Designing Homes with Area Rugs - July 2011
By Jessica Chevalier
Area rugs are a part of the skeletal structure of a space, a frame upon which the volume of a space hangs, believes Nancy Thiel, owner of Nancy Thiel Architecture + Design. Thiel prefers area rugs with designs that are clear in their design purpose, clean looks rather than muddied patterns—because the bones of a space have to provide shape and integrity.
As a former dancer, choreographer and dance instructor, it isn’t surprising that Thiel references design in physical terms. When she grew tired of teaching dance, Thiel signed on as Michael Graves’ assistant and went on to work for a number of other architectural firms including Rockwell Group, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Selldorf Architects. Talking to Thiel, it’s clear that her art informs her design. She enjoys the juxtaposition of contradictory elements: wood furniture with a live edge alongside plastic chairs that pop in bright colors.
Most of all, she dislikes it when a design adheres to one style. “There’s nothing interesting about that,” she says. In her own home, a Swiss chalet style lake house, she uses both antiques and modern furnishings, like her father’s old secretary desk alongside an Eames molded plywood lounge chair painted by a street artist.
In the process of designing a space, Thiel doesn’t necessarily make area rug selection her first step, as many designers do. Instead, she begins with whatever design elements she feels are most important to the client. In fact, in some cases, she chooses a rug last, using it as a means of pulling the elements of a room together.
Dianna Parish, owner of Seattle’s Designs for Living, has a similar process. She begins by outlining the goals for the project, then determines the overall layout of the space. She may choose an area rug first if she isn’t replacing the entire floor or if the creation of a vignette is a central focus, but sometimes she starts with the furniture or whatever element best supports the client’s goals.
Parish, who started her current design business in 2000 after working for 15 years in various firms, describes her design approach by saying that she views a room like a newspaper. One element serves as the headline, other elements serve as the main stories and still others as the minor stories. “In a design, not everything has to be in your face,” she says. “A rug can serve as a backdrop to help anchor a seating area or to define a sub area.” Ultimately, she believes that an area rug should be used as a point of interest, to direct the eye to something specific.
Karen Sanders, who owns a Decorating Den Interiors franchise in New Jersey, about 20 miles from New York City, generally does begin by choosing the flooring and area rugs because she likes to start where she has the fewest choices and work up to where she has the most. She builds the room around the rug, and paint is the last element that she picks. Sanders has owned her Decorating Den for 18 years; prior to that she worked as a marketer, peddling everything from candy bars to nuclear power plants. She holds a master’s degree in textiles and clothing design.
AREA RUG AESTHETICS
All the designers that we spoke with agree that an area rug is an integral element of a design, not simply an accent piece. And, though they serve very different sets of clients with very different tastes, all agree that employing a “pow” color in an area rug is a trend that they enjoy. Bright, positive greens and reds are popular options to create a pop in an otherwise neutral space. Thiel says that rugs that serve as this pop, “…become the piece, the room—everything floats on them.”
The other area rug trend that our designers noted is a movement toward muted looks. This manifests in the form of tone-on-tone textures and natural fibers. The visual interest in these rugs is created through the weave. These muted looks are often used as more of a backdrop for a design element like an art piece or a fireplace.
Grey is still gaining in popularity with both Sanders’ and Thiel’s clients. Sanders recently had her first customer request grey, which was not Sanders’ first choice for the space. However, when she started pulling the room together, she realized that the color created an aura of cool in the space. Thiel expects the grey trend to continue.
In regard to pattern, Sanders loves oversized patterns, especially the big, exploded damasks that are popular right now. The new damasks utilize a traditional element in a new application, and Sanders believes they fit beautifully with the current aesthetic of having fewer prints in a space. They provide a cleaner look, yet still draw a lot of attention to the rug as a design element.
All the designers that we consulted cited wool as their favorite area rug fiber, largely because of its beauty and durability. Nylon was generally the second choice. Thiel noted that silk is lovely but doesn’t hold up well enough to be used in the typical home.
