How to choose a living room rug - the 10 ways design experts do it to harmonize a space

Knowing how to choose a living room rug means you pull your room together, with these 10 inspiring pieces of expert advice

white living room with wooden armchairs, cream sofa and grey berber rug
(Image credit: Nune)

If you know how to choose a living room rug, you're well on your way to a winning scheme. It may seem like an after thought to some but this one piece can can pull your entire living room scheme together.

'If you’re working with a number of opposing tones or different colors in a room, selecting a rug that brings those elements together can really help create harmony in an otherwise visually disjointed space,' says Sheena Murphy, founder of interior design studio Nune.

'Choosing a rug can be a daunting task. It’s an investment piece and whilst we may know what style sofa or coffee table we are drawn to, selecting a rug is often more akin to choosing art,' says Caroline Milns, Head of Interior Design at Zulufish. 'In my mind there are two routes; choose a statement rug that you love and use this as the starting point for your living room design scheme or consider the existing elements in your space and opt for a coordinating piece.'

How to choose a living room rug

1. Get the size and scale right

grey living room with white sofa and black and white area rug

(Image credit: Balance Interiors / photography: Anna Stathaki)

Firstly measure your floor space and make sure the living room rug you choose is large enough for your space. 

'Selecting a rug that’s too small can actually make a space feel less gracious than it is, or make the scale of your furniture feel off,' says Sheena Murphy, founder of Nune.

'My number one tip would be to opt for the largest rug that will fit into the space,' says Gemma Tucker, founder of Balance Interiors. 'The rug should zone the sitting area of the room, placed behind the front legs of the sofa and extended beyond each side by at least 12 inches. Your coffee table should have a good border on all sides and, if possible, also sit the front legs of occasional chairs onto the rug. If you have a beautiful timber floor, ensure that you allow at least 12 inches for a margin around the edges of the rug for this to be appreciated.'

2. Mark out the area

white and grey living room with round coffee table and white armchair

(Image credit: Nune)

As well as measuring your room, it's worth marking out the the area you want the rug to lay over to get a feel for how much of the floor it will cover. 

'If you have nice floors, you won’t want to cover them up entirely. But equally, a rug should sit firmly under your main upholstery pieces in the room, whether that’s a sofa, chairs, or both, and it should be large enough to be a visual anchor in the room,' says Sheena Murphy of Nune. 'Check the dimensions of anything you’re considering and tape the corners out in your room to ensure it feels right before you buy.'

When it comes to how to design a living room, literally model out the scale first. 'Before buying a rug I often suggest taping newspaper or brown paper together to create an area that represents the rug that you feel works best for the space,' says rug designer, Christine van der Hurd. 'For the living room I would suggest placing the furniture completely on the rug or partly under the front legs as opposed to in front of the sofa, it will really help to pull the room together.

3. Select samples and create a moodboard

geometric rug in a modern living room with a black sofa and brick walls

(Image credit: Jennifer Manners X Zulufish)

Unless it's your starting point for your scheme, it's rare to choose a rug in isolation. So gather samples of the colors, tones and textures of everything else, from the living room furniture to the shade of the walls. 

'Ideally, you’d get a sample of the rug or rugs so you can look at it against everything else in the space or alongside samples of other pieces going in the same room,' says Sheena, Murphy, Nune. 'If that’s not possible, you could create a simple mood board with pictures of everything in the room to ensure, as best you can, that all the tones and textures all feel good together.'

'If you have an existing living room design scheme and are looking to coordinate a rug with the space, it can help to create a mood board of all the surfaces, shapes, fabrics and finishes you are working with,' says Caroline Milns, Head of Interior Design, Zulufish. 'Take these with you when choosing to ensure a new rug will work in your space.' 

4. Consider the vibe you're going for

red living room rug below dark blue walls and ceiling, with a royal blue armchair

(Image credit: Future / Paul Massey)

The right rug will add a character, texture, comfort - and possibly color and pattern - to your living room. 

'Ensure the style of the rug compliments the overall scheme,' says Gemma Tucker of Balance Interiors. 'For example, if you prefer a cozy, rustic farmhouse living room vibe, a chunky woollen rug will fit the bill, whereas for boho vibes, a Kilim or Beni Ourain will serve you well.'

'For a more formal living room I might have a cut pile rug in a low to medium pile height, or a combination of a cut pile and flat weave ground. The fibers could be in silk, wool or linen, or a combination of two different fibres,' says rug designer Christine van der Hurd. 'For a more casual country house I may use a flat weave in a wool or hemp, with or without a pattern depending how much pattern is already going on in the room. Hand spun hemp dyes beautifully and is a wonderful and cost effective way to bring some colour and texture onto the floor.'

5. Think about the practicalities

living room with grey and gold storage and a grey area rug

(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

An important part in how to choose a living room rug that's right for your space, is the practicalities. It's easy to overlook this side of things as it's less exciting than choosing pattern, texture and living room color. Yet a beautiful rug in the wrong material or color could soon detract from your scheme, if it's hard to clean or keep pristine.

