Living Room Rug-Buying Giving You Anxiety? We're Here to Help

Have you experienced paralysis when looking to buy a rug? Rugs are a great way to infuse color, pattern, and texture into a home. They also help set the overall tone of a space, and play an instrumental role in a room's layout and style. However, purchasing a rug can send even the most level-headed shopper into a tail spin: There are a dizzying number of materials, colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from, and then there's the cost, all of which make the buying process that much more intimidating.

For living rooms especially, rug choice can feel high-stakes and overwhelming. A living room is generally the largest room in the house, and because entertaining often happens there, it's always on full display to guests. But we're here to tell you that buying a living room rug doesn't have to be daunting: Keep the following ideas in mind, and you'll manage to keep your composure while tracking down the perfect match.

Size

Rugs are pretty powerful design tools: They function as the foundation of a room and have the ability to make a space feel larger or smaller depending on their size. We recommend settling on your rug first when embarking on a remodel or refresh, then building up from there. When it comes to determining what size rug will work best for your living room, we can't overemphasize the importance of scale.

Not to state the obvious here, but make sure that you measure your living room BEFORE you start shopping, and double check your measurements before you actually buy. If you're considering going with the online shopping route, keep in mind that scale can be deceiving on a computer screen, and a rug that looks like it's perfectly proportioned for your living room might actually be too big or too small. Not to mention, returning rugs through the mail presents its own set of challenges, so you want to be confident that what you're buying will work.

How do you know what size to get? The shape of your living room is the biggest factor in selecting the ideal shape and size. A good rule of thumb is to pair like with like, so a rectangular rug will look most natural in a rectangular room. Rugs come in standard sizes — 3-by-5, 5-by 7, 8-by-11, and so forth — that are ideal for rectangular-shaped spaces. If you're working with a smaller or square-shaped living room, square and round rugs infuse a unique sense of personality.

People often err on side of less is more, purchasing rugs that are too small — which can make a room feel univinting. Conversely, a rug that's too large will overwhelm a space. We all know how tempting it can be to blanket your entire floor when you find a rug you love, but it's important to leave at least a 12" border around your rug to expose the flooring for some added contrast. Most designers agree that in a perfect world all legs of the furniture in your living room would fit comfortably on your rug, but if that's not possible, aim for an option that can at least accommodate the front legs without looking cramped. Remember: You want to leave enough room in between your furniture not only for a pathway to walk, but to create enough negative space for light and air to circulate. Use painter's tape to outline potential rug purchases on your floor — this a great way to visualize how it will look as you plan your furniture layout.

Focus on the front legs.

living room rug idea with Persian rug supporting just front legs of  leather furniture
credit: Jenny Komenda

Anchoring just the front legs of your furniture is a great living room rug idea, especially when sofas and chairs are oriented along the walls. Jenny Komenda used a traditional rug — just big enough to support the front legs of furniture — in earth tones to add pattern and color to this relaxed room. A combination of midcentury, traditional, and boho styles come together to create a perfectly approachable space.

If your rug doesn't come with an attached backing, make sure you purchase a separate rug pad. Not only do they keep rugs from slipping and help prevent buckling so you don't trip (particularly helpful with thinner kilim and Persian rugs), but they also protect floors from dye transfers and scratches, and prevent the growth of mildew.

Pile and Material

If you've been doing rug research, you've probably seen reference to something called pile. What is pile, you ask? In a nutshell, pile refers to the density of fibers in a rug — flat (short pile) or shaggy (long) — and is often used as a descriptor in conjunction with a rug's thickness.

Pile heights vary: Anything less than 1/4″ is classified as low; 1/4″ to 1/2″ is medium; 1/2″ to 3/4″ is categorized as plush, while some shags get even longer. A rug's pile has nothing to do with quality or durability, but high-traffic areas can benefit from rugs with higher density to prevent them from wear and tear.

Shorter pile rugs will, as a rule, last a bit longer than longer piles. They are also easier to care for because they can be more easily vacuumed (picture a shag rug getting wrapped around the rotating beater bar of a vacuum). Longer-pile rugs add dimension to rooms and feel luxurious underfoot, but they're prone to crushing and indentations by furniture.

Natural materials like wool and silk are pricier, but they'll last longer and look and feel luxurious underfoot. Wool is also naturally stain-resistant and can be cleaned easily. Silk is a little more delicate and should be cleaned by a professional. It can be tempting to save money by selecting a cheaper rug, like one made of popular organic fibers sisal, jute, and grass, which often cost less, but are difficult to clean. Use these woven rugs in food-free zones like an office, and if you're looking to layer rugs for added depth and texture, they're a great base for framing rooms because of their lower price point.

Opt for a shag rug.

A plush living room rug idea will add texture and personality to your space and feel luxurious underfoot. Emily Henderson installed a black shag rug to ground this room and punch up the contrast, while graphic lounge chairs and pale pink curtains bring a groovy '70s vibe.

Use natural rugs as a base layer.

RailiCA Design selected a sizable sisal rug as a neutral base for a smaller area rug. The ample size anchors the open-plan living space and supports all of the furniture for a cohesive look that doesn't feel crowded. A deep sectional, a pair of leather chairs, and an oversize coffee table ensure plenty of space and comfort for entertaining.

Trends

Rugs are great way to introduce personal style and trends into a home in a relatively low-commitment form. Yes, they can be pricey, but they're still easier (and generally more affordable) to replace than large pieces of furniture, if you tire of them.

Layering rugs has become increasingly popular and is a great cost-saving living room rug idea that has the added bonus of introducing definition and depth to a room. If you find a style that you love but can't afford the right size for your space, consider layering it over a larger, more affordable rug. You can also opt to overlap rugs to cover more floor space — this idea works best when using two options with similar styles.

Consider layering multiple rugs.

Layering rugs with similar sensibilities infuses living rooms with character and dimension. Amber Lewis overlaps a smaller dhurrie over a large neutral Moroccan rug for a thoroughly unique bohemian living room idea. Statement-making furniture, one-of-a-kind accessories, and a view of the outdoors complete the laid-back space.

The use of rugs outside typical spaces is also on the rise. Gone are the days when rugs were solely used in larger spaces like living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms — they're now being used in kitchens and bathrooms to bring color to traditionally monochrome spaces.

Where to Shop for Living Room Rugs

Ready to face your rug fears? Here are a few of our favorite spots to purchasing the ideal match for your space.

McGee and Co. offers a wide range of rug styles from traditional to bohemian in a variety of materials; they even have a curated inventory of vintage rugs.

Serena & Lily sells timeless rugs in classic, neutral colorways. They have a limited selection of round rugs, which are a bit harder to find, as well as rugs made from natural material and organic fiber.

Urban Outfitters has a variety of on-trend rugs at easy-to-swallow prices. If you're into the laid-back California vibe, or are looking for an eclectic rug, this is your spot.


Jaclyn Schatzow

Jaclyn Schatzow

Jaclyn Schatzow is a freelance writer living in Santa Monica, CA