Cozy Toes: Finding the Right Rug for Scandinavian Furniture

White rug with black stripes

The elegant wood floors that are an integral part of Scandinavian interiors make area rugs something of necessity.

More than just holding warmth (and giving the cat a cozy spot to lie in front of the fire), the right rug defines your seating area and anchors your furniture in a way that sets off the beauty of its design.

There are a lot of options for what you might call “Scandinavian style rugs” — shaggy sheepskins, colorful rag rugs, and chic neutral wool rugs with trendy geometric patterns.

White rug with black stripes
This fuzzy rug complements the smooth surface of the sofa and chairs. The airy geometric pattern lends some energy to the room without overwhelming the furniture.

A few basic guidelines will help you find a rug that looks with your Scandinavian style furniture.

  • For sleek leather and wood furniture, try a shag or sheepskin.
  • For richly textured furniture, a thinner rug is a good bet.
  • If you have patterned furniture, a solid or simply pattered rug will work well.
  • With solid-colored furniture, a patterned rug will add some visual interest.

Color and Pattern

In interior design, the floor is often called the fifth wall. The decor you put here is just as important as the decor you put on your other walls.

Your first decision is whether you want your rug to make a bold statement or subtly pull the room together. Once you know this, think about the kind of mood you want the rug to create. Cheerful and energetic, cool and serene or moody and sophisticated?

Patterned rugs go well with solid colored furniture, which Scandinavian style furniture tends to be.

Geometric patterns
are timeless choice. Muted, low-contrast patterns bring a sense of serenity, while vibrant colors and splashy patterned energize the room. In fact, a showy rug can act as a focal point all on its own.

Well-placed splashes of tropical color add some verve to a white Swedish interior. The simple geometric patter lets the colors shine without looking gaudy.
Well-placed splashes of tropical color add some verve to a black and white Swedish interior. The rug’s simple geometric pattern lets the colors shine without looking gaudy.

Already have a room full of color? You might want to stick with a rug in a single, neutral color. If you want a rug in a solid color that doesn’t look plain, look for something with an interesting texture.

In a monochrome room with one bold accent color, a multicolored rug or one in a bright color adds a little playfulness. Darker colors create a more intimate space.

Lighter neutrals expand the space and also lend contrast to leather furniture. The tan leather sofa or butterfly chair and a white sheepskin is a classic combo.

Keep your floor color in mind, too. The common light-toned woods typical of Scandinavian interiors, such as oak, pine, birch and maple, provide a good neutral base for any color of rug.

If you have a very light, white-washed floor, give some thought to a using a darker rug color so your rug doesn’t end up lost in a sea of paleness.

On a black floor, white and off-white rugs are perfect. For a moody, dark bedroom, though, a charcoal or lead grey rug can also work well on a black floor.

Black rug on a white floor
A cushy black woven rug contrasts beautifully with the whitewashed floor of this 1899 apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo via Entrance Makleri

Material and Texture

A rug’s texture tends to go hand-in-hand with the material it’s made from and each material has its own personality.

As a rule, look for a texture that contrasts with the texture of your furniture.

A shag rug or sheepskin sets off a smooth leather and wood. A light weave of wool or cotton makes a nice, simple base for a fuzzy sofa. Light textures also give the room a soft and breezy atmosphere – perfect if you’re going for a summer-at-the-seaside feel.

Wool – The standard rug material, wool is durable, easy to clean, and holds warmth well. For a folksy look, a high-pile wool rug with a colorful motif in the style of Swedish Rya rug is a good choice. The problem, though, is that tufted wool rugs tend to shed, whereas with woven and looped-fiber rugs, shedding isn’t an issue. Woven wool rugs also give you a cushy feel without the fussy look of a shag rug.

Dark grey wool rug
A wool/cotton rug from the Björk collection by Swedish designer Lena Bergström, available from Design House Stockholm. The grey marbled effect works well with light wood flooring.

Cotton – Cotton rugs are versatile, low-maintenance, and budget-friendly. They’re not quite as durable as wool rugs, but they cost significantly less. Most are machine-washable, so they’re a practical choice for the kitchen or kid’s room.

And for a traditional Scandinavian feel, you can’t beat the classic Swedish trasmatta or rag rug. A multicolored rag rug evokes a relaxed, homey atmosphere. In a more modest color scheme, it can fit into a modern home.

Grey trasmatta
Simple grey-toned rag rug in a modern Scandinavian interior.

I’ve seen some that are upcycled from old clothes (the traditional source of material for rag rugs) or clothing manufacturing remnants, but they’re not so common…yet.

