mattcamron Elizabeth Esfahani, left, and Dara Mersky sell exotic rugs at D.C.’s Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries. Photo by Jason Hornick

Thanks to that square-dancing unit in PE and those Fred Astaire movie marathons, you know how to cut a rug. But buying one? That’s another story. Why do some cost so much? And how do you know which color/type and size works for you? “The first step is determining your aesthetic,” says Elizabeth Esfahani, co-owner of Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries (1651 Wisconsin Ave. NW, second floor; 202-333-0642). “Do you want the rug to make a statement or just blend in?” Whether you’re looking to fill your den with an oversized Turkish tribal tapestry or just need a runner for your apartment hallway, our guide will keep you — and your floors — covered.

A Matter of Taste
“Shopping for a rug without knowing what you’re looking for is like walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter, ‘I’m hungry,’ ” says Timothy Worrell, who sells luxe versions at Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles (1404 14th St. NW; 202-319-1100) and Timothy Paul Home (Mosaic District, 2910 District Ave., Fairfax; 703-992-9494). Worrell recommends flipping through magazines and design books to see what styles you’re drawn to — say an ornate Oriental design or something more contemporary like a geometric. “A rug is probably going to outlast any piece of furniture in the room,” Worrell says. “Make sure you won’t get tired of it, because it’s not going anywhere.”

Quality Control
Rugs essentially fall into two categories: those woven or knotted by hand and those made using a machine. Not surprisingly, hand-knotted rugs cost a great deal more and tend to last longer. “Buying a handmade rug is the difference between buying a shirt from The Gap and buying a couture blouse made by a master,” says Esfahani, who adds that weavers will sometimes loom in imperfections to give the rug character. Other determining factors of a rug’s quality include the fibers it’s made of (natural wool and silk are preferable to synthetics), the dyes used, and, when it comes to antiques, its age and rarity.

Picking a Style
A rug’s style is often determined by its country of origin. “The rug world is as big as, well, the world,” Esfahani says. “Every culture has a rug history.” Though there are too many to list, main players include shaggy white Beni Ourain rugs from Morocco, floral Oushak rugs from Turkey and color-rich, graphic designs from Sweden. Rugs in sisal, jute, hemp and other plant-based materials are also popular because of their versatility, rustic good looks and ability to wick away spills.


To ensure the proper fit in a dining room, Worrell advises that your rug be at least 18 inches wider than your table. That way, you can pull chairs back without them falling off the textile. In the living room, a rug should be touched by at least the front half of every piece of furniture to avoid what Worrell calls “postage stamp” syndrome, where a rug looks as if it’s floating in a blank space. And for bedrooms, Worrell recommends placing a rug at the foot of your bed and two smaller ones on the sides. “Put your bed on top of a huge area rug, and the majority of it is going to be covered up and just collecting dust bunnies.”

When it comes to showing off a rug, the ceiling’s the limit. Lisa Wagner, founder of — a helpful carpet-care resource and blog – often advises readers to hang their rugs on the wall like paintings. “You can display a hand-woven rug as if it were a piece of art, because it really is,” Wagner says. “It also helps you preserve an antique or one you have an emotional attachment to.” And Worrell from Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles recommends layering rugs. “If a rug is too small, a nice way to tie it into a large room is to place it on a large sisal carpet.” Wagner also recommends removing or tucking a rug’s tassels underneath to give it a modern look.