Rug Buying Guide
What is the best way to buy an area rug?
As you would probably expect, the answer to this question is, "It depends." Many people start by measuring their space and determining what size will fit best. Others begin with an idea of the color or style they want and work from there. Of course, the rug's construction material matters, as does the amount of care it requires. So we recommend you start by educating yourself on the various attributes available in area rugs by reading this guide. Then you can narrow down your requirements until ultimately you find the rug that is absolutely perfect for your home.
Area Rug Construction
There are several construction techniques used to create are rugs. Although many manufacturers today use high-speed, accurate machine looms, a great many popular styles are still carefully made by the hands of talented and highly experienced craftspeople.
The base for a hand-knotted rug is created when columns of yarns, called the warps, are run vertically on a loom. Tufts of wool are then tied around these warp yarns from side to side to create knots. The ends of these knots become the pile of the rug. Once a row has been completed, yarns called the wefts are threaded horizontally through the warp yarns to tighten the knots and build the foundation of the rug. The weaver works meticulously, knot by knot, until the pattern is complete.
Hand-knotted rugs are extremely labor intensive: a large hand-knotted rug can take a team of weavers a year or more to make! More knots per square inch result in a more defined, intricate pattern and enhanced durability that, in turn, translates to higher quality. For this reason, hand-knotted rugs tend to be extremely durable - so much so that they can last for generations.
Tufted and Hooked Rugs
Tufted and hooked rugs are created by pushing yarns into a fabric base. The back of the rug is then glued to keep the tufts in place. The difference between a tufted and hooked rug is in the pile on the face of the rug. For tufted rugs, the surface pile is cut to produce a dense, plush pile. For hooked rugs, the yarns are left uncut to retain their rounded or looped appearance.
Braided rugs were almost universal in early, Colonial American homes. They are constructed in a variety of ways including a banded braid construction, cloth braid construction, flat braid construction and yarn braid construction. Braided luxury rugs are usually made of 100% wool and offer an appealing, thick look. A unique feature of most braided rugs is that they are reversible. By periodically flipping a braided luxury rug over, you can effectively double the longevity of the rug.
Flat-woven rugs (sometimes referred to as flat-weaves) can be constructed in a number of ways. In general, the yarn is tightly woven along a foundation structure of warp yarns. As a result, the yarn is flat and without knots, covering both the top and bottom of the rug, making most flat-woven rugs reversible. Traditional Persian "kilim" rugs are the best known flat-woven rug variety. Kilims can be strictly decorative or can be used as prayer rugs. In recent years they have become popular as floor accents in Western households.
Area Rug Materials
Wool and silk are typically the materials of choice for high-end area rugs. These high-quality, natural materials are inherently beautiful but also durable enough to ensure your rug lasts for years to come.
Wool comes mainly from sheep, but other sources include Angora goats, which produce Mohair, and Alpacas. Though wool is produced in many regions, New Zealand and Argentine wools are considered the best. The inherent qualities of wool make it a superior choice for top-quality area rugs.
- Wool rugs retain their shape due to wool's natural resistance to crushing.
- Natural soil and stain resistance mean wool rugs require less cleaning than those made from synthetic fibers.
- Pressure marks from furniture disappear completely when moistened and allowed to dry naturally due to wool's ability to absorb moisture.
- Wool rugs help moderate temperature and humidity in the home by absorbing and releasing moisture as needed.
- The soft and natural feel and inherent matte finish of wool are both appealing visually and comfortable underfoot.
Silk is made from the cocoon of the silkworm and requires a great deal of handling and processing, making silk one of the most expensive fibers. Silk production dates back to the 27th century BC in China, and this region still leads the world in silk production today. Silk's unique characteristics include:
- Natural sheen and luster for an elegant appearance
- Luxurious, soft feel that truly is unique
- Though made from a delicate cocoon, silk is actually one of the strongest natural fibers
- Actively static and resistant to mold, mildew and fungus growth
- Naturally hypoallergenic
Due to cost, silk is often blended with other materials such as wool. Silk's natural sheen provides a beautiful contrast to the matte finish of wool and is often used to outline or highlight a pattern to enhance a rug's design.
