A great rug can totally transform a room, but it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to choosing one. Interior designer Deirdre O'Connell has plenty of advice.
Room size, rug size, shape, pattern, design, composition, furniture, footfall, durability, quality, price, care: when it comes to choosing a rug, there’s a long list of factors to consider.
It can be overwhelming to know where to start, so here are my suggestions and tips on ways to choose and use rugs to get a gorgeous look.
The floor is a canvas
First things first; every room needs a rug. If lights are the earrings, then rugs may be the shoes, a canvas to be dressed. They create confined, cosy areas within rooms, and they add layers of texture, warmth and charm. Use them everywhere: in hallways, living areas, under the dining table, under an office desk, under the bed. Even in the kitchen and utility, don’t forget the rug.
In my work I often place large rugs down over brand new flooring, with clients wondering why we’re hiding the expensive new floor… we’re protecting it! Likewise, I place large rugs down over old floors, like those golden oak floors we all put down 10 years ago. Rugs add style, and hide a lot.
It starts with a rug
If you already own a rug you adore, or you find an incredible rug that you simply must have, then design around it. In London, legendary designer and antiques dealer Robert Kime famously starts all his design schemes with a rug. Pick out a soft, subtle colour as your base tone, and work with the style and design of the rug for the room décor.
Rugs as art
If you’re really stuck for what to do with a rug you adore, depending on the size I’ve seen stunning rugs used as hangings on walls. They can look as good as art.
As with anything in design, size is key. In general, if you are using one centrepiece rug in a room, the rule is “either furniture all on, or furniture all off”. The size relates directly to the price so you can save a few euro placing the rug just beyond the front feet of surrounding furniture.
Match the rug shape to the room shape: a square rug for a square room, a rectangular rug for a rectangular room. If you want, and can afford a very large rug, then this is a handy option for covering older, dated flooring. Measure up and come in 30 to 45 centimetres from the border walls.
If you’re on a budget but need a large rug, try two of the same plain or patterned rugs side-by-side, just be careful where they join.
To visualise it, mark the size with (easy to remove) masking tape. Research standard rug sizes and see if one works for you. Small rugs can look sad and lost, even if you love the design.
My designer girl-crush Shea McGee of Studio Magee layers smaller, decorative rugs on top of larger, natural weave ones, and she suggests layering a rug about 2/3 the size of the rug underneath.
Lately I like using natural rug materials. They are neutral enough to transform many designs without overwhelming a room. Sisal, jute or seagrass are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, durable and can come patterned subtly with herringbone, knotted, or stripe details.
Creating a room in a style you love takes a collection of décor and furniture, and the rug plays its role. A classic Victorian or Georgian sitting room deserves a classic oriental, centrepiece rug. A large, loop pile, cream Berber rug with a darker motif adds a touch of bohemian to a contemporary living room. The gorgeous, coastal Hamptons, “Nancy Myers” type interior is enhanced with a rug in neutral patterns or stripes with nautical soft blues. In a large hallway, I love a round, elegant, border rug underneath a round-styled reception table.
Popular amongst designers are custom-made rugs, from brands like Fibre and Deco Design. Cutting a patterned sisal, basketweave jute or knotted carpet weave to the required size, and finishing the edge with a complimenting suede or leather bind is a lovely way of enhancing a design scheme with colour and tone.
Shea McGee also loves rugs in the kitchen. Yes it raises eyebrows, but given you probably choose neutral colours in this room, and with the amount of hard, cold surfaces, a charming runner or a rug under the dining table adds warmth and texture. Choose durable fabrics, or a vintage worn look rug conceals stains.
Outside patios and dining areas can look drab and grey. Style the space with an outdoor rug to complement the colours of your cushions and tablescaping for a lovely summer dining experience.
Go with your heart
As ever, my advice is only to ever buy something you really love. Give some thought to the room style and use Pinterest and Google Images for inspiration. Don’t buy it immediately, take a few days to think about it, check the colours match the flooring, the wall tones, the furniture etc, then make your decision.
If possible, buy from Irish rug suppliers and markets. You’ll get to see the colours and feel the rug quality before you buy, you can never know this from an online shop.
For quality and world-class expertise, Rug Art in Sandyford is a treasure trove. I used one of their gorgeous, bright Berber rugs recently in a contemporary living room. There are a range of reasonably priced choices too.
For showstoppers, Ceadogán Rugmakers in Wexford and Connemara Carpets‘ luxury “Moyard Collection” are like pieces of art. Flying the tricolour in NYC is Dublin-born Claire McGovern and Rhyme Studio, with exquisite rugs made in Ireland using Irish wool.
Back on home soil, Oriental Rugs on Francis Street in Dublin is a great browse and feels like a little Istanbul, as does Myles Quirke in Stillorgan. Rugs by Design in Lucan are brilliantly helpful, have a vast range and provide the gamut of rug services. Rugs.ie in Douglas, Cork has a terrific selection and they have lovely ideas on their Instagram.
Have fun at the antique shops and fairs, and don’t forget the valuable second hand market for rugs.
On the high street, Oliver Bonas on Dublin’s Exchequer Street have colourful contemporary rugs, as do Habitat. For value and options, it’s hard not to land on RugVista’s website. While no online photograph of a rug will show the true colours and how flat (or not!) it is, there is a good range and the rug arrives within a few days.
Check the shopping returns policy as the comfort of knowing you can bring a rug back can be as comfortable as the new rug itself!
That brings me to the practical tips. Use grip underlays. Use Scotchguard. Check your doors swing over a new rug. Be mindful of a bright rug near an open fire for little spark and soot stains. Rotate rugs every few months to balance the traffic flow. Sell old rugs on Done Deal or give them to the charity shop.
Photography: Ferm Living. This article was originally published in August 2022.