How To Deal With Wall-To-Wall Carpet Woes

updated Oct 14, 2022
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There are few souls in the world who have wall-to-wall carpet topping their dream decor list. It’s often the stuff of McMansions and is commonly viewed as the epitome of dated decor, but it’s also the reality for countless American homes. And if you’re a renter, there’s not a whole lot you can do to change it. So how to deal?

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Before we get started, we need to set a few things straight. Not all wall-to-wall carpet is created equal. Some are more offensive than others, and some aren’t offensive at all. While we all have our own preferences, I find that the more texture and the more pattern, the higher the appeal. Sisal, some shags, and most tone-on-tone patterns or raised patterned carpets do not bear the same stigma in my book as run of the mill renter’s-grade beige. What about you?

• First things first, clean them or have them cleaned. Check your landlord’s policy on how often cleaning is done. Most will guarantee that they are cleaned between tenants, and some have an additional every two year policy. So if you’re just moving in, do a sight and smell check (as in get down on your hands and knees and sniff!) to make sure they are in decent condition before unpacking all your gear. If your landlord refuses to step up to the cleaning plate, it’s worth shelling out the money to have it done yourself. If smells persist try back peeling back the carpet in an inconspicuous spot to check the carpet pad, which is often the source of the problem since it can’t be cleaned. If there is a serious layer of dirt-like substance, it might be the case that the carpet pad has broken down, in which case it’s back to the landlord.

• Area rugs, area rugs! It really can be that simple. Use them to anchor a dining spot, living room seating area (picture 1 of Sally Steponkus’s apartment), or at the end of the bed (picture 2). Pick one with a strong pattern, color variations, or textures that pick up on other elements already present in your decor. It will take the focus off the expanse of carpet and place it on the decorative elements of the room. Just make sure it’s really an area rug, not one that could pass as a dinky bath mat, which would only draw more attention to the carpet. Don’t be afraid to use multiple rugs in the same room to define separate spaces (picture 3). The key is using the right type of area rug. Most cotton ones will bunch up even with a rug pad, so go for sturdier natural fibers like sisal or seagrass, or thicker rugs with rubber backing that will add traction.

• Distract with interesting focal points around the room. Take a few cues from Grace and Brian, who outfitted their 70s garden level home to suit their traditional tastes by creating a series of interesting vignettes throughout their home (picture 5). With so many point of interest, you hardly focus on the standard issue wall-to-wall below foot.

• Create a strong color scheme throughout the rest of the room. If you can paint, do it! Take the focus off the floor and put it on the walls and accessories where you have more control. Use a few consistent accent colors around the room to keep the eye distracted.

• Give it friends and make it look intentional. If your carpet is hopelessly ugly an unusual shade, don’t ignore it, play it up even if it’s not your favorite color. An avocado green rug stands a good chance if it has good company in the form of green throw blankets, toss pillows, picture mats, artwork, wallpaper etc. Even a relatively neutral rug can be made to look even more intentional when its shade is picked up elsewhere as in picture 8, where designer Phoebe Howard repeated the natural golden hue in picture mats, artwork, window shades, and upholstery. The very best way to draw negative attention to it is to make it the odd man out.

• Go for texture. Play up the texture in other parts of the room such as in chunky throw blankets, rough wood furniture, patterned wallpaper, drapes, etc. A room full of sleek glass, polished metal, and glass will draw attention to the carpet’s texture making it more noticeable.

What other tricks have you used to deal with wall-to-wall in style?

Images: 1: Southern Living, 2: Point Click Home, 3: Jonathan Adler via Attic Mag, 4: jones design company for Ohdeedoh, 5: Leah Moss for Apartment Therapy DC,6: Kiki Dennis, 7, 8: Phoebe Howard