A Sense of Proportion: This rug, in designer Martin Horner’s home, grounds the room because it’s large enough to accommodate all the furnishings in this grouping.

Like everything else in home design, rug fashions come and go. Given that it’s easy to spend a lot on what goes underfoot, you don’t want to make a mistake. We talked to designers about the latest news in rugs, and how to choose wisely.

Fade to Sepia: A long process that involves a heavy wash, yogurt soaking, and sun bleaching makes a vintage Turkish rug look several hundred years old.

Start at the bottom and build up Of course it’s possible (and sometimes the only option) to select a floor covering to go with existing furnishings. But given a choice, building a room around a rug creates fewer design headaches."The rug is the most limiting option," says Brian Rojanasumaphong, sales manager of Oscar Isberian Rugs. If you choose the rug first, he explains, you can go to the Merchandise Mart and find thousands of furniture fabrics that will work with it, particularly if it’s highly patterned. If you choose fabrics first, chances are you’ll have a harder time finding a single rug that works with all of them, unless it’s a solid or an extremely subtle pattern.A rug is also likely to be the most expensive furnishing in a room-and it’s no place to skimp. "Rugs are an investment," emphasizes decorator Elizabeth Kumor, owner of Repose. "Spend as much as you can afford, because they last for your lifetime"-or even longer, if you take care of them.

A softer shade of pale Interior designers are buzzing about vintage Oriental rugs from Turkey that are put through a heavy wash that scrubs them of much of their color, then soaked in yogurt for two weeks, then bleached in the sun for several months. The patterns become extremely muted, making the rugs look several hundred years old, rather than just 50. "For people who can’t afford a $100,000 antique rug, this is a great alternative," says Shea Soucie, co-owner of interior design firm Soucie Horner. "It’s an original look without the price tag." The rugs are quite versatile, style-wise. "They work really well in traditional design," Rojanasumaphong says. "But they’re so soft and so faded they’d work with a really clean look, too. I could see one with some Mies van der Rohe furniture."

Let’s shag, baby Shag is making a comeback, but forget the gaudy, scratchy rugs of the 1970s. Today’s shags, including Flokatis, are made from long, super-soft wool fibers and are often dyed in rich, earthy tones. Rojanasumaphong says his favorites are made of Turkish angora wool. There has also been a surge of interest in vintage Swedish rya rugs, which makes sense given the popularity of mid-century modern furniture.

The New Shag: Not the scratchy stuff from the ’70s: the 2008 version is all wool. The Seagrass Rug here, available at Design Within Reach, is hand-tufted of long strands of felted wool.

Check out green options In general, natural-fiber rugs are more eco-friendly than synthetics made from petroleum-based materials. Synthetics also don’t wear as well as wool, which remains the hands-down most popular rug material, both for its durability and its natural stain resistance. Silk is showing up more frequently and is, contrary to common perception, quite sturdy. Plus, Kumor adds, "silk is unlike any other material that exists, in its reflective, tactile quality." Another hard-working natural option: woven leather rugs. "They’re very flat and architectural," says Soucie, who likes the ones from Keleen. "We’ve used them in living rooms and breakfast rooms. They clean up beautifully." They aren’t necessarily marketed as eco-friendly, but designers love Oscar Isberian’s new patchwork Oriental wool rugs. They’re constructed from recycled sections of complementary antique rugs that have been cut apart, then stitched together like a quilt. Flor modular carpet squares, meanwhile, are made partly from recycled materials and are great for playrooms, basements, and other areas prone to staining; individual squares can easily be swapped out for new ones without having to replace an entire rug. The backing on Chilewich’s Plynyl Mats is made from recycled materials and holds up in high-moisture areas such as entryways and bathrooms.

Neutral is never wrong Neutral, soft tones are still the trend in rugs, and are always a smart choice. "Then you can do anything with the fabrics" in the rest of the room, Soucie says. Within that neutral palette, you can still have fun with patterns. Oversized prints of traditional motifs-paisley and damask, for instance-are popular now, as are botanical designs. Or opt for a rug that uses color to create texture rather than a discernible pattern. If you can’t resist the bolder colors that are popular-lime green, turquoise-then spend less. Like stovepipe jeans, a trendy rug eventually is going to appear dated, and probably sooner rather than later. Replacing a $500 rug is easier on the nerves than ditching a $5,000 one. Also, if you’re putting vivid color on the floor, keep furnishings simple. "If you have a really bold rug, that has to be the star," says Jack Kreitinger of Kreitinger Design. "If a rug has a lot of pink in it, you can use pink in your furniture-but it has to be a plain fabric."

Go Green: The backing on these Chilewich Plynyl Mats is made from recycled materials. They’re ideal for high-moisture areas such as entryways and bathroom

Bigger is better To ground a room and prevent a "floating furniture" effect, a rug should be large enough for all the furnishings in a room or grouping to fit completely on it. "If you use a rug that’s too small for a room, it tends to shrink the space," Rojanasumaphong points out. "You want something larger that pushes the walls out." Another common error: choosing a rug that’s too small for the dining room. When you push your chair away from the table, make sure the back legs remain on the rug.

Keep the traffic pattern of the room in mind. "The big no-no is you don’t want to have to walk across a corner or edge of a rug," Kreitinger says. If that’s happening, "you either need to make the rug a little bigger or a little smaller." 

Make multiple rugs work Wall-to-wall carpeting largely has become passé, and in oversized rooms or lofts, filling the space with one rug generally isn’t going to be the most attractive-or affordable-option anyway. Instead, use several smaller rugs to define different areas. In a large living room, you could conceivably make just one seating area, but having two separate ones breaks up the space, Rojanasumaphong says. Create more interest by avoiding patterns that are exactly alike; instead, look for similarities in tone. Also, make sure the scale of the patterns is either the same or completely different-if it’s just a slight difference, it will look odd.

Always see the rug in your space Before you buy, put a rug to the test in your home. Rojanasumaphong insists clients see a rug in their home before buying it. "What is color but the way light is [bouncing] off an object?" he asks. "You have all different light in all different buildings." Every rug with a pile has a light side and a dark side, depending on whether the fibers are leaning toward you or away from you-so if a rug doesn’t look quite right once you get it home, try turning it 45 or 90 degrees. The change in color and even shimmer can make all the difference in seeing whether a rug is perfect for your space.




Chilewich Plynyl rugs, chilewich.com
Flor modular carpet squares, flor.com
Keleen Leathers, call 708-409-9800 for nearest representative
Oscar Isberian Rugs, 122 W. Kinzie St., 312-467-1212



Jack Kreitinger, Kreitinger Design, 312-751-8802
Elizabeth Kumor, Repose, 773-525-7378
Shea Soucie, Soucie Horner, 312-755-0202