Buying Your First Area Rug: What You Need to Know

I used to have a downstairs neighbor whose kids ran up and down the hallway well past midnight. I could hear his alarm go off. I could hear him lecturing his tween child too early in the morning. I could hear him cussing out his ex-wife. I thought he was a terrible tenant.

Then he moved out and his landlords moved in. Their very first night in the condo, they rang my doorbell while I made lunches and got ready for bed.

“If you’re going to WALK THIS MUCH,” one of the new neighbors greeted me with in our first conversation, “we are going to have a REAL PROBLEM.”

Definition of a troublesome neighbor? Oh, the bar has just been raised. While they are trying to change bylaws for the building about what hours tenants can walk around (seriously)  they’ve also pounded on my door to request that I:

* find a way to tweak how often I drop things

* don’t put away my clothes in the closet after 10 p.m.

* don’t do laundry at night

* breathe

OK, they haven’t asked me to stop breathing. But I am sure it is coming. There’s nothing I can do about their hyper-sensitivity and apparent inexperience living in a community with shared walls and pre-war insulation. But I can pad my rooms, particularly the ones I walk around most and the ones that allow me to clearly hear their snoring, closet doors slamming and (yep) late-night walking (yeah, urban communal living!). So, rugs it is!

I have very little experience buying area rugs. The rugs I have purchased were cheap and quick problem-solvers. But now I want to buy better floor coverings. This week, I am doing my research on tenant rights and how to buy an area rug like an adult (not to mention nice-lady neighbor).

Here’s what the experts say we all need to know when we’re buying our first neighbor-proofing area rug.

Set a budget

Rugs are an investment. It’s important to know what kind of investment you realistically have to spend before you go out and are wooed by a hand-knotted Persion antique carpet. If your investment is low, like under $100 or $200, you will have options, and it might be better to think about what you need out of that carpet for the next couple of years. If your investment level is higher, be sure to do your homework before you step foot into a store where the options can be overwhelming. Also, consider your space. If the area rug will be mostly covered by furniture or placed in a playroom, it’s OK to spend less even if you have the cash in hand. As with any home purchase, sticking close to the budget is wise and finding a salesperson who will not push an upsell makes that easier.

Assess the room

Why do you want floor covering? Is it to block out unruly dinosaur-walking neighbor sounds? Or to muffle your own romps? Do you need a softer place to rest your feet? Or more comfort while you do Pilates?  Does your room need a burst of light and design? Write down WHY you want an area rug and that sentence will help inform what you dismiss and what you consider from the piles of products.

Measure the space

Before you even start looking at rugs, measure the room and then determine the space the area rug will need to cover. I love these formulas for determining the best fit (and these are good tips, too). Because I am thrifty about big purchases, I’d most likely skew small to save money and then be stuck with a rug that is way too small for my space. Don’t do that. If you can’t visualize how it will look, buy a cheap tarp or tape together/cut up an old shower curtain and place on the floor. This will help you get a feel for how big the rug needs to be and how it might be placed.

Get honest about wear and tear

The small shag area rug in my bedroom that once looked like a polar bear outstretched between my bed and closet (no polar bears were talked into napping above my crabby neighbors, I promise), now looks like beautiful white fur that’s been smeared in grayish-black footprints. As much as I’d like a dainty, Zen-like, sanctuary of a space to sleep in, I also need a carpet that can stand up to a parade of stilettos, boots and broom handles to bang on the floor when my neighbor’s out of Breathe Right strips. Now it’s your turn: What kind of rug does your room really need?

Consider color, light and pattern

I love turning the giant “pages” of rugs at the store, flipping through contemporary designs to classic patterns to bright and bold colors and on to simple and soft hues. While I love the florals the most right now, they might not be my favorite next month. And as much as a deep, delicious chocolate rug looks inviting, it wouldn’t compliment the paint on my walls. Consider your taste, furniture and colors that won’t overpower what you already have going on in your room (or will, if you are doing a complete makeover). Also, pay attention to the lighting and natural sunlight in the room and how it may impact the color and print you place on the floor.

Choose a fiber

Nylon? Wool? Cotton? Jute? You will probably be drawn to certain kinds of floor coverings based on the style of your room, the way the rug feels to the touch, the styles available in that fiber and the price point. Think about whether you’d prefer synthetic (like nylon) or natural (cotton or wool). More affordable fibers, like cotton and sisal, are easier to clean. The price elevates a bit for wool, which is naturally stain-resistant and durable. Higher-quality knotted rugs go up in price (depending on whether they are hand-knotted, machine-made or a combination of the two), have more detail and last longer. Choose the quality that is the best fit for your wallet, room and needs. You’ll likely opt for very different fibers if kids with sippy cups will be running over the rug or if it is a show-piece in your formal living room.

Determine density

Density is one element in considering how well-made and durable a rug is.  Note any manufacturer guidelines ratings to help you narrow down for foot traffic. Do take note of density, which measures the amount of yarn packed per square yard. Experts say that the higher the number, the less likely the carpet will collapse as you walk across it, making it last longer.  A great cheat is holding a carpet sample in your hands, pulling back the edges and seeing if you can see the backing of the rug show through. If so, it’s not a high density and wear will show in two to four years. Twist level is also a factor to consider — the tighter the twist, the less the tip will unravel, look messy and get tangled. Look for numbers in the 3.0 – 5.0 range.

Don’t put off the padding

Don’t underestimate the spongy stuff under the floor covering and don’t be tempted to skip rug padding. Padding softens the feel as you walk across the rug, muffles sound (I WILL TAKE THREE), is a thermal insulator and aids cleaning. You will need to keep room in your budget for a quality rug pad. Polyurethane padding will last a long time but is not recommended for higher-quality rugs. Rebound padding, constructed from both recycled materials and polyurethane foam, is longer-lasting and suitable as a bottom layer for all types of rugs. Vinyl sheeting adhered to the padding will offer even more protection from spills. Waffle rubber padding relies on air pockets to provide cushion, but is sometimes not enough support for a rug. This is an affordable choice and it is best to opt for a high-quality, denser waffle rubber pad.

How crazy do you want to get?

Rugs, unlike paint or leather sectionals, are simpler to move around, place in other spaces and roll up and store in the attic. If you are prepared to take some design risks, consider the trend of layering area rugs for a boho chic style.  Or if you want to go even bolder (do it, mama), here’s a great guide to mixing patterns in one room.



A big thanks to The Home Depot for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.  


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