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Mastering the Art of Layering Rugs: a Step-by-Step Guide

Choosing a rug ought to be the easiest part of furnishing a room, right?

Turns out, it’s harder than it looks.

The rug you love may not be the right size. Or maybe it’s an antique that could be destroyed by foot traffic. Or it’s gorgeous but not that comfortable. Or maybe you just can’t decide between different styles?

Not to worry: There’s an easy fix. Instead of trying to find a single rug that meets all your needs, you can simply layer rugs on top of each other.

“We do it all the time, for both aesthetic and economic reasons,” said Heide Hendricks, who founded the architecture and interior design firm Hendricks Churchill with her husband, Rafe Churchill.

Layering rugs, “makes it very cozy, and very comfortable,” she said. And as Ms. Hendricks, 55, pointed out, buying several small rugs is usually more affordable than buying a single large one.

At their 1871 farmhouse in Sharon, Conn., which will be featured in the Rizzoli book “Our Way Home,” out this September, they layered rugs in numerous rooms — both to make favorite ones fit and to give the spaces a relaxed vibe.

“The look is eclectic,” said Mr. Churchill, 53. “If you have a room that’s decorated in a way where you’re drawing from different sources and time periods, it does a really nice job of pulling it all together. When you start layering rugs, it begins to feel like home.”

Ms. Hendricks and Mr. Churchill showed us how they do it.

“The first step is determining the layout of the furniture,” Mr. Churchill said. Before you look at rugs, figure out where you want your furniture, and then determine how layered rugs can support that plan.

In their home, the couple often center small, decorative rugs on top of larger, plain ones. But they also layer rugs end-to-end to cover longer rooms and in L-shaped arrangements to accommodate circulation paths around furniture.

Whether you have a stockpile of rugs to choose from or you’re narrowing your choices while shopping online, “there’s the larger palette to think about,” Ms. Hendricks said.

When she and Mr. Churchill were selecting an antique rug from their collection for the living room, she said, “we intentionally didn’t want green in the rug, because of the strength of the green paint in the room.”

They chose a Russian Soumak rug from the 1890s that was rich in reds and blues. And because it was patterned, they paired it with a plain-looking, woven water hyacinth rug from Rush House.

Setting off a small, patterned rug with a larger plain one is a classic approach to layering. But mixing rugs with different patterns can also look striking, as long as they relate somehow.

In the couple’s sunroom, they layered two vintage off-white Beni Ourain rugs. “It’s a layering of different patterns,” Ms. Hendricks said, “but they’re unified by the same background color.”

They were more daring in the dining room, where they paired an ornately patterned antique Serapi rug with a contemporary checkerboard rug that Ms. Hendricks found on Etsy. Both have an earthy color palette that make them good partners.

When you’re installing the rugs, “you just have to be careful, because it is an extra layer,” Ms. Hendricks said. Any rug is a potential tripping hazard, and layers of rugs increase the risk.

She and Mr. Churchill use a rug pad under the bottom rug only, to keep it from slipping. Then they add additional rugs on top, while trying to minimize raised edges where people need to walk. They also try to avoid having rugs overlap in a busy area.

“You pick your spots,” she said. “Layering under a coffee table is a great location, because it’s not a main thoroughfare.”

When you bring in the furniture, the colors and patterns may not combine the way you hoped.

One example: Ms. Hendricks didn’t like the way the green upholstery of her ottoman looked next to the living room rugs. So she draped it with an antique paisley shawl: “I introduced this layer with a finer pattern on top of the larger-scale pattern of the rug.”

Another benefit of layering rugs: It’s easy to move them around, the same way you’d swap out a throw pillow or bedding when the seasons change.

“Layering rugs is an ongoing exercise,” Mr. Churchill said. “It definitely changes seasonally.”

He and Ms. Hendricks frequently change the layout of their living room, including the rugs, to shift the focal point from the fireplace to the windows, when spring begins. They also roll up the Moroccan rugs in their sunroom for a lighter feeling in summer.

Layered rugs are ideal for entertaining, as well, Mr. Churchill noted: “If you’re having a bunch of people over, you might take up a slightly more precious rug, just to protect it.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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