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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

When Is an Area Rug Too Small and How to Fix It

“Your living room rug is too small,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” I said.

“Yes, it is.”

“So what if it is. I’m not getting rid of it.”


We fight like sisters, my friend Susan and I. We disagree on just about everything, including politics, diet, and religion. We usually agree on home design, except in this case. Yes, I understand that an 8x10 area rug would have worked better size-wise in my 10x13 living room. But I already had the 5x8 rug. I loved the pattern and colors, navy and burnt orange, and had decorated around it.


She persisted. If I insisted on keeping the small rug (yes), then she said I should get a larger solid rug to layer underneath it and extend it under the furniture to pull the room together. As it was now all the furniture legs were off the rug, which, I told her, was not exactly the design crime she was making it out to be.


“Fine,” I ultimately said, “so you will stop harassing me, what solid color do you think I should get for this base rug, navy or burnt orange?”

“I like burnt orange.”

I ordered a navy.


When the rug arrived, I spread out the large rug, lay the smaller one over it, replaced the furniture, and texted Susan a picture. “Happy now?” I asked.

“Yes, but I think the deep orange would have been better.”

Good thing she lives six states away because I might have strangled her.


Next, I text the same photo to Christopher, a designer friend I often consult with. Unlike Susan, he does not have a dog in this fight. His replies instantly: “That blue rug just makes everything in the room look cheap. Maybe try a burnt orange one?” He did not know what a loaded topic this was.


Fine. I order a solid, burnt orange wool rug online. I roll up the blue rug and drag it out of the living room like a dead sea mammal. I unfurl the orange rug, which I am determined to like.

I stand back and have to squint. The orange is pretty bright. Plus, now the smaller rug keeps bunching up and rumpling no matter how I try to smooth it. I text photos to Susan and Christopher.


“Way too bright,” Susan said. “It needs to be a deeper color.”

“I am not doing this again,” I text back. “Your choice is either with the orange rug or without.”

“I cannot in good conscience choose between two bad options,” she writes.

“You are unkind and stubborn.”

“Lol. If I didn’t care about you and our mutual passion for interior design I wouldn’t spend a second on this.”


Christopher was more tactful. “Try putting the orange rug in your bedroom. Better to have no rug under the smaller rug than one that detracts.”  


In search of closure, I called Jess Evans, vice president of development and design for Annie Selke, a Massachusetts-based rug company, and asked if I could interview her for a column about rug sizes. Little did she know what she was getting into. I send her a picture of the living room and ask for feedback on the rug size.


“When you have a small rug in a room with no surrounding furniture on it, it can showcase that the rug is too small for the space.” This is not what I want to hear.

“So, what’s a consumer to do?” I ask, on behalf of my readers.

“While I recommend getting a rug that’s the right size from the start, I also love the look of layered rugs, and so do many top designers.” I am not telling Susan.

“But won’t putting a small rug over a larger one just emphasize the fact that the top rug is too small?”

“Not at all,” she said. “Layering rugs is an excellent solution when you have a rug you love that’s too small. The layer acts like a border to extend the rug, and the combination is in no way inferior to having one rug.”


Since my first two layering attempts flopped, I asked Evans for suggestions on how to get the right base, and for solutions to other rug-size problems:

·      Go lean. To prevent layered rugs from bunching, look for a thin base layer, with a pile height of ¼-inch or less, she said. You also want a flat texture. Thinner sturdy rugs can be made of jute, sisal, wool or polypropylene.  

·      Avoid patterns. Choose a base layer with little to no pattern in a neutral color that works with your flooring. The base should act as a frame and not compete with the feature rug.

·      Add legs. Ideally you want a rug big enough to allow at least the front feet of the room’s main furniture to sit on it, if not all the legs. If you put only the front legs on, the rug should extend several inches underneath. If you can’t get all the front legs on, it’s better to have no legs on than some legs on and some off.

·      Too big backfires. Leave at least eight inches between your rug and your wall. Eighteen inches is ideal, and fewer than six inches is too tight. “A rug that’s too big looks like wall-to-wall carpet and defeats the purpose of an area rug,” Evans said.

·      Allow chair space. When putting a rug under a dining table, it should extend at least 24 inches beyond the perimeter of the table to allow diners to pull chairs in and out without getting hung up on the rug’s edge. If you can’t make that work, go with no rug.

·      Go bare. “Don’t over rug your home,” said Richard Mann, owner of Robert Mann Rugs, in Denver. “If you have beautiful wood or stone floors, sometimes it’s nice to show them off.”

Using Evans suggestions, I ordered one more rug to try as a base, a plain, ¼-inch tan, jute. If that doesn’t work, I’m sticking with my rug on its own. If my friends don’t like it, I will get new friends.


CAPTION: Layered Look – Placing a smaller rug over a large neutral one is an excellent solution when you have a rug you love that’s too small. The layer acts like a border to extend the rug, says rug expert Jess Evans. Photo courtesy of Annie Selke.

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