The 10 Commandments of Rug Shopping

updated Sep 14, 2020
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Rugs—yes, you can live without them, but life would be a lot less cozy, cushiony, and potentially colorful without them. They really pull a room together and can even help dampen sound, which is a godsend for anyone in tight quarters with noisy neighbors. Problem is, they’re one of the hardest home purchases to make because they’re available in so many sizes, styles, and materials. Oh, and did I mention how their care and maintenance runs a spectrum, from hosedown-able to professional hand-shampoo required? Factor an often ambiguously expensive price tag into the equation, and it’s no wonder people put off this purchase or worse, make the mistake of buying something that doesn’t fit their room or their lifestyle. To ease this burden a bit, we asked a few design pros and carpeting experts for their shopping best practices to bring you these 10 commandments of rug shopping.

1. When it Comes to Size, Bigger is Typically Better.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

There’s nothing sadder than a rug that’s too small—it just makes you look like you cheaped out. But in general, size is definitely dictated by room shape and the furniture placement. “A large rug is always the best choice for anchoring room decor within an open-concept space,” says Nader Bolour, owner of the iconic New York-based rug dealer Doris Leslie Blau. “Placing all furniture on the rug (at least partially) will unify the décor and create a defined seating area or other area with a specific purpose.”

Smaller rugs placed in large spaces certainly can be used as accents, but don’t go too little. Still puzzled on sizing? You can always break out the measuring tape and then use painter’s tape to block off outlines of common rug sizes on your floor to get a sense of their footprints. Another good rule of thumb is that your rug, in a living room, for example, should be large enough to fit under at least the front two feet of your furniture, with the long side of the rug parallel to your sofa, says Shelby Girard, Head Interior Designer at Havenly. Think about a rug’s borders and clearance with any nearby doors that open, too.

2. Make Sure the Pile Fits Your Lifestyle.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

Select the content and texture of your rug based on how it will be used. For a high traffic area, Bolour recommends a low-pile wool rug, which is easier to clean than something super plush of fluffy. “Flatweaves fall in the low-maintenance category as well because they let most spills fall through without puddling on their surface,” says Bolour, so these tend to be more kid- and pet-friendly. For a bedroom or low traffic area, consider a soft mohair shag or a silk rug. “They both look amazing and feel great under bare feet,” says Bolour. Jutes and other natural fiber options are fairly easy to keep up as well, but they’re not the best if you have cats that claw and can be scratchy on crawling babies’ skin, for example.

3. Consider Care in Your Decision.

(Image credit: Julia Steele)

According to Bolour, flatweave rugs in either wool yarns or acrylic yarns suitable for indoor/outdoor use are both cleanable and durable. Pattern is another sneaky source of durability. “If the rug is both colorful and/or has a busy design throughout, this will contribute to the durable aspect, as eventual stains would be less noticeable,” says Bolour. This might be particularly helpful in a household with kids and/or furry friends or in a setting like a kitchen, where you’ll be cooking and eating.

While all rugs could benefit from a professional cleaning every now and then, it might be best to skip true antique if you aren’t down for the added expense of gentle professional hand-washing and restoration when needed.

4. Figure out Your Rug Style Profile.

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

Looking for a rug that’s neutral and grounding? Or do you prefer something that’s bold enough to command a room? Something solid or textural will do the former, and a geometric pattern is probably better for the latter. Sometimes, it even makes sense to add a rug that’s at style odds with the rest of your space, just to throw a kink in an otherwise perfect scheme. “Vintage and antique-inspired rugs bring such character and a sense of history to any space, especially if the architecture is more modern,” says Joss & Main’s Donna Garlough, author of Your Home, Your Style.

