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Expert Advice: How to Choose a Rug, with Luke Irwin

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Expert Advice: How to Choose a Rug, with Luke Irwin

November 10, 2017

Somehow we find choosing a rug to be the hardest part of designing a room. Pattern or solid? Dark or light? And my own pitfall: choosing the right size. (The last time I bought a rug, I tried to economize and chose one just slightly too small for my space; it floated awkwardly at the end of my bed.) So we asked Luke Irwin, the UK-based rug designer to the stars (he’s created rugs for Kate Middleton and the Obamas) for his tips, from what textures to use where to how to position a new rug. His cardinal rule? “Do not scrimp on size or it will look ridiculous and out of proportion—you would not buy a dress that was four sizes too small for you.” Lesson learned. Here are more rules of thumb.

the marble rug, from the mosaic collection. 17
Above: The Marble rug, from the Mosaic collection.

1. Whenever possible, buy the rug first.

“There are two key components of styling a rug: color and size. You can tell very quickly if you like a design or a pattern, so that is the easy bit. Be sure that the colors work for the room. That is why you should always begin with the rug. Cushions, fabric and accessories are very easy to find which go with the rug, rather than the other way around.”

2. Don’t skimp.

“Never ever make the false economy of making a rug smaller than you need: what might save you a couple of hundred dollars will drive you crazy for the rest of the time you have that rug. A very easy way to judge what is your ideal size is to lay out newspaper to what you feel is your perfect dimension and then measure that. Alternatively you can do this with tape.”

the cumulae rug, properly proportioned to create a living space. 18
Above: The Cumulae rug, properly proportioned to create a living space.

3. Err on the side of subtlety.

“If you are totally refurbishing a room, start with the rug and build the room from the ground up in terms of colors and fabrics etc. If you are looking to refresh a room with a new rug take a balanced view of what the general palette of that room is and choose your rug color accordingly. I would strongly recommend that you do not use strong colors in your rug unless you are 100 percent sure of what you are doing—it is far easier and cheaper to use fuchsia pinks and canary yellows in cushions and change them if you tire of the strength.”

irwin&#8\2\17;s past collection for anthropologie, in neutral tones. 19
Above: Irwin’s past collection for Anthropologie, in neutral tones.

4. Know your rhythm and flow.

“Essentially there are two types of rug: rhythm (pattern) and flow (abstract). You need to have a clear idea whether the room you are putting the rug needs the structure of pattern or whether you would like it to be more understated and have an abstract design. Pattern obviously gives room structure and balance but this can be overpowering if the colors are too contrasting. Rugs in a room are always subliminal, you notice them out of the corner of your eye but it immediately sends a message. I like juxtaposition, so putting the regularity of Ikat in an informal setting and mosaics in a more formal one. Equally, mosaics work wonderfully under dining tables.”

5. Position properly.

“In a large space a rug can create a room within the room by clearly delineating an area. It provides focus to a particular area. As a rule of thumb, the front legs of furniture should sit on the rug, and the rug should go about fifty percent of the way under a sofa etc. However, I always feel that this can look slightly truncated and make the furniture look like it is cut in half. I prefer, and this is only my preference, for the furniture to sit entirely on a rug.”

the spring clouds rug from the fresco & nimbus collection. 20
Above: The Spring Clouds rug from the Fresco & Nimbus collection.

6. Use rugs to structure the room.

“I like to use octagonal rugs in a hall under a round hall table. It gives you the sense of directional flow and movement (which is essentially what a hall is) but also gives you an angular feel which somehow to me works better than a round rug.”

7. When in doubt, choose wool.

“I would generally use a cashmere rug in a bedroom, wool and silk in a drawing room, and wool everywhere else. This is not a hard-and-fast rule—basically wherever the design works best, and that design may be dictated by how it is made in order to get the best design result. For instance, our Mosaic collection is predominantly silk but there has to be wool in it, which is then oxidized to create the mosaic effect. These rugs can used in any room.”

 the vespasian rug from irwin&#8\2\17;s mosaic collection. the ru 21
Above: The Vespasian Rug from Irwin’s Mosaic Collection. The rugs are hand-knotted and available in a range of sizes in wool, silk, and cashmere.

8. Sometimes, forgo rugs.

Is there anyplace that Irwin advises going without? “Kitchens and bathrooms,” he says.

We’re longtime fans of Irwin’s; see some of our original posts at New from Luke Irwin: Rugs Inspired by Roman Ruins and Magic Carpet Ride: Luke Irwin for Anthropologie, and check out his new collaboration with Williams Sonoma. For much more on sourcing a rug, consult his Buyer’s Guide.

And for more on the how-tos of room design, see:

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Frequently asked questions

What is the first thing to consider when choosing a rug?

The size of the room and the furniture arrangement. A rug should generally be large enough to fit all furniture legs on it, or at a minimum the front legs of the furniture grouping.

How do you choose the right shape of rug?

The shape of the rug should mimic the shape of the room. For example, a rectangular room should have a rectangular rug and a circular room should have a circular rug.

What type of rug material is best for a high-traffic area?

Wool and wool blends are the best materials for high-traffic areas as they are durable and clean easily. Synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester are also a good option.

What is the best way to determine the right rug color for a room?

The colors in the rug should complement the colors in the room, but not necessarily match them exactly. Neutral colors like beige or grey are a safe choice, but don't be afraid to add a pop of color or pattern for interest.

What is the ideal thickness for a rug?

The ideal thickness for a rug is 1/4 to 1/2 inch. This thickness provides comfort and insulation without creating a tripping hazard.

How should a rug be placed in a dining room?

In a dining room, the rug should be large enough for the chairs to comfortably slide in and out without catching on the edge. The rug should extend at least 24 inches beyond the edge of the dining table.

What is the best way to clean a rug?

It is best to follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions for your specific rug. Vacuuming regularly and spot cleaning as needed will help to keep the rug looking its best.

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