Where should I place the furniture on my area rug?

Interior design can be frustratingly imprecise. Just when think you understand the rules, someone recommends breaking them. "Learn the rules like a pro so that you can break them like an artist," said Picasso. Admittedly, he probably had other things in mind than where to put an area rug — a rug that sits under furniture and helps define a space for seating or eating — but it's a good point. Like anything to do with successful interiors, get to know the guidelines and then work out whether they're worth bending.

The first rule is that an area rug should be large enough to accommodate all the furniture in a seating area, e.g. all legs must sit on the rug. Unless you have a huge room and a huge rug, this advice is definitely ignorable. It's mainly about proportion. The furniture needs to look connected in relation to the size of the room. Most rooms can take a front-legs-on/back-legs-off approach. The exception is dining rooms in open-plan areas. If you want to define a dining area with a rug, it should be big enough so that your guests can pull the chairs out, sit down and still be on the rug (or very close to it). Therefore, you'd probably only choose to put a rug under your dining table in a cavenous space.

Second rule: Choose a rug to go with the furniture, not the other way round. This one is well worth heeding. Area rugs that are too small look wrong; they stop being clever, space-defining accessories and instead look like you've put a mat in an odd place. Area rugs that are too large are simply incapable of doing the job they are designed for and your furniture will continue to feel like it's "floating", without an anchor.


Third: Area rugs don't work with wall-to-wall carpeting. There are plenty of reasons for breaking this particular design faux pas. Rugs are like artwork for the floor, adding colour, texture, pattern and warmth. And by delineating a seating area, area rugs bring everything together, making the room look more ordered and therefore more restful. This rule works just as well for carpet as it does for wood, concrete, tile or stone floors. And a rug that's properly anchored by furniture (rule No1) is less likely to slip or wrinkle on carpet.

Fourth: An area rug must be centred in a room. Symmetry can be very important in successful interiors but rooms and rugs don't all come in rectangles. A seating area doesn't need to be in the centre of the room, especially if you have a large, open-plan space to furnish.

Fifth: All rugs in a room should match. This is worth following. A very large room divided into different seating areas (dining, conversation, formal etc) will look more harmonious if the rugs relate. They don't have to be the same but ideally they will be tied together by colour, texture or pattern. An easy — and elegant — way of getting around this is to find a wall-to-wall carpet you like and have different-sized cuts bound into custom-sized rugs.

Rug from Armadillo & Co's Heirloom collection, available from the Ivy House, theivyhouse.co.nz.