From the ground up: Or, why my dining room looks like a basketball court

In trying to determine where to start with the redesign of the dining room, I called upon the sage advice of interior designer Elissa Cullman, who recommends setting the tone and design schema for a room with a well-chosen rug. In her view, by choosing a rug first, you make life simpler for yourself: matching paint colors and fabrics to a rug is much easier than trying to select a rug based on existing paint colors and textiles. I think she has something there!

So I determined that I’d start with the rug. All good. But then I thought, how do I know what size I need?

After looking at various home furnishing websites, I came across a useful formula: for a rug under a dining room table and chairs, measure the table’s length and width and then add 54″ to each measurement. This will allow ample space for chairs to remain on the rug even when they’re pulled out from the table. Visually, this also will help “ground” the room and provide a pleasing proportion.

The table that I plan to use in the dining room belonged to my grandmother. My mother and father, who are both great patrons of the W&R dining room project, made me this very generous gift—even going to the trouble of having the table refinished to restore it to its former grandeur! The table’s more traditional Duncan Phyfe style (check out the split pedestals) will add formality as well as a sense of history to the space, and make it feel special. I don’t yet have a photo of the actual table, but it looks something like this:

After measuring my table dimensions (actually, my mom did this for me while we were on the phone the other night) and then adding the requisite 54 inches to the width and length, I determined that I would need an 8′ x 10′ rug. Bingo!

To get a sense of how this would affect the space in the room, I mapped out both the table and rug dimensions on the floor using painter’s tape. It was easy to determine the room’s center: I hung one of Archie’s leashes straight down from the base of the chandelier to find the mid-point on the floor. To keep things centered, I measured out from the center by halves—so, for example, four feet from the center in both directions for the width, then five feet from the center in both directions for the length. This would ensure that an 8′ x 10′ rug would sit centered in the room.

Here’s another shot from the door to the foyer:

Next I added two chairs at the “host” and “hostess” positions:

Then I invited a few other weird little guests to this party—I pulled in my IKEA stools from the kitchen with another folding chair to create seating for six. I wanted to get a sense of how the chairs would fill the space and how they’d work in relation to the rug and table:

Adding the kitchen stools to the mix really helped as they have a ballpark resemblance (they’re about the same height and approximate the look) to the upholstered chairs that I’m interested in eventually ordering from Ballard Designs:

But before I get too deep into a discussion of these chairs (more on those later), let’s get back to the original topic: dining room rugs. I went back to my “inspiration” images (you can read about them in more detail here). What I noticed is that both of these images feature oriental-style rugs with subtle patterns and softer color palettes:

Inspired by this observation, and to get a better sense of how an oriental-style rug might work in my own little dining room, I order some swatches of rugs that looked pretty amazing online:

But once I saw the swatches in real life, in situ, I can’t say I was wowed. The colors, while pretty, were a little too pastel-y (in the first instance) or just too browny/greeny and “meh” (in the second):

Although I was a little disappointed in the swatches, I’m glad I ordered them. The colors seemed very different in real life and, perhaps more importantly, the rug samples felt maybe just a tad too traditional. So for now I’m weighing another option: a natural fiber rug, which has the benefit of being hard-wearing and pretty easy to clean (an important consideration when you have a pup). I think it would also provide a nice counterpoint to the formal dining room table—it’s a little more modern and casual in feel, not too mention much less expensive! Here’s one I’m considering from Overstock—I love the neutral texture, the thick pile, and the bit of fringe at the ends:










This isn’t to say that I’ve ruled out the an Oriental rug—maybe there’s one out there with my name on it—but I’m kind of excited about the possibility of injecting some more modern style in my dining room with a natural fiber rug. I’ll keep you posted!


The Writer

Writer & Residence blog. A blog dedicated to two of my favourite things, interior design, and writing.

  1. I’ve been having the same trouble finding an area rug too! I originally ordered a jute rug from HDC with a black border. I didn’t even have to take it out of the package and I knew the color was NOT what I wanted. I’ve been moving in a more taupey-grey direction and this was way too orangey. Needless to say, I returned it. So I’ve looked at patterned wool rugs online ’til my eyes burn and have had no success. Now I’m back at the natural woven rugs again. I’m thinking about the one you bought from OS and wondering if I’ll have the same problem with the color. What do you think about yours? Did you order the natural and do you think it would be “taupey” enough for me? From your photos, it looks gorgeous!!! Thanks for your help, Wendy

  2. Hi Wendy, thanks so much for your comment! I can tell you that I’m really happy with the rug I purchased from OS (I ordered the “Handmade Eco Natural Fiber Chunky Loop Jute Rug” in “Natural”). My dining room walls are kind of a light taupe-y neutral color (Benjamin Moore, Manchester Tan), and I love how the rug works in the room. To me, the rug reads “warm neutral” but definitely not yellow or orange. There are very subtle tonal variations in the weave too, which in my mind give it a richer look. I’ve had the rug over a year now, and the only negative I’ve experienced is that the rug does shed a little bit, but since mine is not in a high-traffic area, this isn’t a big issue. I love the look, and I thought the price was very reasonable too. 🙂

    I hope this helps, Wendy! Good luck with your search!


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