5. Weigh the Pros and Cons of Vintage Versus New.

(Image credit: Revival Rugs)

From an eco perspective, vintage is usually the smarter choice. It’s also probably the better route for you if you want a unique, one-of-a-kind item that tells a story. “The rugs that we sell on our site are truly works of art,” says Ben Hyman, the co-founder and CEO of Revival Rugs. “20 to 80 years ago, people (often women’s collectives) thought carefully through the design elements of each rug—motifs and color have cultural significance. The wool was sourced and dyed locally, the knotting and construction were extremely durable.” Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said for the machine-made and hand-tufted rugs that larger retailers sell. “That same attention to detail doesn’t exist, and the materials are less durable and often synthetic,” says Hyman. “They lack the same beauty, durability, and uniqueness.” So true. Many older rugs are often crafted better and may hold up to wear-and-tear better than their newer counterparts. But they’re also pricier than a lot of newer rugs, so you have to take that into consideration as well.

6. Put a Rug on it!

(Image credit: Revival Rugs)

These days, rugs aren’t just for the typical areas—think: living rooms, bedrooms, and entries. You can shop for styles that work in places like the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom too. And yes, if you have old or blah wall-to-wall carpeting in your space, you can layer an area rug over that existing floor covering. “Layering a small colorful rug on a neutral sisal or dhurrie is also great option,” says Bolour.

7. Shop Online but Don’t Discount Brick-and-Mortar Stores.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

There are tons of great rug resources online, but not all of them are trustworthy. Bolour suggests focusing on a website’s photos, transparency and responsiveness to determine its credibility. “Ask the vendor for additional close-up photos if they are not already posted online,” he says. “Feel free to ask the vendor as many questions as you want, and if the rug is an antique, ask for a condition report as well.”

Hyman agrees, and takes it a step further, suggesting that any seller you purchase from should have a flexible return policy similar to Revival’s seven-day return grace period. “We focus a lot of energy on product photography and descriptions, so that customers can fall in love with a rug and have confidence in their purchase, even if they haven’t touched it in person yet,” he says. “But sometimes what you thought was the ideal size is a bit off, or the color scheme doesn’t quite fit with the rest of your decor. In these cases, it’s nice to have the option to return or exchange your rug.”

It never hurts to hit a few stores IRL either. There’s no substitute for feeling and seeing a rug up close. Also, in some old school and specialty carpeting stores, you can buy a remnant and have it rebound if you can’t find something off-the-shelf that you love. Or get a vintage find resized to fit your current space. Just remember, if you’re dealing with an authentic antique, Bolour only recommends resizing if has been done before or when damages are beyond restoration.

8. Don’t Forget Rug Pads.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

They’re not just an add-on driving up the cost of your set-up. “A good pad is a must, as it protects a rug from shifting when it’s walked on and provides extra cushioning,” says Bolour. More importantly, a pad actually increases the life of the rug by reducing the friction that exists between the rug and ground. “It lets the rug breathe and lets the dust fall to the floor,” says Bolour. He recommends eco pads made out of recycled felt.

9. Be Prepared for Sticker Shock.

(Image credit: Michelle Gage)

Rugs, especially handmade vintage styles, are expensive. Heck, even a brand new big cotton rag rug can be pricey. Do some research to know what’s reasonable for what size and style you want. For example, an 8-by-10 foot vintage rug at Revival costs roughly $800-900, and high-end specialty stores can run 3 to 10 times those figures. Sometimes, as Hyman points out, new machine-made and tufted rugs can be just as expensive as vintage styles, so the more comparison shopping you can do, the better.

You have to realize a rug is an investment. And with the right care, it could last a long time, which may help soften the blow of the large upfront expense. But Hyman says to beware when it comes to vendors that mark up prices based on personal tastes and perceived trends.

10. Negotiate!

(Image credit: Elaine Musiwa)

Bargaining tactics tend to work better at places like flea markets and tag sales, but if you’re buying multiple rugs from one brick-and-mortar store or a single dealer, it can’t hurt to ask for a small break. This probably goes without saying, but when shopping on the web, wait for a discount code, holiday sale, or price matching offer. Some stores, like Revival, eliminate the overhead costs by being completely online and working directly with craftspeople in Turkey, so they can pass on that savings to customers in their pricing structure.

Hopefully, this primer has you feeling ready to go forth and buy a rug, if you happen to be in the market for one. Are there any other tricks or things you think about when rug shopping?