5 questions to ask before you buy a rug

Statement dining room rug The Design Files

One of the biggest changes in my taste over the last few years has been my approach to using colour in my home. My first flat was my haven from the hustle and bustle of London life and its muted palette of greys, neutrals and white helped me wind down when I stepped through the door. Since leaving London though, I’ve really begin to embrace colour and pattern, especially through my new-found love of global textiles. Some of the designs that catch my eye are positively riotous – no more so than the incredible Nepalese rag rug I picked to give our home office some oomph. Isn’t it amazing?

Cairo Sunburst ethical rag rug from The Rug House

Choosing a statement rug is an important and sometimes tricky decision because, apart from the walls, it is often the biggest and most eye-catching element of your room. Get it right and you can perfectly pull together your space but, choose badly, and you could end up with a pricey mistake that makes your room look oddly out of proportion. I thought I’d share my top five questions you need to ask for rug buying success!

5 questions to ask before you buy a rug

1 | How do I choose the right size rug for my room?

The advice here is usually bigger than you think. Lots of people make the mistake of compromising on a smaller rug because large rugs can be expensive, but buying a rug that’s too small is a false economy as it will only make your room feel awkward. Instead, measure your seating area and use this as your guide: ideally the rug should be big enough for the legs of all your furniture to be on rug, whether that’s sofas, armchairs and a coffee table in the living room or a dining table and chairs. For rooms where your sofa or bed is against the wall you can get away with a smaller rug and position only the front legs on it, although aim for the rug to extend at least halfway underneath the furniture to maintain pleasing proportions. These layout suggestions from West Elm work for most spaces.

How to position a rug in a room

2 | What material is best for a rug?

Practical considerations are important here. For high traffic areas like a hallway or large  living room you need a rug that’s durable, so go for a flatwoven cotton dhurrie or a rug made from a natural fibre like sisal, coir or seagrass. If the rug is for your bedroom or under your dining table, you can get away with a tufted or knotted wool rug with a deeper pile that feels softer under foot – the most luxurious contain silk fibres too. Highly textured hooked rag rugs like mine, or a gorgeous Moroccan boucherouite rug (like the one below) can look beautiful but are tricky to clean so aren’t the best choice for high traffic areas or if you have pets or children. On hard floors make sure you use a non-slip rug mat underneath any rug.

Boucherouite rug from Etsy

3 | What’s the difference between different types of rug?

Hand knotted rugs: These are usually the most expensive because of the time it takes to make them and their superior quality, created by looping yarn through the backing cloth and tying it by hand. A hand knotted rug is a real investment piece so it’s worth buying from a specialist dealer who can advise you. Make sure you quiz them on question five to check the rug has been produced ethically.

Tufted rugs: These are made by looping the yarn through a backing cloth, before a latex glue is applied to the reverse side to hold the pile in place. These can look similar to knotted rugs but are cheaper. Although rugs with a longer pile might look more luxurious, those with a shorter, denser pile are usually better quality.

Flatwoven rugs: These are woven from wool or cotton and don’t have a pile to them. Flatwoven rugs are usually reversible, durable and relatively affordable. Styles include dhurries (made in India) and kilims (from Turkey).

Rag rugs: Choose from hooked rag rugs, which have a looped appearance or looser tufted styles. Both are made by inserting strips of cloth or recycled rags through a hessian back cloth. They tend to be good value and it’s easy to make a small one yourself at home, if you like.

Braided, coiled and crocheted: This takes in a wide range of styles, from cute cotton mats for children’s rooms to sophisticated hemp rugs like the one below from US fair trade retailer, Armadillo & Co. They’re usually round or oval in shape and have a rustic, handmade feel.

Round hemp rug from Armadillo and Co

4 | Will a bold or bright rug work in my room?

Any statement piece will be most successful if it’s not made to compete with other elements of the room, whether that’s in terms of colour, pattern or texture. So, in a room that already has lots of pattern, opt for a rug in a single bold colour to pull the patterns together. Or if the room already has a striking colour scheme, use the rug to add a hit of graphic pattern picking out one or two key accent shades.  In neutral rooms or if you’re picking your rug first, you have the freedom to go wild and choose a really striking rug that will be the focal point of your room. If bright colours are too much for you, you can still make a statement with a graphic monochrome rug, like this beautiful example which complements the other richly coloured textiles perfectly.

Ethnic bedroom CasaSugar

5 | How can I check if a rug has been ethically produced?

Sadly, child labour is still a problem in the rug industry and it’s estimated that around 250,000 children operate looms, mainly in India, Nepal and Afghanistan. There are two marks you should look for, which certify that a rug has been produced ethically. The GoodWeave logo can be found in both the UK and USA and Care & Fair is a European initiative. As well as inspecting rug and carpet manufacturers to check children aren’t being exploited they also help to fund schools, education and health programmes to raise living standards and increase employment options for rug-weaving families. I found my Care & Fair rug here and you can find a list of Care & Fair members here and search GoodWeave members here.

Rug with Care and Fair logo label for ethical standards

Hopefully this has helped answer a few of your rug buying questions so you can feel a bit more confident choosing the best rug for your space and your style. An eye catching rug really can be the centrepiece of your room so have fun and don’t be afraid to pick something bright and beautiful! Keep the other elements of your scheme white or fairly neutral and you can make almost any design look amazing.

[Photographs: 1 Sean Fennessey for The Design Files. 2 Cairo Sunburst rug from The Rug House, Decorator’s Notebook. 3 diagram from West Elm. 4 The Pink Rug Co. 5 Armadillo & Co. 6 Casa Sugar. 7 Decorator’s Notebook.

[My rug was kindly given to me by The Rug House]

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    • says

      Thanks for your comment Weronika – the ethical cost of the products we buy is something I’m becoming more and more aware of. I think people are beginning to ask questions about who makes their clothes, but it’s important to remember there are people behind every product we buy. There’s always a human story, although it can be very hard to discover. A lot of retailers go to great lengths to hide the people who make their products… I would love for people to ask more questions and buy from shops that help them meet the artisans and encourage a connection.

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