Experts Reveal 10 Things You Didn't Know About Rugs

Many handmade hanging rugs in a rug stall overseas.
Eric Prouzet/Unsplash

If there's one single piece that adds polish—and panache—to any interior design scheme, it's the rug. A rug has the unique ability to very obviously steal the show or simply play second fiddle, gently letting the rest of a room's design elements take center stage.

If you ever need proof of the rug’s power to transform any space, head to Amber Interiors, where designer Amber Lewis uses rugs in a variety of unexpected ways that go beyond just laying them on the floor (think: rugs as upholstery, wall art, and more). Ginna Christensen (formerly the creative force behind Woven, a rug gallery offering heirloom rugs sourced from markets and weavers around the world) also knows more a than thing or two about proper rug care and sizing, styling, sourcing and beyond

We had a long chat with these creative phenoms who reveal everything you ever wanted to know about rugs—from expert tips on how best to clean them, common styling mistakes to avoid, and (perhaps the juiciest chunk of design advice) the secrets to layering rugs like the pros.

MYDOMAINE: What’s the number-one cleaning mistake people make with rugs?

GINNA CHRISTENSEN: It may seem counterintuitive, but the worst mistake people make is to use store-bought stain removers. They'll ruin the rug, eat up its natural fibers, and discolor the area where the stain was.

AMBER LEWIS: Don’t use harsh cleaners: The more natural the solution, the better. That said, if a spill or stain is really bad, consult a rug-cleaning professional; don’t try to fix it yourself.

MD: What's the best way to clean a rug after a spill?

GC: First, blot the area. (Don't rub it!) Then, apply clean water and blot again until all of the liquid has been removed from the rug. If the stain persists, have the rug professionally cleaned.

MD: What’s the most common mistake people make with small rugs?

GC: Usually, people forget that you can layer a small rug over a larger one. For example, layer a small, special rug over an inexpensive sisal one. I also love using small rugs in bedrooms on either side of the bed, like you often see in Europe. Drape flatweave and low-pile antique rugs over coffee tables, chairs, and even on the end of a bed: It creates an unexpected, interesting detail in the room while giving it a bit of color, too.

AL: Yes! Layer, layer, layer. I found a bunch of cool rugs for a project, but all of them were small. When I layered a few alongside and on top of one another I achieved a really cool look.

MD: What are the secrets to layering rugs properly?

GC: Have fun with it and play around. We love layering rugs on the floor, especially for parties. A series of Moroccan rugs works nicely to create a soft, inviting area. Kilims are great choices, too, because their flatweave designs are similar. Layer a few smaller vintage rugs atop a large, sisal rug for a more tailored look.

AL: Try to stick with similar colors within the rug, and don't choose rugs with too many competing patterns. I sometimes like to combine a simple, striped rug with a bold kilim, too.

MD: What are some other common rug-styling mistakes people make?

GC: Choosing a rug that's too small. In a living room, don't buy a rug that only fits underneath the coffee table—it will make the entire room feel disjointed and cheapen its design. Choose a living room rug that accommodates a coffee table and accent chairs, and sits underneath the front legs of your sofa. In a dining room, all four legs of a dining chair should fully sit on the rug when it's in use, with one foot of space behind it when it's pushed underneath the table.

MD: Do you need to be more careful with vintage and antique rugs?

GC: No, not necessarily. If they've been properly cared for, they can be the most durable because of their high-quality fibers. Most are made of wool, so they tend to stand up well over time. They're also easier to clean and their fibers easily mask dirt and stains.

MD: When do you need a rug pad and why?

AL: Always, except underneath carpeting.

GC: Rug pads are especially useful under flatweaves and light low-pile rugs. Because they're so lightweight, they can slide and move around, even when placed underneath heavy furniture. For safety reasons, it's best to err on the side of caution.