Can you Use a Rug on Carpet? And Tips for Getting it Right

Image via Studio McGee

There’s a lot of confusion about using a rug on carpet – whether or not it’s a move that’s approved in the Big Book of Design Rules (kidding, there’s no such book), and if it is, how to layer an area rug over carpet appropriately.

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When it comes to putting rugs on different flooring types, carpet is really the only one that causes such pause. We throw area rugs down on hardwood and tile floors with wild abandon.

So, is it ok to use a rug on carpet?

The answer is: of course you can use an area rug on carpet. Just because it feels a little redundant doesn’t mean you can’t do it. While an extra layer of carpet might not provide any extra function to the room, a rug can go a long way in terms of adding extra style, or concealing carpet you don’t love. It’s also a great renter-friendly hack for covering up all sorts of offensive flooring you can’ change, carpets included.

A rug layered over carpet in my son’s nursery, back in 2015

I’ve used a rug over carpet a number of times, including in my son’s nursery in both Chicago and Seattle, as well as in the loft of our cabin in Vermont.

In Seattle, we were in a rental, and all of the bedrooms had carpet, but I didn’t love the look of the carpet and thought a rug would be a nice way to tie the room together. So, I got a rug.

Ditto for the kids room in the Vermont cabin. It just needed a little something to break up the sea of beige carpet, so I got a small accent rug for the center of the room.

an adirondack style kids room
A rug I bought from Overstock for our Vermont cabin

Design experts also use the rug-over-carpet trick. When talking about using carpet in homes in general, Shea McGee has said, “Another reason I like to use a low-pile carpet, is it makes it easy to layer a rug on top. I like to do this in the bedroom because it’s nice to anchor the space, ground the room, and add a little bit of color.”

Like all things in design though, successfully using a rug over carpet depends on your home and the type of carpet and rug you are using.

Tips for Using an Area Rug over Carpet

Use a low-pile carpet if possible

Overall, the layered carpet and rug look works best when the carpet is low-pile and structured, like a Berber or loop-style rug, or a short, dense cut-pile carpet. These carpet types mimic hard-surface flooring the best.

However, if your carpet is already installed, and happens to be a little shaggy, you can still pull off the style — I have a few more tips for that below!

Choose a structured rug

The type of rug you use also matters. In Seattle, I used a cotton flat weave rug over a loop-style carpet, and it was not the best option. The rug wasn’t structured enough to hold it’s shape over the carpet surface. I find this happens on hardwood floors also, which is why I avoid buying cotton flat-weave rugs, but it was worse with carpet.

In our Vermont house, I chose a tufted rug with a backing (i.e. like most of the power-loomed rugs you’d find on Wayfair or at HomGoods), which worked much better since it holds it’s shape.

Overall, structured area rugs with a backing, like most power-loomed rug styles, work best over carpet. I’d avoid flat weaves and Moroccan-style rugs that don’t have a backing. Jute and Sisal can work since they tend to be heavier and sturdier.

Create contrast

As far as style goes, there should be some contrast between your area rug and the carpet beneath it. The easiest way to do this is by choosing a rug with a different color than your carpet. Because a rug is one of the best ways to tie together a decor scheme (or to find inspiration for a color scheme, if you’re starting from scratch), choose a rug that reflects the other colors in your room, or the colors you want to bring into the space.

If you want to keep a consistent color palette, choose a rug in a similar hue but with a large-scale pattern, or a different texture, i.e. a sisal rug or something with a different weave.

Use a large scale pattern on shaggier rugs

And finally, if you have a rug that’s on the shaggier side, choose a rug with a large scale pattern. That’s because a saggy rug has a lot of visual texture, and already acts almost as a pattern in the room. If you layer a small-scale pattern on top, the result will look busy. A larger-scale pattern will break up a shaggy texture.

Inspiration for Using Rugs Over Carpet

When it comes to design, I find that social proof is often the best argument. So, I’ve rounded up a bunch of examples of area rugs used over carpet, in living rooms and bedrooms, which tend to be the areas in the house that most often have carpet.

Area rug over carpet- living room

Image via Studio McGee

This is a great example of an ideal rug and carpet combo. The carpet is a dense loop pile, and the area rug is also low-pile and has a soft, contrasting texture.

Image via Chelsea / Rugs USA

If you don’t have a loop-pile carpet, though, you can still pull off the rug over carpet look. Here’s an example of a low-pile are rug used over a cut pile carpet.

Image via daysofdecorating.ler

Here’s another look at a rug layered over a cut pile carpet – this one is even a bit shaggy. It’s not quite as neat looking as the first photo, but it still works.

Area rug over carpet- bedroom

Image via Rugs USA

One tip to glean from the photo above? Look for a low-pile rug with a slightly different texture than your carpet to make the look feel intentional.

Image via Studio McGee

This room is a good visual example of the idea Shea McGee was talking about, of using a low-pile carpet underneath an area rug. The overall look is cleaner.

Image via Allison Anderson / Rugs USA

I think this is the perfect case for using a rug over a carpet – picture this room without the rug: It’s just not quite as cohesive, right?

A Studio Mcgee Bedroom with a rug over a carpet

And finally, one more example of a Studio McGee bedroom with a low pile carpet and area rug layered on top.