Rug Talk: Pile Height, Styles, and Real-Life Application

Whether a statement piece, a subtle texture, an old, classic vintage pattern, or a funky modern geometric pattern, area rugs are a key element to the design of any home space. And I'll be honest—rugs can be a CHALLENGE!


Many clients come to us with questions like...how big should it be? What material? What style? How thick should it be? Will this rug last? How should it fit in the space? And functionally, what kind of rug makes the most sense for ME?


These are some of the questions we'll talk through in this post. Let's get started!



Pile Heights + Materials


So below, I've shot some rug samples from the side so you can see the progression from low-pile to high-pile. Some of your lowest pile rugs are going to be flatweaves, hand-knotted vintage-style rugs, and a lot of the popular synthetic rugs you see online (not my favorite). Your medium pile-hight rugs are going to be hand or machine woven wool, wool-blend, or synthetic blends, and your highest pile rugs will be your big comfy shags. Below is just a sampling, but it gives you a good idea of the immense variation in pile heights, styles, and materials.



My absolute favorite and go-to rugs are the vintage-inspired hand-knotted wool rugs, like the top sample in the below photo. I find these to be incredibly versatile, working well in ultra-traditional AND ultra-modern spaces. I also believe they are the highest quality—their financial investment reflects this. These are rugs that will last for decades, and rugs that will be passed down to family members as family heirlooms. They never go out of style, and their construction is top-notch.



Of course, if you have the budget, or are lucky enough to inherit a few from a family member, vintage rugs are also wonderful! In our Spring Lake Cottage project (above right), our client had a beautiful HUGE vintage hug handed down from her father, and it works perfectly in the space.


My least favorite rugs are 100% synthetic materials. The most common I see these days are made of viscose, which is designed to look like silk and is a bit shiny. They're not easy to clean and don't appear—from my personal experience and from what other designers have confirmed—to last very long. Remember, your rug is an item that's going to get a lot of wear and tear. It's your ONE piece of furniture/decor that will get walked all over every single day, so a high-quality rug is going to get you a lot more miles and a lot fewer tears!



Styles + Real-Life Application



1) For the Floor-Sitters


If you're like me and you love popping a squat on the floor and scooting up to the coffee table to chat with a friend over wine and snacks, a HIGH pile rug is for you! These are naturally going to be cushier and comfier for floor-sitting, especially if in a wool or wool-blend material, like the one pictured here.


In our house, we have a small shag area rug in our guest room, and it's the coziest one in our house for floor-sitting! Think about how you plan to use the space, and if you anticipate lots of floor sitting, consider the pile height as you shop for rugs!





2) The Natural Fiber Rug

I love the texture a natural fiber rug, like a Jute or Seagrass , brings to a space, especially when you need some extra interest without going crazy on color or pattern. Something to note with natural fiber is that they are NOT super comfortable for curling up and floor-sitting. They are rougher and tend to be itchy if you sit on them for too long. These DO work great if you, like us, prefer to wear shoes in the house (I know, I know...gross, but it's just the way we live!), because they are very sturdy and don't show ANYTHING. We have one in our master, and it works great in this space—aside from not being great for floor-sitting!



If you love the look of the natural fiber, but want something a little cozier, try a wool-jute blend like the base rug in the below picture. This gives a slightly different look and a softer touch. Natural fiber rugs are also fun for layering. Layering works best if your lower rug is a bit firmer. For example, if you put a shag rug as the bottom layer, your top rug will lay oddly, and if you put furniture on top, it will buckle.


My personal favorite is to layer a low pile rug vintage-inspired rug, like the below hand-knotted wool rug from Afghanistan, on top of a natural fiber rug: the natural fiber style provides a great neutral base with a nice texture, which allows your top rug to be more playful in pattern and color.




3) Can I put a Rug Over Carpeting?


Short answer: yes!


Long answer: this works best when your wall to wall carpeting is low pile and not super cushy. Similar to layering rugs, if your base is too cushy, your rug won't lay flat, and you'll get buckling around your furniture legs.



Below is a great example where it worked well to lay a rug over carpeting. In this condo we designed, the entire main floor, which was open-concept, was a neutral-toned low pile carpet. Not only did the rug lay nice and flat, but it defined the dining area in a space that was entirely open. That said, if you have a large space with all the same flooring, area rugs are a great way to ground and make distinct each area.





4) Should my furniture be on or off the rug??


Short answer: it all depends on context!


For example, in a small space like our below Sunroom Oasis project, it didn't make sense to have a large area rug. For one, it would completely hide her beautiful wood floors, and secondly, this space is a high-traffic entry to our client's backyard; it'll be easier for her to sweep the wood than keep a rug clean.


However—if this same setup were in a large open living room, I'd probably have used an 8 x 10 or 9 x 12 rug. As I said, it all depends on context!



Something else to consider when you're thinking about how your rug and your furniture will play together is where your furniture will sit on the rug and whether that will be functional.


In the below example from our Traverse City Dream project, all our furniture pieces have individual legs, rather than, say, a pedestal, a drum base, or more of the sleigh style legs of popular modern/contemporary style furniture. Here, we could place the front legs on the rug and the back legs off the rug without getting any rocking, tipping, or obvious slopping in the furniture. If your furniture base is anything other than individual legs, having it partially on a rug may feel a bit awkward (see two below).




*Notice how the table is slightly leaning back*

Say you have a very large room, like the below from our Spring Lake Cottage project, and have space to float all of your furniture in the center of the room with space to walk around the perimeter: this would be a great application for a LARGE rug that fits all your furniture—front and back legs—entirely inside the rug.


Imagine the below rug being about a foot shorter on each side so that the back legs of all the furniture were off of the rug: the room would feel busier because the clean line of the rug around the edge would be interrupted by furniture legs. In addition, the space would feel smaller, because your eye would be drawn in to the smaller size of the rug.



Lastly, in some cases, you'll be able to have some furniture entirely on the rug, and some just partially. This is how out plays out in our living room. Our accent chairs and coffee table are able to fit entirely on the rug, while our sofa and side tables have just their front legs on the rug. I love this setup, because again, since the rug is long enough to fit both chairs entirely, the room feels bigger, cleaner, and the conversation area is well defined.




The Wrap Up


What I'll leave you with is that, well, rugs are a challenge! They take up a LOT of visual space, which means they make for a BIG impact—for better or for worse. They can completely tie a room together, or be the thing that throws it off. BUT—the right rug? That's a thing of beauty.


And if you saw a rug in this post you'd be interested in getting a quote on, shoot us a message through the contact page with the style and size you're interested in! If we don't have that exact rug any longer, we'll send you a similar option.





Work with Lauren Figueroa


LFID is a full-service interior design firm based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We work with clients throughout west and southeast Michigan, and pride ourselves on creating bespoke, people-centered spaces—because after all, people are what this life is all about! If you have a project on the horizon, get started by telling us a little about your vision here.