How to Buy: Living Room Rug Size

Incorporating rugs and carpets into well designed spaces is not difficult but it is a learned skill. When purchasing an area rug for your home there are a myriad of factors that need to be considered to ensure the rug or carpet you end up purchasing best suits your needs, your wants, and your lifestyle. Do you have a high traffic area? What materials are best for this situation? What is your design style? How long do you intend on keeping the rug? How do you feel about vacuuming? All are great questions and they are but the tip of the iceberg. As we begin this serialized “How to Buy” guide our primary goal is to educate you so that you yourself can make a well informed purchasing (and design) decision based on expert opinion, facts, and your true requirements, not conjecture, “tips” from mediocre shelter publications (who are beholden to trends), nor your friend who is “good with design” just because they can copy the look from the aforementioned publications.

In deciding where to start this guide I thought back over my years in the world of rugs searching for the one factor above all others that said: “This must be addressed first.” Recurring time and time again the one annoyance above all others has to be the client who begins the purchasing process like this:

Rug Purveyor: Hello and welcome to Mister Rug. How may we help you today?
Client: Hi. I’m looking for a living room rug.
Rug Purveyor: Great! We have plenty of rugs (suited for living rooms), do you have a  particular size for the rug in mind? How big is the room?
Client: Oh I never thought of that. I don’t know how big the room is. It’s, you know, living room sized so I guess the rug should be as well…

This interaction has happened to me a countless number of times. And while it is certainly more commonplace in a retail environment over that of a trade-only or designer involved purchase, it is certainly not exclusive. Overall frequency notwithstanding, the importance alone of determining the correct size warrants it starting position. With that, we will begin our guide with: How to buy the correct rug size.

For our example today we will use a model living room whose shape, size, and furniture placement are roughly based on the living room of a friend who lives in a typical older suburban neighbourhood in an east coast American city. Our prototypical living room is 16′ X 24′ in size, has a working fireplace upon which the main seating group of a sofa and chair are centred, features a grouping of large windows along the front of the house with a second seating group consisting of two (2) chairs, and has a small desk and a few larger case goods located along the walls. Nothing out of the ordinary as shown below.

If you come into a rug and carpet showroom and proclaim “I need a rug for my 16′ X 24′ living room!” providing no further information (we are skipping design, style, colour, budget, and the like for now) what size is the rug purveyor to offer? Should he suggest a 14′ X 20′ as it generously fills the space, or should he suggest several smaller carpets in order to visually define spaces within the larger room? Both are valid options and as with most topics related to rugs (and design) it is difficult to find a single definitive answer without accounting for personal taste. The best we can do most often is to say something is acceptable or unacceptable. So let’s not examine the illustrated sizes individually, rather let’s discuss their various merits and disadvantages according to whether they are acceptable for use or not. First, the acceptable.

Acceptable

Both the 8′ X 10′ and 9′ X 12′ adequately define the main seating area and because neither occupies the entire room, allow for the addition of other pieces such as the runner behind the sofa and another rug for the second seating group. On the other hand a single 14′ X 20′ is the classic old school approach to rug placement that calls for seventy to eighty percent (70-80%) of the floor space to be covered. How do you choose? Start with “Which do you like?” and “How am I going to use the space?” and work from there. Will you most often just be sitting with a loved one (or not) enjoying the fire? Or will you be using this room to entertain larger groups with people both seated and standing in various conversation groups? The former favours the smaller collection of rugs, whereas the later favours a single large carpet. Of course, if you don’t like the look of several complimentary or matching (but not identical) rugs you must forego that option for the larger. But, if your budget does not allow for a 14′ X 20′, starting with the relatively less expensive 8′ X 10′ or 9′ X 12′ and optionally adding the runner and 5′ X 8′ over time might be a great solution for you. All of the acceptable options work to bring the space together as a cohesive whole. The collection of carpets does this by their aesthetic unity and anchoring of the various spaces whereas the large oversized carpet by its dominant and grounding presence.

Unacceptable

One of, if not the most common mistake made in selecting a rug size is choosing one that is simply to small for the space and more importantly, as we asked above, the function of the space. In either of the acceptable scenarios we have worked to create an intimate, livable, and inviting space. Placing a solitary undersized rug (such as the 6′ X 9′) fails to accomplish this. Instead of bringing the room together as a cohesive space, it retains the look of an unpolished collection of stand alone individual objects, all islands adrift if you will against the sea that is the floor. In short: No, no, no, no no, a thousand times no.

But! What if your budget only allows for a 6′ X 9′? Again this comes back to use of the space. In our example I suggest it would be best to forego a rug all together instead of placing one that is undersized. Another solution would be to alter the room layout to better accommodate a single 6′ X 9′. This later solution changes the requirements and thus is not appropriate to this example, but is one we will discuss later when we talk budget and pricing.

General Rules

Professional rug salesman would like nothing more than to be presented with a well thought out plan such as above and then work with you to find the rugs and carpets. Sometimes this happens (as with good designers and savvy rug consumers) sometimes it does not. For anyone involved with the purchase of a carpet the most important thing to remember about size is: “How is the space going to function?” Just because a room is the “Living Room” doesn’t necessarily mean the customer, their friends, or anyone other than the maid is going to step foot in there more than twice (2) a year. When thinking of what size rug you need (anything from the example other than 6′ X 9′) versus what size you want (narrowing the options) keep some the following things in mind:

The rug or carpet should be large enough that at least the front legs of the furniture in a seating group are on the carpet. In an ideal world all four (4) would be on the carpet, though this is not always possible. Do you prefer the look of all on or only half on? 

If you are using multiple carpets in the same room, and I almost hesitate to use the word, never use same design in multiple sizes. This is amateurish and unsophisticated. 

Choose rug sizes that reflect how the space will be used. In our example the furniture placement creates a visual hallway behind the sofa, and thus the optional runner placement. Same with the window seating group. The rug defines that as a smaller space within the whole. 

Rugs should be sized and placed with safety in mind. Eliminate areas where the edge of the rug is directly underfoot when seated. This is a potential tripping hazard when standing and beginning to walk.

In the next instalment we will discuss the easiest yet worst room to size a rug for: The Dining Room.