Choosing the Right Rug

Choosing a rug

Choosing a rug

Whether you follow the Ballard tried-and-true decorating concept of “start with a rug” or just select one to add color and definition to an established d├ęcor, area rugs are the quintessential decorative accessory.

From the elegance of a classic Oriental to the casual look of a natural jute, rugs add personality and warmth to a room. But with so many styles, colors and materials to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?

It’s actually easier than you think. Here are a few ground rules to help you find the right area rug for your room.

Style Sense

Two of the biggest factors to consider when choosing a rug that you’ll love to live with are your lifestyle and your own personal style.

For a rug that’s going to last, you’ll want to make sure it can hold up to your lifestyle. Are you placing your rug in a high-traffic area, such as a hallway or family room? Do you have young children or pets? If so, you’ll want to go with a rug that’s durable and easy to clean, like wool, a synthetic blend or seagrass. And keep in mind, a dark-colored patterned rug will hide stains or dirt in high-activity areas.

Since you’ll be the one living with your choice, make sure any rug you’re considering ultimately complements your sense of style. You may not think so, but you really do know your style better than anyone else. So trust your instincts. Don’t talk yourself into a popular pattern or color if it’s really not you. You might love it today, but will you like it tomorrow?

What size?

Before you go shopping you’ll need to do a little homework, starting with measuring the area where you’ll be placing your rug. You might want to select a minimum and maximum optimal size to give you a wider selection of rugs to choose from.

Below are a few general guidelines:

  • In the family room, select a size that covers at least the length and width of your furniture. A 5′ x 8′ or 6′ x 9′ rug is a good size to cluster furniture around for an intimate area. To expand the space, select a larger size that outlines the perimeter of the area.
  • In the dining room, a rug should be large enough to allow space for chairs, even when pulled away from the table. Measure your table and add approximately two feet, or sit in one of your chairs yourself and measure the distance from the table.
  • If you have a wood floor, try to have at least 18 to 24 inches of flooring around the perimeter of the room.

Don’t worry about whether the furniture sits on or off the rug. What looks good to you is what’s important.

Still not sure about the size? Here’s a trick we use from time to time: use painter’s tape to tape the area to the size of the rug you’re considering. This little trick can help you visualize how the size works with your furniture.

rug choices

Solids and colors and patterns! Oh, my!

You’re almost ready to start rug shopping. First, take a quick inventory of your color scheme. To tie the look of the room together, you’ll want to select a rug that complements the two or three main colors in the room.

If you go to a store, we suggest you take a throw pillow and a color swatch of your drapes, furniture or wall colors with you. It’s incredibly hard to visualize how the colors will work together without any reference. And if you’re considering a Ballard Designs rug, we strongly suggest you order a swatch first.

Use these basics to get you started on your hunt:

  • If your primary furniture, such as a sofa, is a solid color, consider selecting a patterned rug.
  • Match the secondary color in a patterned rug to your sofa. Match the third rug color to your pillows, drapes, wall color or other accents in the room.
  • If your primary furniture is upholstered in a pattern or is elaborate in design, a solid-colored rug would work really well.
  • Make sure a solid-colored rug complements your sofa color, and match it to the accent colors in the room, such as artwork or a vase.

Since a rug serves to anchor the room, the color and style of your rug can establish the mood.
Dark, rich colors help define a more intimate space while lighter colors make a smaller space
appear larger. Spicy hues such as yellow, orange or red add warmth while cool colors create
calm, especially in a sunny room.

Got it? Now it’s time to go rug shopping. Happy hunting!

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Reply

    mary mccarty

    March 21, 2016

    i have a king size bed. is it better to put two area rugs on either side of the bed and another at the foot of the bed? my dresser is on the wall facing the foot of the bed

    • Reply

      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      June 29, 2016

      You’re right, it’s hard to plan the correct rug size when you have a very large room. We suggest either having a rug specifically cut to fix your room, especially something like sisal or seagrass that is easy to have cut to size. Then maybe layer another rug in a pattern in a large size at the foot of the bed. That way you get both adequate coverage around your room, but you also get the pattern and personality of a pretty rug!
      Best of luck,
      The How to Decorate Team