Start with a great rug. How many times have you heard that tone-deaf interior design advice? Sure, in an ideal world, decorating a room around a gorgeous rug, which provides an instant color palette, is brilliant.
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But it’s not reality.
In the real world, of which I am a charter member, rugs happen last. Necessary furnishings — beds, sofas, tables and chairs — come first. Then, and after the bills, braces, brakes and bail are paid, comes the rug.
Backing into the right rug after a room is already furnished is harder than parallel parking a bus in Boston. In fact, the chances of finding a rug that falls into place is about as likely as having your frequent flyer miles actually apply to the trip you want to take. A lot has to click, namely colors, style, size, pattern and shape.
When you get to this point, you appreciate the wisdom of buying the rug first. However, because wisdom and behavior rarely intersect, home decorators find themselves where I found myself last week. Picking the rug last.
After four months, my teenage daughter and I felt settled into our new 130-year-old folk farmhouse. Except…. we could no longer ignore the bare wood floors in her otherwise furnished bedroom. Her storybook room overlooks some woods, and reminds me of the bedroom in the dwarfs’ cottage after Snow White came through.
We mulled our rug options, then agreed a braided rug would suit our home’s style. Plus I love the tradition and history these rugs suggest.
Long before the idea of recycle, repurpose, reuse was fashionable, our ancestors — we’re talking pre-Target — braided rugs out of thriftiness. When dad’s wool trousers wore out, or mom’s apron, or grandpa’s robe, they got torn into strips and braided into rugs.
Today’s mills use the same hand-crafted techniques, but (thankfully) have improved on rugs’ color blends.
Donna Willis, head of customer service for Yankee Pride, a braided rug company in Braintree, Mass., has worked for the company since it started more than 25 years ago, so knows her braided rugs.
Though most at home in traditional or country setting, braided rugs offer a hand-crafted counterpoint to modern and contemporary interiors, she said, then guided me through the rigors of selecting a rug for my daughter’s room. Along the way, she shared these no-fail tips for choosing the perfect braided rug for your home:
Material. Wool is the most durable and cleanable, said Willis, and best for heavily trafficked areas like entries and family rooms. Cotton is softer and its colors often more vibrant. Willis recommends these for bedrooms and bathrooms. Polypropylene, a synthetic material, works outdoors and in, won’t stain or mold and may be hosed off. Both cotton and polypropylene come in chenille, a texture that makes rugs fuzzy.
Shape. About 85 percent of the rugs Yankee Pride sells are oval, the most traditional shape. Round rugs are also popular, said Willis. Rectangles and squares are fairly new to the market and offer an updated twist on an old look, making them work in contemporary spaces. Note: If a room has a lot of linear pieces, it’s good to add a curve.
Size. The No. 1 reason rugs get returned, said Willis, is because customers got them too small. Before you order, use cardboard, newspaper (not this column) or sheets to make a template of the rug size on the floor. Relying on only a tape measure isn’t enough. When choosing a rug for under a dining table, add at least 2 feet to each side of the table, to give chairs pull out room. In living areas, either have all furniture legs on the rug or none. None makes the rug stand out more.
Color. Get a sample before you commit, advises Willis. Most rug mills make rugs to order. They don’t have rugs sitting in warehouses waiting for your call. So if you choose a make a color mistake, you will likely pay return shipping plus a restocking fee. I toyed with the idea of ordering a rug in custom colors for my daughter’s room, but when I got the fiber samples and tried to braid my brain around how they would look entwined, I decided to leave the color combining to the pros. “I’ve made custom-colored rugs for customers who knew exactly what they wanted, and they were very happy,” said Willis. “But in general I tell customers to trust the mills. They have a trained eye for what works.”
Ask for help. Willis works with a lot of customers who send her paint chips and fabric samples. “They get stressed, so I’m happy to spend time pulling samples. Then I’ll tell them: These five will work.”
After I scoured the website and company catalog, Willis helped me narrow my choices, then shipped me four 20-inch by 30-inch samples to test drive. One — a weave of raspberry, dusty pink, sage, cream — jumped out of the pack. A 6-foot round is on the way sure to give my daughter’s bedroom a fairytale finish.
Join me next week as I make my own contemporary style custom rug.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (DaCapo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.