Wondering about size, quality, materials, and more? Beth Ross, of Bradford’s Rug Gallery in Portland, breaks down the options underfoot.
Being good, practical Mainers, Beth Ross’s customers frequently ask her to recommend an “indestructible” floor covering. Her facetious answer? “Tile.” But since they have stopped into Bradford’s Rug Gallery, the Portland store Ross owns with her husband, Bradford, she steers them toward a wool carpet, preferably hand-knotted for supreme durability. Many people end up at Bradford’s after making poor-quality purchases online. They want to talk to someone who knows the difference between a Kazak and a kilim and can help them find the best match for their rooms. We did too, so we asked Ross to walk us through the decision-making process she’s honed over 12 years assisting clients.
Q: Where do you start when selecting an area rug?
A: Our first question is always, “Do you have a size in mind?” If the answer is yes, then we can look at things in stock that are the right dimensions. If you’re not sure, my go-to is the 8′ x 10′ rack because we have the most variety in that size. Looking through, most people begin to zero in on the colors, patterns, and styles they like.
Q: How do you determine the right size?
A: In a living room, you typically want a rug that’s large enough to flow under all the furniture in a seating area, with at least the front feet touching. This helps anchor the furnishings and creates a seamless look that is pleasing and visually expands a small space. A dining room rug should be wide enough to encompass the table and chairs. In a bedroom, it’s nice when the rug extends a couple of feet beyond the bed on all of its exposed sides so you have something soft to step on in the morning. But accent rugs can work here too.
Q: Okay, what’s next?
A: We want to take the time to understand how a rug will be used. If it’s going in a high-traffic area and you don’t want to be constantly spot cleaning, I’d recommend something with a pattern and dark colors. In a bedroom or living space used by fastidious adults, you can get away with light colors and a more minimalist look.
Q: What materials do you recommend?
A: For people who want a durable rug that they’re not going to have to replace in a few years, the answer is almost always wool or a blend that is mostly wool. On a microscopic level, wool fibers have overlapping scales on their surface that prevent dirt and spills from penetrating into the fiber. Wool is also strong and elastic, so it doesn’t mat down, and it’s anti-static, which helps to repel stains. While all wool carpets eventually fade, those treated with natural, vegetable-based dyes retain their original color — a blue rug will become lighter, but it will always be blue. Synthetic materials that try to mimic wool don’t perform the same way.
Q: What about the shedding factor with wool?
A: All wool is not created equal. For example, wool from the Himalayan region, where the altitude and available vegetation causes the sheep to produce strong, silky coats, feels luxurious and will stop shedding after you vacuum it a few times. Cheaper wool rugs made from lower-quality fibers have a coarse, brittle texture and tufted varieties will shed indefinitely. When you’re looking at samples, rub your hand really fast over the surface — if a lot of fluff comes off, you know it’s going to be a shedder.
Q: How do you feel about rugs made from non-wool natural fibers?
A: Bamboo-silk and viscose-silk blends have been growing in popularity. These are softer than wool and have a beautiful texture and sheen, but they can get dingy quickly in moderate- to high-traffic rooms and you can’t clean them with detergents. Rugs made from natural grasses like sisal, jute, and seagrass are another popular choice. The major drawback with sisal and jute is that they are absorbent and stain easily; seagrass is stronger and more soil resistant. You can’t use detergents on any of these and if they get really wet they can mildew. We had a sisal rug in our living room that our daughter spilled milk on and the smell never came out. I got the same rug again and it has some raspberry stains on it. There are some nice indoor-outdoor polyester rugs that look like sisal but don’t have the same texture. However, you can clean them with detergent and a hose.
Q: You’ve mentioned hooked, tufted, and woven rugs — what’s the difference?
A: Hooked and tufted rugs are composed of loops of yarn; when the loops are sheared to create a texture like cut grass, you get a “tufted” rug. Both types are commonly made by punching yarn through a piece of canvas with a machine or hand tool. When the latter process is used, the rugs are referred to as “hand-hooked” and “hand-tufted” respectively. A latex backing glued to a secondary canvas holds the rug together. Because latex breaks down over time, these rugs have an average life expectancy of 7 to 10 years. A much more labor-intensive technique for creating a piled rug is hand knotting, whereby individual tufts are tied, one by one, onto the carpet. Rugs made according to this ancient method, including our Kazak, Tibetan, antique, and vintage varieties, are more expensive than other types but will last 20 years or more even in high-traffic areas. The finest hand-knotted rugs can last for generations.
Woven or “flat-weave” rugs, including dhurries, kilims, and soumaks, have no pile. Many are reversible and they can be very durable, lasting almost as long as hand-knotted rugs. Because these types do not have a backing that traps dirt and spills, they are also easy to clean — clear dish soap on a damp cloth is the best way to deal with spots on any wool rug. We also recommend a professional cleaning every five to 10 years.
Finds That’ll Floor You
Seven beautiful, durable styles available at Bradford’s Rug Gallery
Bidjar, hand-knotted, circa 1930, wool, 3′ 10″ x 5′ 1″
Shadow, hand-knotted, wool-silkette blend, available in standard and custom sizes
Jardin, hand-knotted, Himalayan wool with silk accents, available in standard and custom sizes
Ines, hand-hooked, wool, available in standard sizes
Newport Garden, hand-hooked, wool, available in standard sizes
Granada, hand-woven, New Zealand wool, available in standard and custom sizes and colors
Iron Gate, hand-woven, wool, available in standard sizes