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Guide to Selecting & Purchasing Area Rugs

We like to think of area rugs this way – they are the only flooring product that you can install, then pick up and move anytime you like; which makes them one of the most flexible design elements in a home. There are many things to consider before purchasing a rug for your home; some related to design and style, some to price and investment over time, and some to integrity. In fact, in doing research for this piece, one thing that kept coming up was trust. One of the most important steps in buying a good rug is finding a rug dealer you can trust. Understanding the fundamentals of the processes involved in rug making and the reasoning behind the intricate pricing structure will enable you, as a more educated consumer, to find a dealer you can work with comfortably.

Hand-made or machine-made

Hand-made (or hand-knotted) and hand-tufted are actually two different processes. Most hand-made rugs are woven by tying knots on the strands. A hand-tufted rug is created without tying knots into the foundation, but rather by pushing the wool through a primary backing, creating a ‘tuft’. This is a less time-consuming process, so it should be less expensive than hand-knotted. That being said – we’ve seen tufted rugs that have an extremely high level of artistry.

The vibrant colors in handmade rugs are most often created using natural dyes (sometimes called vegetable dyes) that provide longevity to the colors. For example, to achieve the color yellow, saffron, safflower, and turmeric might be used. Red can be achieved using pomegranate peel; henna is used for orange, etc. These dyes are not only natural, but also sustainable and non-allergenic for most people. Natural dyes can add about 30% to the cost of a rug, but they also add to its value. There is much discussion about the longevity of the colors in rugs made using natural dyes. Antique rugs (an antique rug is defined as a rug 50 yrs and older), will likely have been made using natural dyes, since synthetic dyes were not readily available until the 1920’s. All rugs will fade a bit over time, and if you are looking at antique rugs, you’ve probably already noticed what ‘aged’ colors look like. Vegetable-dyed rugs tend to become ‘warmer’ looking as they age, which many people consider an integral part of their charm As far as longevity; all high quality hand-made rugs should literally last for generations.

Machine-made rugs, as the term implies, are mass-produced and while they can be made with natural fibers such as wool or cotton, they rarely achieve heirloom status. Machine-made rugs are often made with glue and synthetic materials; which over time can harden and may cause the rug to curl up around the edges. While they can be quite beautiful, machine-made rugs do not increase in value and should not be bought for investment purposes. Along with their somewhat lower cost, machine-made rugs can be a good choice for high-traffic areas in your home where there might be food and dirt issues.

Important note about Child Labor and rugs: Nearly 300,000 children are exploited in the carpet industry in South Asia to weave carpets for American homes. There is only one way to ensure that any rug you purchase was NOT made using child labor´┐Żask to see the Rugmark label. Rugmark is a non-profit organization working to end Child Labor in the rug industry. Any reputable rug dealer should be happy to give you more information; not only about Rugmark, but how and where their rugs are made.


Quality, newhand-made rugs can range in cost from $50/sq ft to $200/sq ft, depending on the materials (wool, silk, cotton), the construction method or weave, and the country of origin. Machine made rugs are less expensive, but it’s hard to beat the quality of a hand-made rug – they can literally last many lifetimes and in many families become heirlooms that are passed down from generation to generation.


The most common sizes are 2'x3', 4'x6', 5'x8', 6'x9', 8'x10', and 9' x 12'. Most shapes are rectangle, round, square, oval, octagon and runners (which are narrow and long). Another benefit of hand-made rugs is that due to their custom nature, they can be woven in almost any size. Here are some general guidelines you can follow to determine the size of the rug you’ll need.

Measure the size of your room. (Measure twice to be sure.)

Measure the space you want covered.

Now place a piece of paper where each of the corners will fall; adjust the “corners” as needed to make the space larger or smaller and then re-measure the area. As a general rule, if you are trying to cover the majority of the room, be sure to leave a 12"-15" border of flooring exposed to set off your area rug.

If you are placing an area rug under your dining room table, select a rug that is large enough so when seated at the table the back legs of the chairs are on the rug with enough space to push back and get up from the table. Your guests will appreciate that.


Almost too numerous to mention – rug styles run the gamut from the intricate designs in Oriental rugs, to the literal designs of Chinese rugs; from the vivid colors of Tibetans to geometric or color-blocked contemporary rugs. The choice of course is yours. You shouldn’t feel as though you are bound to a certain style of rug because your furnishings are of a particular style – these days it’s more about the colors and the feeling that you are trying to bring in to the room than any one particular style.

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