There are many other materials that can be woven into area rugs, with some of the most popular being synthetic. Examples are nylon, polyester, polypropylene (olefin), acrylic and viscose. Polypropylene is an excellent substitute for wool when the rug is used in a damp or high-traffic area. It is stain-resistant, easy to clean, water-resistant and incredibly durable.
Area Rug Styles
Oriental rugs are often the first style that comes to mind when talking about area rugs. These rugs frequently feature beautifully ornate patterns with medallions, scrolls, flowers or animal motifs. The palette of colors is extensive, ranging from the soft pastels of an Aubusson to the rich reds, blues and golds of a Serapi. No matter the style, a traditional rug brings timeless elegance to any space.
Contemporary and Transitional Rugs
Almost as popular today are contemporary and transitional rugs. These styles also come in many colors and patterns including solid, textural, floral and geometric. A transitional rug can bring interest to a room with highly traditional furnishings or add warmth to a modern space. Contemporary rugs can make a bold statement with patterns or provide a muted foundation and backdrop for modern art or furnishings.
Other Styles of Rugs
Of course, there are many other styles of area rugs beyond the top three described above. Braided rugs have made a huge comeback and are popular among homeowners who prefer a country or Americana setting in their homes. Southwestern styles aren't just popular in the American Southwest but can create a cozy lodge look anywhere. Also experiencing a resurgence in popularity are long-fibered shag rugs, now available in just about any color one can imagine. Sports enthusiasts can find a rug with just about any professional or college team logo on it, and there is an amazing selection of educational and kid-themed rugs for use in the nursery or child's bedroom. Lastly, don't overlook eco-friendly rugs made of natural fibers such as jute, sisal, and bamboo.
Area Rug Placement
Determining the size needed and location to place a rug can be a challenge. Generally, a minimum of 6 inches and a maximum of 18 inches of space should exist between the rug and the walls for the best effect. To help confirm the correct rug size for your space, use the simple guidelines illustrated. Then, consider marking the rug size and placement on your floor using masking tape to see how it will look in the space.
A rug should be large enough to slide under the front legs of sofas and chairs in a seating arrangement, unifying the furniture. For large rooms, consider using two rugs to define different areas of the space.
Leave at least 24 inches of rug extending from the edge of the table on all sides, which allows the back legs of the chairs to be on the rug, even when being used.
For an area rug to look balanced under a bed, it should be large enough to extend beyond the sides of the bed at least 18 inches. Depending upon the size of the room there can be more rug extension around the bed, but not less, which would hide the rug under the bed and make it somewhat insignificant to the overall look of the bedroom.
How to Shop for a Rug
A rug will provide beauty and interest in a room by defining the overall design and unifying the space as an anchor for furnishings. Determining the following factors will help to narrow your search for the perfect area rug.
- Size and shape is often the best place to start since they will remain the same regardless of style and color.
- Determine the style, whether that's traditional, transitional or modern.
- Consider the range of colors that will work in the space.
- Decide if you will be decorating to match the rug, or if you want the rug to match the existing décor.
- Although it's important to have a budget, don't let cost alone dictate the rug you choose.
- Consider taking advantage of the experience and training of a professional interior designer.
Follow these simple care and maintenance tips to extend the life of your rug.
- Use a high-quality rug pad for added comfort and protection against wear.
- Rotate the rug annually to ensure even wear.
- Find appropriate window coverings to safeguard valuable rugs from sun exposure, or install UV-blocking window films.
- Don't place potted plants directly on the rug to avoid water damage.
- Regular vacuuming helps prevent dirt on the surface of the rug from filtering down into the pile where it can accumulate and cause increased wear.
- If your vacuum is equipped with a power brush or "beater bar," use just the plain vacuum nozzle, especially on fringes, which are easily damaged.
- Clean all spills immediately and do not use soap or bleach. First, absorb the spill with paper towels by gently dabbing from the end of the spill towards the center to keep the spill from spreading. Place paper towels under the spill to stop further damage to the backing. To prevent damage and permanent staining, call a professional if the stain cannot be removed with water and gentle dabbing alone.
- Consider routine professional cleaning every 12-18 months, depending on the amount of traffic the rug receives.
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