Top tips for making the best of a less-than-ideal carpet

At some time or other we all find ourselves putting up with fixtures and fittings in our homes that we’re not too keen on—carpets being a prime example. This is a common scenario in rental accommodation where tenants are obliged to live with what the landlord provides, or when we first move into a property and inherit the previous owner’s tastes.

Carpets are generally seen as a long-term investment, and are manufactured to endure many years of wear and tear. While this is a positive on lots of levels, if the carpet design or colour is not to your taste but the carpet itself is in good condition, it can feel like a frivolous decision to replace it.

With this in mind, we spoke to four of the country’s leading interior designers to discover inside tips for styling a less-than-ideal carpet. Here’s what they had to say:

Steph Briggs

La di da Interiors

Elaine Penhaul

Lemon and Lime Interiors

Rebecca Dupere

Dupere Interior Design

Emile Azan

Chameleon Designs

What ‘instant fixes’ can you suggest to make the best of a neutral-coloured carpet that may be stained or in a poor state of repair?

Steph: A professional clean can often work wonders for reviving a carpet, including refreshing the pile in high-traffic areas. If it's really not working, a rug or strategically placed large houseplant are great for covering marks and distracting the eye away from undesirable parts.

Emile: Area rugs can enliven a room with colour, pattern and texture. On a practical level, they can also protect what lies beneath or conceal worn or stained flooring. This is just as true for a rug on carpet as it is for one on wood or tile. Just add cushions, rugs, table lamps and decorative bits. You could also try a decorative screen if there is enough room. Do try DIY shops, supermarkets and places like Wilko, eBay and Matalan.

The best thing is to move the furniture around if possible to hide the worst areas, or disguise them with a large rug. Either invest in one that you love and can take with you when you move or choose one that is inexpensive and replaceable. The other option is to ask your landlord to replace or have the carpets cleaned.

Elaine: If you don’t want to spend money on changing the carpet, a first step would be to find a good carpet cleaner. The professionals are amazing in our experience and can get out stains you would never have thought possible to move!

If this doesn’t work and there’s still a mark or the carpet is getting threadbare, a simple option would be to hide the damage and make sure it’s not visible in the room. Rugs are a good option but can only really be placed centrally in a room or they draw attention to a problem. Small pieces of furniture can be used close to walls, and in a children’s room, reading corners with large bean-bags are a great way to hide stains.

Rebecca: Get it professionally cleaned, which is the most effective way of removing stains and refreshing carpets. Furniture and rugs are always useful if you need to cover up any threadbare areas.

How would you recommend styling a carpet that features a distinctive pattern?

Steph: I'm a firm lover of colour and pattern-clashing can really work well. If possible, use the colour palette as inspiration for your room scheme to help blend it in rather than make it stick out. If it's really terrible, you can get huge rugs that are virtually large enough to fill a room—made-to-measure isn't always as expensive as it sounds and many independent flooring companies can get coverings made to size.

Emile: If you can live with the pattern, work with it and choose accessories that complement and enhance the look. Alternatively, use a large rug that hides most of the floor, allowing this to be showcased by the distinctive pattern around it. Think of a piece of artwork for your floor with a distinctive border and you have the idea.

Elaine: Make sure to pick out the colours running through the carpet as feature colours. Bring these into your cushions and accessories to help the carpet tie in with the rest of the room. I would go for a simple light colour on the walls to keep the room bright and airy if the carpet is a strong element. As you can imagine, we often work with carpets that people don’t want to change before a sale and usually manage to turn a disaster into something approaching a design feature!

Rebecca: The general rule is that larger and bolder patterns are best suited to bigger rooms. Carpets with small patterns in a mix of colours are good for busy rooms as they can help disguise day-to-day wear and marks, whereas bright colours can make a real style statement. When decorating go for calm and unfussy. Avoid patterned wallpapers and fabrics.

What’s the best way to complement a bold-coloured carpet—for example, a dark red, navy blue or chocolate brown?

Steph: Consider the whole room and the natural light available. With a dark red I would use rich colours that are as strong in tone as the carpet to create a sumptuous look. With navy it makes a great base so you can either go colour-crazy with vibrant colours or equally a really pale neutral scheme in differing shades of whites would work well too. Chocolate-brown carpet reminds me of my childhood—my Mum did our entire house in it, and I hated it then too! It does make a good base for a classic scheme although I'd personally be tempted to acquire a huge jute rug to hide it as much as possible.

Emile:  If you’re allowed to paint, paint one wall—preferably featuring a window—in a deep colour that goes with the carpet. Think orange with blue, chocolate brown with red or mocha with deep brown and keep other walls as they are. Replace the curtains with a colour that complements that wall. Now you’ve made a sharp contrast.

If you already have some decorative pieces and small rugs in shades close to the mentioned colours—they don’t have to be the exact same colours–use them close to the white walls and away from the sharp-coloured wall and curtain to create contrast-unification.

As you’re working with a rented space, you can add colour with accessories. Hang large colourful prints in simple-coloured IKEA frames or paint your own canvas—or get a few friends to do some—instead of painting the walls. Accessorise with a coffee table with magazines with colourful covers and add a few tulips or daffodils to add zing. Factor in frivolity and the colour of the carpet will act as a foil for colour. I also love copper with white for a modern twist.