The eco-friendy Danish rug maker Rug Solid has a line of cotton rugs made from manufacturing remnants. They also have rugs made from recycled plastic, old jeans, (new) leather scraps from clothing manufacturing, and old bicycle ties (more on that later…). And they ship internationally!

Striped rag rug by Rug Solid of Denmark. It's made from (new) cotton remnants collected from clothing manufacturers around the world. They have a wide range of solids, several mixed color ones (traditional trasmatta style) and a few striped ones.
Striped rag rug by Rug Solid of Denmark. It’s made from (new) cotton remnants collected from clothing manufacturers around the world. They have a wide range of solids, several mixed color ones (traditional trasmatta style) and a few striped ones.

For recycled cotton rugs (and lots of other home textiles), check out the modern geometric designs from Finnish home decor specialist Saana and Olli. They also ship internationally.

AITTA DARK GREY

Manmade fibers – Usually made from polyproplene, polyester or another plastic, these rugs are not only as durable and easy to clean as cotton rugs, but they’re also more stain- and fade-resistant than cotton. There are quite a few recycled plastic rugs around usually made from plastic bottles or fishing nets. So you get all the benefits of cotton while helping to clean up the oceans.

You've seen polyester rugs before, but have you ever seen one make from bike tires? Now you have. This is the Bicycle Tube rug by Rug Solid of Denmark.
You’ve seen polyester rugs before, but have you ever seen one make from bike tires? Now you have. This is the Bicycle Tube rug by Rug Solid of Denmark.

The black rug in the photo above is the Bicycle Tube Rug handmade from used bicycle tires by the fine and decidedly environmentally conscious people at Rug Solid in Denmark.

Hide – Faux or genuine sheepskin, cowhide or reindeer skin are the obvious choice for a rustic home, but they’re also definitely on trend for modern homes right now. Their small sizes make them perfect at the side of the bed, in front of your favorite chair or in front of the fireplace.

Beware that reindeer hair, being hollow, breaks easily and so the skins tend to shed.

White rug
Classic white sheepskin rug. High-quality faux versions are just as soft and also worth considering.

Narma from Estonia offers both merino sheepskin rugs and cowhide rugs. They also have plastic and sisal rugs.

Other plant fibers – Rugs woven from coarse plant fibers, such as jute and sisal sea grass, are often dubbed “natural rugs.” They’re tough and long-lasting, but not the softest option.

For something with an organic feel, but that’s soft on stocking feet, linen and hemp rugs are a good alternative.

Seagrass rug
Seagrass (I think… or jute?) rug in the same Gothenburg apartment as above. The natural rug, combined with linen bed clothes in the same shade and a breezy white lampshade give the whole bedroom a carefree, summery feel.

I didn’t have much luck tracking down Nordic-made rugs like these, but the Flatweave Seagrass SEAS Rug by Danish company House Doctor is one possibility. It’s 90 percent seagrass and 10 percent jute.

Size and Shape

When you size your rug, keep one thing in mind: undersizing is the most common mistake when choosing a rug.

Paige Hemmis, from the US TV series Extreme Makeover, has some practical sizing tips and visuals to help you avoid that problem.

In general, though, some basic guidelines are all you’ll need.

Large living room or dining room – If the seating area doesn’t fill the whole living room, choose a rug that’s big enough to fit all the furniture. This helps define your seating area for a more finished look. In any dining room, keep all the furniture legs on the rug.

Medium living room – If your seating area more or less fills the room and the furniture is close to the walls, use a rug that allows to you put the front legs of your furniture on it and keep the back legs off. Aime to leave at least 20 cm (8 inches) between the edge of the rug and the wall so the room doesn’t end up feeling claustrophobic.

Small living room – In a very small room, you’ll be fine with a small rug that fits under the coffee table only.

Bedroom – Traditionally, a bedroom rug goes under the entire bed and the nightstands, but a rug that reaches to a little in front of the nightstands looks good, too. If you have a small bed room, you can make it look a little bigger by putting your rug under the foot of the bed only. Runners on each side of the bed are another option.

And remember, you have options for shape.

Rectangular rugs are the standard in Scandinavian and most western design and they work best in rectangular rooms. In square rooms, square or round rugs, and rectangular rooms with rectangular rugs oriented in the same direction.

Round and irregularly shaped rugs are great to offset the hard lines of angular furniture. They’re more common in East Asia, so if you’re looking for something that to complement the Buddha statue on the shelf, a round rug might be the perfect fit.

And there you go! The medium-pile, neutral-colored design might be the go-to look for Scandinavian style rugs, but there are plenty of other ways to get the ambiance you’re aiming for. When you have the basic guidelines down, you have the freedom to experiment.

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