Like anything else you buy for your house, an area rug is one part functional, one part decorative. Some people buy rugs to protect the floors underneath; others buy them to cover up what’s there. Some buy them to keep their feet warm on winter mornings and, yes, some of us buy them to aid our ailing pups.
Whatever the reason you’re considering adding rugs to your decorating dream list, says Celia Tejada, senior vice president of product design for San Francisco-based Pottery Barn, you ought to carefully consider your purchase, because the right rug can make a room.

“You want the rug to be the heart of the room in which the furniture plays around it,” she says.

In recent years, rugs at Pottery Barn, Target and other furniture retailers have become increasingly popular. More homes these days have wood or tile floors, rather than wall-to-wall carpeting, and new fabrics and manufacturing methods have lowered the prices. People are using rugs to bring in color and pattern into a room, because they can take it up and move it within the house. Regardless of your budget or personal taste, design experts say certain rules of the rug apply.

Tejada says some rugs, such as Persians, are like a couch, a household item that you’ll have for years, if not generations. Other rugs, like shaped novelty bathmats, are more like a vase of flowers that you change from season to season. Know why you want a rug and how much you want to spend before you go shopping. Once there, in-store decorators can help you by showing you the rugs to fit your needs.

Looking through a rack of rugs can be confusing; there are as many different materials as are likely to be hanging in your own closet. But just as you don’t pull out your boiled-wool jacket in the middle of June, floor-covering fabrics vary because they have different purposes.

Sisal, seagrass and coir are all natural fibers woven from plants. The rug buyers at Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based HomeLife say sisal in particular is popular now because it is durable and neutral in color. But even when woven, sisal has a rough texture, meaning it may not feel right on bare feet, and Tejada cautions “people with pets and kids do not want to have a heart attack every time something spills on a light-colored rug.” Dhurrie rugs are flat weaves made from either wool or cotton. Kilim rugs are similar to dhurrie rugs, but they often have more elaborate patterns and sometimes are reversible. Looped rugs, as the name suggests, have cotton loops from back to front and back again. These look great, but if your dog’s paw or kid’s toy truck gets stuck in one, you’ll have a permanent pull. Cotton rugs are generally softer than those from wool or plant fibers, but they show wear over time and stain easily.

More homeowners who have wall-to-wall carpeting use area rugs as a way to add color to a room. In general, leave at least a 2-foot border between the wall and the rug so visitors can see the differences between texture and color of the floor coverings. In large rooms, use two area rugs. Placed correctly, one can create a conversation area while the other works as an entranceway. In those cases, the two rugs don’t have to match exactly, but they should have coordinating colors and styles, she says.

Tejada likes to use inexpensive shaped rugs, such as flowers, fruits, leaves and moons, to brighten children’s rooms, bathrooms and tie in to the seasons. Whimsical patterns, she says, can give personality to a room: “You can put something like that at the foot of the bed and it really lets you bring a sense of humor into the room,” she says.