Few decor elements are as fundamental and transformative—as well as fear-inducing—as an area rug.

Size, texture, color, pattern, and shape are all variables to consider, along with the persistent doubt of whether it will complement or clash with existing furniture. One wrong, not to mention expensive, choice can throw an entire room off balance.

On the hunt for a rug to complete your living room? Follow these tips from the pros and you’ll be snuggling up in no time.

Consider the function

Before your search even begins, start by thinking about your lifestyle. Ask yourself: How do you envision living in this room? Is the priority glamour or comfort? Something that will hide wear and tear (like wine spills)? Do you like to entertain?

“Almost everything goes back to how you plan to use the space,” says New York City-based textile designer and artist Malene Barnett. “Think about how you plan to spend your time in the room, and that will dictate what design you should look for. Let your lifestyle guide you.”

Go for Goldilocks

Choosing the correct rug size is crucial. Oversized rugs overwhelm and dwarf a space while too-tiny textiles make a room look unfinished or not well thought out; you need one that fits the space just right.

“Finding the right size is so important for the room’s design structure,” says Barnett. “The proper size is going to make a huge difference in how the final space is going to look and whether it anchors the room successfully.”

At a concrete ciffside home in LA, an area rug plays up the space’s accent colors while adhering to the trick of putting the front legs and side chairs on the rug.
Photo by Sam Frost

A good rule of thumb when rug shopping is to find a rug that accommodates the desired seating area, rather than the whole room.

“I often recommend the front legs of the sofa and side chairs be placed on the rug as an alternative solution,” says Anishka Clarke, one half of the Brooklyn-based design duo, Ishka Designs. “An oddly shaped rug or a round rug may allow you to cheat scale by purposefully not adhering to these rules.”

The living room of the house is white with accent walls of wood veneer. Midcentery Modern furniture (leather Knoll chairs, a sofa, and a coffee table) furnish the room.

At this incredible midcentury time capsule home, a generous round rug pulls together the living room, putting original Knoll furniture center stage.
Photo by Bob Coscarelli

Whether the intent is to place all furniture on the rug or just the front legs, be sure to leave a few inches between the wall and the rug’s edge to really define the seating area.

Bring texture home

“Foot traffic is a key element when considering rug texture,” says Clarke. “If this is a heavily used room, like a living room, or if pets are involved, you might want to consider an all-wool rug, sisal, or a cotton flatweave as these can take a good beating.”

For the old-school living rooms that are best observed and not touched, silk or antique rugs are ultra-luxe, albeit a sure budget-buster.

“For a more affordable option, I would recommend an all-wool, hand-knotted rug or a combination of wool and artificial silk,” says Niya Bascom, the other cofounder of Ishka Designs.

Indulge in the feel-good factor

According to Nashville-based interior designer, Kathy Anderson, who redesigned the legendary Grand Ole Opry House, choosing a color and pattern is where the fun starts.

“Don’t be afraid of color,” she says. “But I prefer rugs with an interesting pattern and combination of highs and lows in the pile. A pattern also helps hide the wear and tear and allows our clients to really enjoy their space, which is the whole point.”

A colorful apartment in Harlem, New York City.

The colorful rug in this 500-square-foot Harlem apartment is right at home with the bright pops of decor.
Photo by Winnie Au

Layer it on

An easy way to add dimension and visual interest to a room is to layer rugs with similar colors or elements, and surprisingly, it’s not as tricky as it seems.

“If you’re going to layer, set a solid ground color,” says Barnett. She recommends indigo or an equally rich jewel tone, as the complementary colors with these hues are endless.

This cozy Minneapolis bungalow shows how to do rug layering: a neutral base with a smaller accent piece on top.
Photo by Wing Ta

“Then, get a patterned rug that highlights some of the bold color and layer it on top, so that whatever first color you choose, it forms a great backdrop,” adds Barnett. “And feel free to really go for it in terms of contrasting textures and shapes. It’ll be a great conversation-starter.”

Inspired? Check out our roundup of the best rugs under $500.


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