We love beautiful hardwood floors. We adore the feel of cool tile on our feet on a hot summer day. But we also want something soft underfoot as cooler temperatures set in. And who can resist the allure of a rug that ties a whole room together?

But buying a rug can be difficult. There are so many options! It’s overwhelming. By learning a little about rugs and how to choose them, shopping can be fun instead of stressful.

Rug or Carpet?

Do you want a rug or carpet? The key difference is that you can move a rug, while carpet is affixed to the floor. Many homes have carpet in at least some spaces.

Bedrooms are frequently carpeted. The texture is nice on bare feet. Wall-to-wall carpet also absorbs noise, keeping bedrooms relaxing and quiet.

Today we’re talking about rugs that you can move and change. You don’t have to sacrifice all the benefits of carpet if you have hard surface floors, even in your bedroom. Rugs have become amazingly versatile. You can even use a carpet remnant as a rug.

If you jump in and start an internet search for types of rugs, your head will spin. There is a seemingly endless variety of materials, construction, color, pattern, and features.

So let’s break it down a little. The big questions are:

  • What is the rug made of?
  • What color or pattern is best for your home?
  • Where are you putting the rug?

You don’t have to study rug construction to choose one for your home. The biggest step is figuring out how you want the rug to look, feel, and perform.

Rug Materials

In general, you’ll find rugs in six different materials on the market.

  • Wool
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Natural fibers
  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Hide

Rug material plays a big role in how it feels underfoot and how expensive it is.


Wool rugs are durable and soft. They tend to be made by hand (either knotted or loomed) which makes them pricey. They can also be mixed with synthetic fibers to reduce the cost.

Wool rugs are plushy and cozy. You can find them in a high or low pile. Wool is one of the oldest rug materials and it is naturally dirt and stain repellent. They’re fantastic for high-traffic areas.

Synthetic Fibers

Polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fibers are used to make rugs that mimic the properties of wool. They can be soft and deep or have a shorter pile. They’re durable and stain-resistant.

Synthetic rugs are machine-made, making them less expensive than wool. Most wall-to-wall carpet is made with synthetic fibers.

Natural Fibers

This label is a little misleading. Wool is a natural fiber, as is cotton. In this case, it refers to fibers such as jute, bamboo, sisal, or seagrass. These rugs look fantastic, with interesting textures.

They are not, however, uniformly soft and comfy. They also stain easily and some shed fibers. One popular way to use a natural fiber rug is under a smaller area rug. You get the fun look of jute or seagrass around the edges and a foot-friendly feel in the center.

Natural fiber rugs are a fun addition to an entryway or under a kitchen table. They’re generally inexpensive so can be changed with the season.


Cotton rugs are fun, come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and patterns, and are inexpensive. They are often flat woven or braided. They’re soft, but not plush.

Cotton rugs tend to fade and can be slippery on a bare floor. They come in a huge variety of sizes and are popular for casual areas like the kitchen.

One type of traditional cotton rug that is found regionally across the country is the braided rug. These round or oval rugs have been around for ages, created using scraps of fabric from other projects.

They are a little more substantial and long-lasting than flat-woven cotton rugs. The style may not be for everyone, but it exudes Americana like few other rugs.


Silk rugs are thin and wonderfully soft with a gorgeous shine. They’re thin, fragile, and hard to clean. They’re best used for areas with little or no foot traffic.

Sometimes those silky fibers are woven in with other materials to give the rug extra softness and a bit of shine.

Silk is a strong fiber and these rugs often have elaborate patterns. If you love how they look, consider using a silk rug as a wall covering.


Sheepskin, cowhide, and other animal skins and furs are sometimes used for rugs. There are also many synthetic copycats. These are specialty rugs, usually small and irregular in size. They are very soft underfoot.

Also called hide-and-hair rugs, they have no particular qualities that make them superior to other rugs. This one is all about personal preference. Many people use soft, synthetic sheepskins to put on chair backs.

Choosing a Rug Material

Choose your material based on where you want to put your rug. If you’re choosing a rug for your cozy living room, wool or synthetic deep or medium pile feels warm and soft.

If you’re looking for a statement rug in a hallway or kitchen, try a natural fiber. For rugs you want to switch frequently, go with inexpensive cotton.

Rug Colors and Patterns 

This can be so hard! Let’s take a look at choosing colors based on your space and what you’d like to achieve.

If you have no furniture in a room, start with your rug. Decide on a color palette and choose a rug you love. Then decorate around the color and pattern you’ve chosen.

Most of you aren’t choosing the rug first. So stick with your established color palette. If your walls are bright, consider a neutral rug. If your walls are beige or grey, consider a color that goes with your furniture. 

If you have a small space that you’d like to optimize, try a light color. It makes the room feel more spacious. Soft, muted colors are relaxing, while bright colors are energizing. Deep, rich colors make a room feel extra cozy.

If the room has solid-colored furniture, a patterned rug adds a nice visual element. Make sure the rug has at least one color that is similar to your furniture’s upholstery to tie the room together.

You can choose a bold pattern to liven up a space. If you want to keep things relaxed, a muted pattern will maintain your low-key vibe.

If you showcase patterns anywhere else in the room, be careful with your rug. A large patterned wall hanging will be uncomfortably jarring with a patterned rug.

Consider the texture of your rug as well as the color. A neutral rug with a deep pile or made of natural fibers adds an element of interest without adding potentially troublesome extra color.

Rug Sizes

First of all, most rugs come in standard sizes, from 3 x 5 up to 9 x 12. You can certainly order a custom size, but it will be expensive.

Living Room

So getting the absolute perfect size may not be possible. You can still avoid rugs that are too small or too large. A too-small rug makes a room feel cramped.

A rug that is too large might crawl up your room’s walls. Yikes! You want some of the underlying floor to show. A good goal is 12-18 inches, depending on the layout and shape of the room.

Think of your rug as the piece that ties the room together. Ideally, that means the main pieces of furniture touch or come close to touching it. A perfect rug will sit just under the front feet of your couches and chairs.


You have quite a bit more leeway in your bedroom.  Using the bed as the focal point, choose a rug that gives your feet a place to land when you get up.

A bedroom rug can fit under the entire bed or the lower 2/3 of the bed. If you want something different, try a couple of smaller rugs that sit on either side.

If you’d like more coverage, use the guidelines for living rooms. This will give you more sound dampening and extra coziness.

Kitchen, Hallway, Bathroom

Here is where you get to play. Cotton, jute, sisal, and other fun, inexpensive rugs are perfect for these rooms. Allow visible floor around the rug and choose a shape that complements the space.

Rug Pads

No matter what rug you buy or where you’re putting it, invest in rug pads. They prevent slipping, protect your floors, and add extra cushioning. They even help reduce noise.

The most important function of rug pads is safety. No one wants a rug to slide out from under their feet. Some rugs, particularly those made for bathrooms and kitchens, have a non-slip backing. Most do not.

Even if you plan to buy inexpensive rugs that you switch often, invest in some good rug pads to protect yourself, your guests, and your home.