When you’re picking out a rug to decorate a room, there’s a temptation to think about the rug as an extension of your furniture. “I have a living room set, so I need a rug that is big enough to fit under all of the chairs and tables, or small enough to fit in between them.”

But think about it this way. Your area rug is exactly what the name implies: it defines an area in your room. That means it should always be sized in relation to the space itself. It’s an extension of the floor that can help you define specific zones: this is for sitting, this is for eating, this is for wrestling with the dog, or laying in front of the TV, or whatever you want to do on the rug.

So while furniture layout and rug size should complement each other, the furniture isn’t as important as the activity taking place in the space. Those specifics will go a long way to determining your best rug size for a given room. Sitting areas will have very different rug needs than dining areas, for example. So the rug dimensions aren’t going to have the same relationship with the furniture. They need to fit with the dimensions of the room, and cover enough area to add functionality, comfort, and even luxury.

The right rug size depends on how you use the room

For example, if you’re choosing a bedroom rug, always leave at least 18 inches of rug on any side of the bed wherever your feet hit the floor. (You don’t have to worry about behind the headboard!) The point of the rug is to provide a soft, warm landing spot for your feet, so the specific dimensions aren’t as important as whether your rug is big enough and positioned properly.

How to pick the right rug size for your room - 12x15 bedroom rug
Bedroom layout, 12×15 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - layout with 5x8 bedroom rug
Bedroom layout, 4×6 rug with rug runners
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 6x9 bedroom rug
Bedroom layout, 6×9 rug with rug runners
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 9x12 bedroom rug
Bedroom layout, 9×12 rug

In a dining room, the point is partly to protect your floor and cut down noise from pushed-back chairs when people get up from the table. So make sure you’ve accounted for that — usually 18-24 inches on all sides will work. And if your table has leaves, make sure to pick a rug that accommodates the table at maximum size.

How to pick the right rug size for your room - 12x15 dining room rug
Dining room layout, 12×15 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 9x12 dining room rug
Dining room layout, 9×12 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 8x11 dining room rug
Dining room layout, 8×11 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 8x10 dining room rug
Dining room layout, 8×10 rug

Large living rooms are different in that the furniture isn’t being shifted, and you likely don’t need additional rug coverage outside the general sitting area. So you might like the look of chairs overlapping onto the rug. Just make sure any tables, stools, or flat surfaces are fully on the rug, so that they stay level and stable. But you always want to select a rug that’s large enough that it doesn’t get lost in the space.  A small rug in a large living room can seem more like an afterthought than an extension of the room. It’s no longer defining space; it’s being defined.

(If you don’t have a big enough rug and aren’t ready for the investment, you can also try layering two or three smaller rugs together.)

How to pick the right rug size for your room - 12x15 living room rug
Living room layout, 12×15 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 9x12 living room rug
Living room layout, 9×12 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 6x9 living room rug
Living room layout, 6×9 rug
How to pick the right rug size for your room - 8x10 living room rug
Living room layout, 8×10 rug

Kitchens and hallways typically have the least wide-open space, but even narrow areas can benefit from a rug. If you have a part of your kitchen that’s relatively safe from spills, a rug runner can provide added warmth, color, and comfort to hard floor surfaces. (Note that an indoor-outdoor rug can make a great choice in a kitchen, due to easy cleaning and ability to stand up to moisture.) And a kitchen table area is prime location for an appropriately sized round or square rug.

Tips to help choose the right rug size for your room

Before you pick your rug, here are a few suggestions in determining the right size:

  1. Measure the room. There are a number of apps available to help with measuring and arranging furniture, some of which can even include layout factors such as uneven corners, windows, door frames, and other elements which might come into play. But a tape measure will probably work just as well.
  2. Think about how you use the space. If it’s a large, open area, how do you want traffic to flow from one end to the other? What activities do you enjoy in the space, and is there a specific area you designate for those things? With a large room, you might want multiple rugs for different areas, with space between them where people would walk through the room. A smaller room might require a single rug, meaning your rug will have to bear up under more foot traffic.
  3. Take pictures. If you’re seeking help from an interior decorator or even the sales staff at a retailer, it’s useful to give them a visual sense of your space. You might even put down masking tape outlines of where you think the rug should go.
  4. Consider shapes. Just because the default for most rugs is rectangular, that doesn’t mean you can’t branch out. A dining room set might work well on top of an oval shaped rug. Your bedroom arrangement might lend itself to rug runners — particularly if you have twin beds with a space between them. And a sitting area might make a more dynamic statement with a large circular rug, since you won’t be as concerned with overlap in that context.
  5. “One bigger” always wins. Just remember: it’s never a bad idea to “go big” in picking a rug, as long as it fits inside the room. A small rug can make furniture look awkward and ill-placed. A large rug makes the space more welcoming, and provides more flexibility for arranging the rest of the room’s elements.
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