'Texture is important, so decide whether you prefer a fuss free flat-weave or a super-soft heavy pile rug. I tend to find that clients have a strong preference one way or the other,' says Gemma Tucker of Balance Interiors. 'If you have children or pets, you may wish to consider a washable option; outdoor-indoor rugs can be a good choice.'

6. Make a style statement

graphic white rug with gold stripes and curved white armchairs in a large living room

(Image credit: The Rug Company)

'If you’re feeling brave and buying a colourful or bold rug, you’ll want it to be the focal point of your room,' says Irene Gunter, founder of design studio Gunter & Co. 'For this reason, I suggest sticking to a neutral color palette for the rest of the space. This allows the eye to be drawn to the star of the show – the rug!'

We've said it before, but beige living rooms are entirely on-trend. It's just about committing to a pared back palette. 'So that your rug doesn’t look at odds with the rest of the space, pull a color from the rug’s pattern and repeat it on a smattering of accessories,' Irene says. 'To tie your scheme together, it’s not necessary to color match everything. Source accessories in a slightly darker or lighter shade of your key colour to keep things interesting. You could even work with a mixture of both.'  

7. Balance texture and tone

blue living room with curved blue sofa and white blinds on the window

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

Opting for a neutral rug with a rich texture will add another dimension to your living room. Choose one with a hint of coordinating color as it will complement your scheme better. Cohesion like this is a key part of current living room trends.

'While a rug maybe plain, if it's textured it can be super luxurious underfoot so look for a high-quality rug that feels fabulous,' says Irene Gunter of Gunter & Co. 'Always weigh up the pros and cons of the material your rug is made of. For example, when silk is used in a rug, the color changes drastically depending on the direction of the warp and weft. Another way to add interest with a neutral rug is by choosing a contrasting binding. Our projects often require bespoke rugs, which allows us to choose the perfect border.'

8. Choose the best way for pattern to lay

black and white rug in a white living room with white sofa and pink cushions

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

If the rug you’ve chosen features an eye-popping pattern, keep your walls and furniture a solid color and consider how and where it will lay so that the rug can work its magic. 

'If you’re thinking of a patterned rug with a bold motif, always consider the direction of the pattern,' says Irene Gunter, Gunter & Co. 'Is it best viewed as you walk into the room, or when you are seated? The same goes for strong directional patterns – do you want the zigzags or the stripes to run widthways through the room or straight in and out? Spend a little time playing around with your rug to see what looks best.' 

9. Opt for an abstract or arty design

large white and blue rug in a large white living room

(Image credit: Lannoo Publishers, Carpets & Rugs)

According to Karolien van Cauwelaert and Karin van Opstal, authors of Carpets & Rugs - a beautiful new coffee table book by Lannoo Publishers - mid-century artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko have been a huge inspiration to the world of interior design, including carpets and rugs. 

'The last few years in particular have seen a huge surge in the production of abstract, arty carpet designs, thanks to a rapid improvement in rug design technology,' say the book's authors. 'The latest technologies now enable designers to experiment with countless colors and crazy shapes. Their creations are all about flow, color and movement and can create a wonderful dynamic in otherwise static spaces.'

'An arty rug can bring a wonderful splash of vivid color to minimalist houses and rooms furnished in muted, classic colours like beige, grey and greige. It's a personal choice, but generally an arty carpet with a bold design will come into its own when it is given ample space.'

10. Choose a circular rug

circular patterned rug in front of a curved white sofa

(Image credit: Futre / Matthew Williams)

Curves and arches are a huge interior design trend with wavy lines and rounded edges now in favour of sharp corners. This has been reflected in the designs of the rugs on offer too, with circular, oval and even irregular shapes seen in the latest collections. 

'The default rectangle is of course fantastically flexible, but a circular rug can work well with an L-shape or curved sofa, creating interesting and dynamic spaces,' says Caroline Milns of Zulufish.  'If you're lucky enough to have architectural details in your living room such as archways or a bay window, it’s wonderful to mirror these shapes in your choice of rug.'  

How do I choose a rug for my living room?

'The scale, tone and materials should all be considered in equal measure,' says Sheena Murphy, founder of design studio Nune.

'It’s important to consider how your rug will integrate into the space,' adds Caroline Milns, Head of Interior Design, Zulufish. 'Where will your coffee table or sofa sit, how will the pattern be affected, and what elements of the pattern or design will be covered? Opt for a design with a range of colors, making it easier to coordinate a range of fabrics and furnishings. 

'Even if you're looking to include a rug in a solid color, go for a design made up of multiple thread tones which will give flexibility when it comes to the rest of your scheme.'

How do I know what rug to choose?

'Your living room rug is an important piece in your interior scheme and you would hope to live with for a long time, so I would be sure to choose a long-lasting natural fibre like wool or silk and one which can easily be cleaned by a professional,' says rug designer Christine van der Hurd. 

'If your living room has many patterns within the fabrics, wall-coverings, and cushions, an interesting plain colored flat weave texture or cut pile with a stitch detail or contrast binding will work well. 

'Although a play on patterns is also wonderful, so you could choose some of the colors and design elements found in the fabrics or wall-covering and bring these into the rug. We love playing with different scales and reinterpreting a pattern, which may have been used somewhere else in the interior.'

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.