Think textures for a rustic look. Baskets and natural wood all work well with these colours. There is only one rule when layering an area rug on carpet—it’s generally best to avoid using a patterned rug over a patterned carpet.

Elaine: Neutral furniture complements a bold-coloured carpet well. Putting up light-coloured linen voiles at the windows can help bring in light, as opposed to heavy dark curtains, which may clash with the carpet. Pick up the carpet in artwork or accessories as an accent colour.

Rebecca: The safest option is to go for a neutral shade when it comes to decorating the walls. Too light can be little over dramatic so it would be worth considering a deeper shade of something like taupe or beige.

Use furniture and rugs that will complement the dark colours. Again, like the walls, if the colours are too light they will only highlight the dark carpet rather than blend in and enhance. Also, soft lighting works better and you can achieve this by using lamps rather than wall lighting.

How would you bring a large expanse of neutral carpet to life?

Steph: I love using accents in vibrant colours to move the eye around a room—a pop of colour really does make a huge difference. Botanicals are still on trend at present and there’s nothing like a huge potted plant to give height to a room as well as creating texture and colour and shade. Lighting is key in this instance so a well-positioned directional lamp will enable you to create light and shade without taking up too much space.

Emile: Be bold with colour. Rugs can add a hit of colour to neutral rooms or tone down bold spaces. When layering a rug on carpet, consider the impact you’d like it to make on your room’s mood and colour scheme. We often use an area rug over carpet when we need to add colour, texture and pattern to a room, as wall-to-wall carpet does not always provide these on its own.

Elaine: Your furnishings, artwork and accessories will help with this! Decide on a colour for the room and create a focal point, as this will distract you from seeing the dull carpet. Currently dark blues and greens are very en vogue, a navy sofa on a plain beige carpet with ocean landscapes on the wall can look amazing.

Rebecca: Zoning with rugs and furniture. For instance, in a sitting room a large rug in the middle and/or a coffee table would help to break up the expanse of carpet and provide a focal point. Screens and shelving are a good way to break up a large room and if coupled with rugs and runners will add interest and help create different areas. You will find that the neutral carpet will then help to frame your chosen rugs and furniture.

Do you have any tips for choosing/positioning rugs?

Steph: Consider the colour, texture and pattern but above all else go with what you love—rugs are by design changeable. It's a really quick way of changing the look of flooring without commitment!

Emile:  A layered area rug—especially one that contrasts with the carpet underneath—can help define a smaller activity zone within a room, such as a dining or seating area.

Elaine: It depends on the type of look you’re aiming for in the room. We like to position our rugs in line with the sofa under a coffee table so it creates a central point in the room and brings everything together. If you have a stylish rug with a lot of colour, you may want to be more creative. Try moving your furniture to find the best look—experimenting is great fun and you’ll find you learn something about space and placement every time. It may mean that your coffee table is slightly off centre but that’s OK! 

Rebecca:  There are multiple rules you can follow when it comes to deciding what size rug is best for the rooms of a home and many of them completely contradict one another! Here are a few:

  1. Choose a rug that complements the furniture in the room to create a cohesive look.
  2. A long-established rule is to leave 18 inches of bare floor between the edge of the rung and the perimeter walls. Looks good in rooms that are enclosed and separate from other living areas.
  3. Front legs sit on the rug while the others don’t. The rug connects the various pieces of furniture and extends far enough into the room to create a sense of proportion.
  4. Before deciding on what size rug you want, first work out where the furniture is going. Generally a room looks more pulled together if all the furniture legs are planted firmly on the rug.
  5. Another approach would be to have none of the furniture touching the rug.
  6. Last but not least, some legs on and some not! Sofa legs on and chair legs off or vice versa. This looks good with some flooring showing.

What advice would you give to renters who may not want a carpet/don’t like their carpet but can’t change it?

Steph: Get inventive about coverings, cow hides, sheepskins, dhurries, jute etc. can all be obtained at reasonable prices these days and you can take them with you when you move. Vintage shops are also worth looking at for silk rugs. It’s worth speaking to your local independent carpet shop, who often have large pieces left over that can be whipped so can be used as rugs almost the same size as the room.

Emile: All a landlord really wants is the property looked after and easily re-rentable. I would advise tenants—especially if long-term—to talk to their landlord. Most landlords would be happy if the renters are modernising the property at no hassle or cost to themselves! As long as the replacement flooring is done well and leaves it easy to rent out, no decent landlord is going to complain.

Elaine: Definitely invest in a large rug, which will cover a lot of the carpet area in the room. This way you can choose the colour which you like and match your furnishings and accessories to it. You don’t have to spend a lot—IKEA regularly have affordable rugs in great colours and textures.

Rebecca: Get an inexpensive piece of carpet that doesn’t need to be fitted, which can always be finished off with some nice edging. Seagrass or matting is hard-wearing, looks good and can be custom-made to cover the existing carpet. Runners are useful for stairs and corridors. Also, rugs work well in most rooms.