole room around this special piece!
Decide what kind of a "look" you are trying to achieve in a particular room before you purchase rugs. For a monochromatic, uncluttered look, opt for light colored rugs to make the room look larger. Light colors also have a calming effect, as do evenly textured carpets. Busy patterns would dominate such a room and disturb the mood. On the other hand, if you favor richly patterned, textured schemes, you might want to choose darker colors for your rugs to make the space feel cozier.
Most of us already own some of the furniture we will use in a decorating project. Make sure you consider those fabrics or colors as part of the total picture. That orange chair of Aunt Bessie's might not have been your first choice if it didn't have such emotional value for you. And even if orange isn't your favorite color, it will look better in the room if you repeat touches of the color in a couch cushion or in the pattern of a scatter rug.
You can mix several patterns and textures, but remember that a large, single motif in the center of your rug will dominate the room and set the mood. If you love the rug, let it guide your other choices for furnishings and draperies!
If you want to totally cover your floor you'll probably opt for wall to wall carpeting. Area rugs cover just that - an area of the room. A single, room sized rug typically leaves a generous border of the floor showing all around it. The border may not always be equal on all four sides, but should be the same on opposite sides to create a sense of balance. The size of the rug is obviously governed by the size of the room and the width of the floor border you want to leave showing, but you'll probably need and an 8'x11' or 9'x12' rug to make a single statement in a room.
The next rule of thumb indicates that the rug and the furniture should occupy fairly equal space. Furniture doesn't have to fit the exact confines of a rug, but you don't want to have a huge, empty border of rug surrounding the furnishings - or more furniture off the rug than on it. You might want to use two (or more) rugs in a single room, breaking the space into conversation or eating areas. Sizes like 4'x6', 6'x9' or 5'x7' work well for this purpose. If there is a coffee table involved, make sure the rug is large enough for the table to sit entirely on the rug, but small enough to leave some floor showing between it and the sofa or chairs it serves. This textural contrast between the rug and the floor helps to balance the room visually.
Rugs that lie beneath dining room tables are generally 4' wider and 4' longer than the table itself. This makes it easier for diners to position themselves at the table without catching their chairs on the rug. By the same token, make sure that any armchair that straddles a rug is still well balanced. You might need to use furniture cups to level the feet.
Scatter rugs are just that - and are used for additional splashes of color and design. If you do have broadloom carpeting, a few well-chosen scatter rugs can go a long way towards breaking the monotony and making a design statement.
In addition to size and style considerations, there are some very real issues about fiber content that you should consider. How and where you intend to use a rug will help to determine which fibers you should chose - as will your budget.
Wool is a high bulk luxury fiber that dyes beautifully and produces a soft carpet underfoot. Long lasting and easy to clean, wool is the fiber by which all others are judged. Cotton also tends to be soft and dye well, but is usually much less durable than wool. It is also less expensive. Sisal is the strongest and most lasting plant fiber for rugs. Static free and color fast, it offers good textural contrast for smooth floors. Jute is soft, but fades, and is less durable.
Synthetic rugs generally boast more intense colors, easier maintenance, less fading and lower price tags. There are several synthetic fibers used in rugs today. Nylon is a real workhorse that surpasses wool in terms of wear and stain resistance and comes in an unlimited range of colors. It is low cost and stands up well to heavy traffic - like pets and children. Polypropylene and Olefin are very strong and colorfast, stain resistant and long wearing. They are the most common synthetic fibers used in rugs and among the least expensive. These rugs are also weather resistant and can be used outdoors! Polyester rugs rank lowest for both stain resistance and durability. Save those rugs for low traffic areas. Acrylic looks a lot like wool and is often blended with other fibers for that reason. It is commonly used in bath rugs (with rubberized backing) because acrylic neither fades nor mildews.
High traffic areas require longer wearing fibers and construction methods. The denser the construction and the more tightly twisted the yarn, the more durable the rug. Don't be tempted to use less expensive rugs in high traffic areas because they won't wear well and you'll end up replacing them sooner. Opt for better quality rugs right from the start! If you have pets and children or if the rug will be located near an outside door, pay close attention to stain resistance. Highly patterned rugs show stains less than solid colors do which makes them good choices for well lived in rooms.
All area rugs should have padding underneath. Padding provides softness and support under foot. It prolongs the life of the carpet by reducing wear on the underside and protects the floor from wear as well. Padding makes it easier to vacuum your rugs and adds insulation from sound and weather. Most important, rugs slip and slide less. Without padding, small area rugs can be a very real safety hazard!
Thick, fluffy pads look good, but dense pads are better. A cushiony pad actually increases wear on a rug by allowing heels (especially high heels!) to compress and grind the fibers. Pads should never exceed 7/16th-inch thickness.
Many rugs are finished with fringe. Some are sewn on for decorative effect and can be replaced when worn; others are extensions of the warp, or vertical, threads used to weave the rug and cannot easily be repaired. Fringes are usually the first part of a rug to show wear so be careful vacuuming!