May 08, 2017 3 min read

Text by Alicia Brunker published in Architectural Digest

When designing a room, it's not uncommon to spend weeks, or even months, in search of the perfect furnishings. Ironically, a rug often comes as an afterthought. It's often a decorative piece we pick up in a rush after all the other elements of a room are in place, selecting a size based on the standard, off-the-rack measurements. According to interior designer Anne Hepfer, though, the rug should actually be one of the first objects selected when decorating a space. “A rug is one of the most important elements of a room,” Hepfer says. “It’s the showpiece that grabs your attention, and it dictates the mood and design for the rest of the space.”

Jean-Pierre Tortil, the global creative director for lauded carpet company House of Tai Ping, couldn’t agree more. “The rug is the fifth wall of a room,” he says. “Yes, you decorate the walls, but the floor is absolutely crucial to a room’s design, and the rug acts as the anchor.” If Tortil and Hepfer are right, then it’s time to put fabrics, finishes, and color schemes on hold and first find a rug with an appropriate look and fit. Here, Tortil and Hepfer explain how to choose a rug that strikes a balance between scale and setting.

1. Keep in mind the room’s measurements

“It’s my biggest pet peeve to see rooms with rugs the size of postage stamps,” says Hepfer (it's a mistake that grates on many designers, in fact). “I love for a rug to be perfectly scaled in a room. And, depending on the size of the room, I measure a perimeter of show floor that is six to 14 inches off the baseboard to achieve that scale. If you have a large room, you can go up to 12 to 14 inches. In a smaller room, it’s better to have less floor, unless you have a decorative floor, like beautiful reclaimed oak herringbone; it’s kind of a shame to cover that up with a rug.”

2. Create a cozy sanctuary in the bedroom

“When placed underneath a bed, a rug should stick out about four to five feet on all three sides,” says Tortil. “I love round rugs or half-round rugs in the bedroom. The bed’s square shape and a circular rug contrast in shape—it’s absolutely beautiful. You can also have a round bedside rug. It can be more elegant when you step out of bed than the traditional under-the-bed rug. There’s more glamour.”

3. Make sure there is enough room for furniture

“I’m not a fan of furniture legs falling off the rug or having half on and half off,” says Hepfer. “Unless it’s a sideboard, console, or another piece of furniture that is up against a wall and you want to flow furniture into the center of a space, a rug should be underneath all four legs.”

4. When in doubt, bigger is always better

“I personally recommend buying a big rug,” says Tortil. “When people have small spaces, they tend to put apartment-size furniture and a small rug in the room. To me, that is wrong. I would do the exact opposite and place a couple big pieces of furniture in the room to give it depth, and then scale the rug to match the furniture.”

5. Different shapes work for different rooms

“A rug shape depends on the shape of the room and the way you want to place your furniture,” says Tortil. “A big round rug in a square room softens the edges. The round shape is very popular in Asia—mostly in China—but not in the rest of the world. It’s a shame because it’s very elegant and brings a nice energy. For instance, I love having a circular rug in the entryway; it welcomes you to all the rooms right off the entrance and opens to different doors. On the other hand, if you have a room that is big enough, I like to create a separate corner with more of a freeform rug, like an animal hide, with one beautiful armchair or two armchairs and a little end table to create a very specific, glamorous spot.”

6. Customize

“The standard width for a rug is 13 feet,” says Hepfer. “So if you have a large room, you’re probably going to have to go custom. There are ways to seam and bind them together to make a specific size. And if you find a rug that is too big for your space, you can always cut it down.”