Although a grouping of furniture may suggest a use for a space, a rug is what grounds it, pulling all the elements together. It’s an additional floor, and creates a room-within-a-room. Adding an area rug turns a sofa and two chairs into an inviting place to sit. Depending on its colors, it can also visually knit the space together, providing coherence or a needed punch of color. And if it is a hand knotted rug, it brings a range of colors, as well as texture and dimension that is unequalled in mass-produced rugs. A handmade rug is a work of art for the floor.
My first stop, and usually my last, when looking for gorgeous rugs is Harry King Rug and Home in Easthampton, MA. The owner, Jared Quinn, has an encyclopedic knowledge and a real love of hand knotted rugs, and is more than willing to explain what characterizes a particular rug, how it fits into the tradition of rug making, and what factors influence its cost.
I enjoy going there because Jared puts visitors immediately at ease. Don’t know a thing about handmade rugs? He’s happy to tell you whatever you want to know. If you are a connoisseur, you’ll appreciate the breadth of the offerings and end up having a fascinating chat about the current state of the rug industry.
I was interested in finding a smaller rug to delineate the seating area in my sunroom. For this project something in the 5 x 7’ to 6 x 9’ range would be ideal. Half of my sunroom consists of a small dining table, and the other half is for reading and lounging. It’s a small area, and I wanted something to fill in the space between the chairs and the sofa, not to cover the entire floor. My sunroom has always had a seating area, but I hesitated to cover its beautiful brick floor with a rug. In the summer, that worked well: the brick stays cool in even the warmest temperatures and adds a pleasant outdoor feeling to the room. But in the winter, I found myself not using the room as often. It wasn’t just the cold floor, it was the cold feeling. Having a fair amount of furniture in relatively close quarters made it important to differentiate the two areas.
Flipping through rugs ( Jared flipping, me watching) is a good way to get a fresh perspective, and to consider a variety of styles and colors. I love the surprise of this: suddenly a combination of colors or a certain style will appear that I never would have thought of, and that just might be the right choice. After going through each size category twice, I settled on four rugs I thought might fill the bill. Because there is a lot going on visually in the room, I was looking for rugs that would not be the main attraction, but an interesting backdrop for the colors and patterns already there.
The best way to see if a rug will work is to try it in your own home. The light is different from that of a rug gallery, so colors will look different as well. And you may find that there are elements in the room that you overlooked when thinking about what would work best in your space. Here is what I discovered.
Rug One: Gorgeous Green
This is the rug I was immediately drawn to when I first saw it. It is a Gabbeh from India, and is very thick and luxurious. There are several color variations in the pile, even a hint of turquoise, which worked beautifully with the sofa. The first thing to consider is how the rug works in the room, and the second is how it works with adjoining spaces. I love this color. Although the chair on the left is not great with it, it’s good enough—not everything needs to match or the look is too forced. Or am I telling myself this because I overlooked the fact that the chair in the foreground has more than a little mauve and a golden green in the fabric? The wall color, sofa, and second chair are lovely with it.
The thickness of the rug worked against it—next to the scale of the furniture, it seemed a bit heavy. Gabbehs tend to be informal rugs, and when I put it down on the floor, I saw that this room is a bit more formal than I had realized. And while it looked well with the rugs in the nearby dining room, it was less than lovely with the living room, which was also visible. But I do love that marvelous green color, and it blends beautifully with all the plants in the room.
Rug Two: Flowers and a More Refined Look
This rug was a bit smaller than I would have liked, but in the case of rugs that are handmade and may well be one-of-a-kind, I think size is less important than the beauty of the rug. If it’s right I can make it work, by bringing the pieces of the grouping a bit closer together. This rug was very finely made, with incredible detail. Jared called it “the best of the best” from Afghanistan. It is beautiful, soft and pliable as a blanket, and it works surprisingly well with the furniture and the brick floor, but I don’t love it. It is also perhaps a bit too refined for the feeling I want in the space. Rugs have personalities, and it’s important to match the feeling of the rug to the feeling you are trying to create in the room. A rug like this is an investment: you have to love it, delight in it, adore looking at it. On to the next rug.
Rug Three: Too Much of a Good Thing
This rug checks every box in the list of things I love. My favorite color, orange, is beautifully represented in several shades; the turquoise center works very well with the sofa and chairs. This Gabbeh has a happy, cheerful feeling that suits the room. It is, unfortunately, too overwhelming. The two different stripes of the chairs pale next to it; the pillows on the sofa suddenly look chaotic: it’s too much rug. The blue rectangle is not centered, and the coffee table obscures most, but not all, of it. In a small space with a coffee table, a medallion or center design does not work well. It would be better used in a front hall or where no furniture will be placed on the center of the rug.
It is easy to become distracted by a favorite color, or an appealing look or feel. That’s important, but too many appealing pieces can result in a room so filled with interesting elements you don’t know where to look: there is no focus. Not everyone can be a star: in the world of decorating, supporting roles are crucial to establish balance, and to give the eye a chance to rest. Still, it’s a great rug. Heavy as it is, I drag it around the house, hoping to find a place for it because it is so very appealing, but it’s no use.
Rug Four: Surprise!
This is a rug that I thought would be worth trying, but I didn’t love it at the store. It is also a Gabbeh, but it is much less thick and finer than the others, a bit more refined, but still offering plenty of texture and variation of color. It wasn’t until I placed it in the room that I was sure it was the right choice. The personality of this rug seems shy: it doesn’t cry out for attention, but it has quite a bit to say. It supports the grouping without overwhelming it. There are various shades of two colors in this rug: a light creamy gold, with the barest touch of green in it, and a mid blue with the barest touch of turquoise. The design has a lot of rhythm: the stripes are a variety of widths and shades. The creamy gold was a wonderful team player: it looked lovely from both the living and dining rooms, and it worked very well with the chair in the forefront of the photo. The blue was perfect with everything. The colors of this rug are not a match with any element in the room; rather, they work in harmony so that everything is pulled together. If this room was filled with very neutral furniture, with a few colors in pillows or other accessories, a rug with stronger color might work very well, providing the zip the space would need. But here there was plenty of zip. What was needed was modulation and harmony. Like friends who become more beautiful the longer you know them, this rug looked better and better to me until I wondered how I had ever overlooked its obvious charm.
I often suggest to friends and clients the mantra “ Not this time, not this house” to help understand that a piece, though very appealing, might not work in this particular context. We are all drawn to a number of disparate decorative directions. In order to create a space that has depth, character, and focus, some directions need to be eliminated. The green rug, especially, was a very close contender, but it would have taken the space in a different direction, and I was happy with what I had. My second piece of advice is often to buy a piece of clothing in the color you suddenly feel you can’t live without, rather than committing to a major decorative purchase in that shade. Let me know if you find anything amazing in green.