Parish sometimes chooses to use non-fibrous materials like cork and Marmoleum (linoleum from Forbo) as area rugs. Both are thin, durable, customizable and green—a feature that her Seattle clients are increasingly willing to pay for. These non-fibrous materials are also good choices for clients who have concerns about allergens (often those with pets) or off gassing from synthetic fibers. She notes that when you walk into some area rug showrooms, “it doesn’t smell happy,” due to the off gassing. Whether or not these pose a real or imagined risk, Parish’s clients have expressed anxiety over these issues, and sometimes prefer to go a non-fiber route.
PAIRING THE CLIENT AND THE RUG
Most of Sanders’ clients own older homes and prefer a traditional style. In fact, Sanders estimates that 80% of her business is in traditional looks. She often comes up against resistance when she tries to steer her clients toward more transitional rugs. “When you propose something different, it’s a hard sell,” she says, but since 85% of her business is repeat and referral, she has a good idea of what her clients will go for and what they won’t. She likes that today’s traditional rugs are cleaner, not as fussy and crowded as they once were.
Sometimes customers will ask Sanders to use the same rug in, for instance, their dining and living rooms. This is a serious offense in her design handbook. As she describes it, “That makes it look like you found the rug on sale and took the easy way out.” Sanders loves to mix different rug patterns together and advises that homeowners who want to choose the same rug pattern should at least vary the color between them.
Parish’s Seattle market has quite a different aesthetic from Sanders’ New Jersey market. Parish describes her clientele as young and “open to fresh ideas.“ My clients are willing to be fun and take a risk,” she says. Part of the reason Parish’s clients are willing to trust her with an unexpected selection is because she hinges her rug choice on the project’s goals and the customer’s budget. In seeking the best solutions, she is comfortable choosing a rug that doesn’t “cost a fortune.” She explains, “Every rug doesn’t have to be a family heirloom.” In her own home, Parish utilizes an Ikea rug alongside an expensive Afghan one.
As you might expect, Parish uses almost no traditional rugs in her designs. “There are many rugs,” she believes, “that just say too much.” Parish’s clients want a unique look, but they also want a space that is attractive to guests and emanates a sense of home and peace. Parish likes to use bright and unexpected colors in area rugs. More often than not, she opts for rugs without a defined pattern, instead choosing those with handsome texture and color.
Sanders notes that in her design career, she has never been a snob towards clients who want to refresh a room rather than fully remodel. An area rug provides great bang for your buck if you’re looking to invigorate a space for a minimal investment.
Parish often purchases rugs from online retailers. Websites are good resources, she believes, since designers’ budgets don’t afford the sourcing time that they once did. Of course, buying online is a risk, since both the photo of the product and the color calibration of the computer monitor may alter the appearance of an area rug’s color. To lessen this risk, Parish orders samples if they are available. If worse comes to worse, Parish knows that returning a rug is an option.
Parish sometimes has rugs custom made by San Francisco based Vicki Simon Rugs. In these instances, Parish is able to get yarn cuttings and samples before the product is made.
Nourison is Sanders’ favorite area rug vendor because it has a good variety of rugs at many price points. Since she is close to its Saddlebrook, New Jersey distribution center, she has quick access to its products as well. She also likes Surya’s unique styles and Capel’s braided rugs.
Thiel lists Bentley Prince Street as her favorite area rug manufacturer because the company provides great quality products and extraordinary customer service. Thiel also likes the work of Madeline Weinrib, the granddaughter of ABC Carpet & Home founder Max Weinrib. Thiel uses mostly modern rugs and likes graphic prints.
Binding broadloom is an option that all three designers utilize at times. The central benefit is that it can be cut to fit nearly any size space. Sanders recently used bound broadloom in a long, narrow living room—for which she could find no off-the-rack rug—as well as in an octagonal man cave that she designed. For the man cave, she bordered the broadloom with a faux ostrich fabric and repeated the fabric on the cornices.
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