Don’t be afraid to be big and bold when picking a rug for your home

Michele Lerner

THE WASHINGTON POST – Whether you’ve just moved into a new home or want to improve your current space, interior designers often suggest an area rug to warm up a room or pull the space together.

But if you’ve never picked a rug before, it can be daunting to choose the right size, material and style that will complement rather than overwhelm your room. We asked interior designer Annie Elliott of Annie Elliott Design in Washington for advice.

Here are tips she shared with us via email:

SIZE:

We have a saying in our office: Unless your rug is crawling up the baseboards, it’s not too big!

Go large in the dining room. You want to make sure that the chairs can move around without catching on the rug.

Ideally, all furniture in a conversation area will fit onto the rug. If that’s not possible, try placing the rug in front of the sofa but under the chairs opposite. It doesn’t look great when every piece of furniture is half-on, half-off the rug.

A small rug can look lonely when it’s floating on a bare floor. Many people know that layering a small rug on sea grass or sisal creates a cozier, more finished look, but don’t limit yourself: Wool can be a great first layer instead. Wool flatweaves are a lovely option (and they’re everywhere right now), as is any broadloom carpeting with low, tight loops.

MATERIAL:

I opt for natural fibres whenever I can, so if durability is a priority, go with wool. Wool rugs are generally considered the most durable and easiest to clean. There are more inexpensive wool rugs and carpeting on the market than ever before, so don’t let cost be a deterrent until you’ve done some shopping.

Nylon is extremely stain-resistant, but it won’t wear as well as wool. Over time – I’m talking more than five years, not a few months – wool in a heavily trafficked area will wear away rather charmingly. Plush nylon flattens down instead, like a Muppet run over by a car. Unattractive.

Most indoor/outdoor rugs are polypropylene, which holds up well to the elements but not to stains if they’re cut pile.

Cotton rugs look so fresh and summery; who doesn’t love a striped cotton runner on a beach house staircase? But they grab dirt and won’t let it go. I strongly advise against cotton rugs if you have pets or children.

Not all plant fibre rugs are created equal. Sea grass is the most durable and the most stain-resistant. It’s great for foyers, mudrooms and as a first layer under smaller rugs. Sisal is pretty tough but stains easily. Jute is the softest of the natural plant fibre rugs, but it holds stains and doesn’t wear particularly well. It’s perfect for bedrooms, though.

STYLE:

Many people tend to roll their eyes when you mention Oriental rugs, but I’m a huge fan. They look fantastic in traditional interiors, of course, (make sure you have a few modern pieces to avoid a time capsule effect), but the contrast of an Oriental rug in an architecturally sleek space is smashing. Second, Oriental rugs show nothing, so if you have young children or willful pets, they’re perfect. Third, they’re easily attainable. If your great-aunt hasn’t given you hers already, you may be able to snap up a large Oriental rug on eBay or Craigslist for a reasonable price.

Unless you want the rug to dominate a room’s design, keep patterns small and tight.

Light rugs (except sea grass) are tricky from a cleaning perspective. Even if you buy a stain-resistant material, and even if you enforce a “shoes off” policy, solid, light-coloured rugs in living areas or on stairs can look grungy quickly. Restrict them to grown-ups’ bedrooms or less trafficked spaces.

Surprisingly, wall-to-wall carpeting can be less expensive than a custom-cut broadloom, especially if you have an oddly shaped space. The cost of labour and binding can outweigh the cost of the extra carpeting.