Accent Rugs vs. Area Rugs: Learn the Difference & How to Use Them

So you’ve started shopping for rugs, and you’re seeing rugs labeled accent rugs and rugs labeled area rugs. Now you’re wondering, “Do I need an accent rug or an area rug?”


Choosing accent rugs and choosing area rugs is largely a matter of personal choice. However, for a stylish look, following some basic rug placement rules is a good idea. To follow them, you need to know your terms.


The guidelines below will clear up the accent rug vs. area rug confusion and help you be sure you always choose the right rug for your space.


The Real Meanings of ‘Accent Rug’ and ‘Area Rug’

Although people use the terms interchangeably, an accent rug isn’t always the same thing as an area rug. An accent rug is a small rug, usually 4-by-6 feet or smaller, that’s used to add a design accent such as color or texture or both to a room. An area rug, on the other hand, is a larger rug that’s intended to fill a large area of the room for either comfort and usability of the space or design impact in the space.


All of that said, however, an accent rug can be an area rug, and an area rug can be an accent rug. Say what? I know. I know. Your head is spinning. Stick with me. All will be made clear.


Photo by ariadna de raadt on Shutterstock

An accent rug, which again, is a small rug primarily designed to add color or texture to a space, can also cover the entire area of a space. This turns it into an area rug as well. An example of this accent/area hybrid is a hallway rug or runner.


Similarly, an area rug, which is a rug that covers a large area, can also be a design accent. If you’re using your living room rug, for example, to bring an accent color into the space, the area rug has become an accent rug as well. So now it’s an area/accent hybrid.


Common Rug Mistakes

Most common rug mistakes happen when accent rugs try to be area rugs. Here are the three ways accent rugs often get too big for their britches.


The Runaway Rug

Small accent rugs (2-by-3 feet or smaller) belong in small places. These rugs are fine for bathrooms, the kitchen (if placed in front of the sink or stove), or in a utility room (again, if placed in front of the sink). These rugs can also be used as welcome mats just inside a doorway.


Photo by Africa Studio on Shutterstock

Small accent rugs, however, no matter how pretty they are, will look silly if they try to crawl into other rooms. (As an aside, if you ever see your rug crawling, period, I suggest you run.) Never place a small accent rug with a furniture grouping. Instead of acting as a connector as an area rug would, an accent rug will create a sense of disconnection between the pieces in the grouping.


The Lost at Sea Rug

Although an area rug will define a conversational grouping in a living room or a family room, an accent rug can’t perform this trick. Even a larger accent rug, one that’s 4-by-6 feet, will seem to be swimming in the vast sea of surrounding flooring if you try to put it in the middle of a conversational grouping.


Photo by Artazum on Shutterstock

Some people try to anchor a small accent rug with a coffee table or ottoman, but this just makes the accent rug look like a little island, still wallowing in the ocean. The problem with these island rugs is they seem to showcase what’s sitting on them, even if that furniture piece isn’t intended to be a focal point.


The Lonely Heart Rug

When you try to put an accent rug in the middle of the floor in a larger room, that rug is going to look rejected and lonely. This is especially true if the rug provides no color or textural contrast to the space. If you want to put an accent rug in a large space, be sure it has a reason to be there.


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The Proper Use of Accent Rugs and Area Rugs

Happy Accent Rugs

Happy accent rugs are small rugs that are positioned in small places to add color or texture to a space. When a small rug has the proper visual weight for an area (meaning that it looks like it belongs), and it has a tie-in with other accent colors in the vicinity, it’s a happy, well-used accent rug.


Photo by Gaf_Lila on Shutterstock

Happy Area Rugs

Happy area rugs are rugs that are big enough to carry the visual weight of the space they’re in (meaning, they look like they belong), and they are properly placed. Hallway or entryway area rugs should fill at least 2/3 of the space. Area rugs in living rooms should be tucked at least a couple inches under part of the furniture grouping in the space. In bedrooms, an area rug under the bed should be positioned so that at least 18 or more inches of the rug extends from the sides of the bed and a couple feet extend past the foot of the bed.


Photo by Dimasik_sh on Shutterstock

Now that you know the difference between an accent rug and an area rug and you know how to be sure both types of rugs will be happy in your décor, you can be confident that you’ll always choose the right rugs for your rooms.

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