How to Buy a New Rug

woman looking at carpet samples
Photo: Getty
Give your room a new look without getting taken on a magic carpet ride.

Step 1: Consider your space.

  • For room-size rugs (the best choices for bedrooms), the general rule is that at least 12 to 18 inches of flooring should frame the rug. But keep in mind that these numbers aren't hard and fast: The rug should look in scale with the room and furnishings.
  • For rugs placed under dining tables, measure the diameter of the table. Add 24 to 30 inches on each side for side chairs, and 30 to 34 inches for armchairs. When seated at the table, the chair's back legs should still be on the rug.
  • For rugs in hallways, the length is optional. But try to place yours so it doesn't end in the middle of a doorway. In very long halls, several smaller runners can work. They don't have to be matching, but colors should coordinate.
    [Nest Note] Multiple rugs used in adjacent spaces should complement one another in color and style, but can have different patterns.

Step 2: Decide on a budget.

  • Your mind probably wants to dream about color and texture, but your bank account is snapping you back to reality. Good news: There are area rugs at virtually every price point -- from $59 to $10,000 and up. The average cost for a 6-foot-by-9-foot today is between $100 and $2,000.
  • A lot of factors go into pricing: raw materials (rugs made of luxury fibers, like 100 percent premium worsted New Zealand wool, or silk, will be more expensive than rugs made of lesser-quality wool or synthetic-fiber jute and sisal), dyes (natural vegetable dyes are pricey, and the cost rises when more colors are used), and the time spent on labor and craftsmanship.
  • If you're looking to give the room a quick or seasonal makeover, then you might not want to invest in a high-end rug that you'll tire of in a year. On the other hand, when you want to create a room that will stand the test of time, a well-made rug will look and feel great for years -- and will end up being worth it. [Nest Note] Why pay more for wool? Chances are it will hold up (and look good) long after a rug made of synthetic fibers has come apart. A good-quality rug is also more forgiving of spills and wear and tear, and feels better underfoot. But make sure your wool rug doesn't shed (rub your hand back and forth on the fabric. If a clump comes off, it will forever be a mess. You might think it won't be a bother, but take it from one Nest editor -- it's worse than wearing black pants around ten thick-coated dogs!

Step 3: Think about color and style.

  • You can't go wrong with a style or color if it makes you happy (MIL doesn't have to like your selection, after all). But be open to more practical factors that will help you whittle down the myriad choices.
  • Neutrals like beiges and earth tones allow you to use your floor as a canvas on which to create a colorful room. A bright-colored rug will be the focal point or anchor of any room (and it will make the room look larger).
  • To minimize maintenance, light colors should be restricted to low-traffic areas, such as dining rooms, formal living rooms, and guest bedrooms. Multicolored and dark carpets are great for minimizing the effects of everyday dirt and soil.
  • With a busy rug, you'll want to avoid too many visual distractions on walls, on windows, and in furniture textures. When an area rug is solid, you can get more creative elsewhere in the space.
    [Nest Note] Green is the hot neutral of the moment. It will help yellow or blue colors in the room pop.

Step 4: Visit many showrooms.

  • You'll probably want to look around before making the final choice. All of those rugs can start to get confusing, so to make the hunt more efficient, bring along the room dimensions (including door openings and furniture placement), paint chips, fabric swatches, and tear sheets of your favorite looks from magazines. Digital photos of the room are also great -- or bring the camera itself if you want.
  • Ask lots of questions, or at least make sure the sales associate is well informed about your lifestyle and needs. Here's what to bring up:
    • Do you have an active home? If so, you need a rug that will hold up to traffic.
    • Do you have kids or pets? You'll need a sturdy rug
    • What about maintenance? What kind of care does the rug need and how often?
    • Is there a warranty to cover stains or odors?
    • Will sun and UV rays cause the rug to fade?
    • What's the lifespan of the rug? Are there better fiber alternatives?
    • Is there a return policy? What if you don't like the rug after you get it into your room?
    [Nest Note] A rug pad or underlay will help keep rugs from slipping and will add cushioning and, in some cases, insulation. Any way you put it, the pad will extend the life of an area rug.

Tips on Buying a Rug
1. Before you leave the store, ask about maintenance. You don't want to wait for the first major spill to figure out how to properly clean your rug.

2. Avoid worn spots by rotating your rug 180 degrees every 1-2 years.

3. Remember: Darker colors will make a room feel cozier and lighter colors more spacious.

4. Treat a big purchase as you would a good piece of furniture. The typical American buyer views a rug purchase as only a 5-7 year investment, while Europeans often see it as more of a 20-year one.

5. If you keep plants on a rug made from a natural fiber (like wool), be sure to line the pot with a plastic liner so water won't leak out. Otherwise, the water will wear a hole in the rug.

6. Before mkaing your purchase, scrape your fingernail along the carpet. If lots of fibers fly into the air, the rug may lose its density more quickly.

Type of Weaves
Flat Weave: Smooth, thin, flat rugs with resilient composition. Good for high-traffic areas like hallways, kitchens or entryways, or offices with rolling chairs

Shag: A supersoft cut pile rug with very long threads. Good for low-traffic areas, as accents under tables, or in front o fthe TV or fireplace (they're great for bare feet!).

Cut Pile: Carpets that have had the original loop sheared create a softer but more crushable surface. Best for lower-traffic areas such as bedrooms. A pattern on a cut pile rug will help disguise wear.

Sisal: Woven from leaves of the agave plant, these rugs wear quickly and are also harder to clean, so they are best for low-traffic areas like bedrooms or living rooms.

Loop Pile: After tufting or weaving, the pile is left in a loop, making it especially durable and good for family rooms, hallways, and other high-traffic areas.

Needlepoint: Hand-stitched needlepoint rugs allow for intricate design. Those will an allover pattern work well in a room with another focal point, like a great sofa or large piece of art. They're not good for high-traffic areas like hallways and entryways where they'll become quickly soiled.

[Nest Expert Anne Carley of Mohawk Select, a carpeting and flooring company.