Custom Made Rugs: Everything You Need To Know

Barbara Barran, President Classic Rug Collection, Inc.

So you’ve selected the upholstery fabric of your dreams, the draperies look fantastic, the walls are exactly the right color, but the room still looks incomplete. What’s the easiest way to pull the room together? With a one-of-a-kind custom rug.

Sure, you could run all over looking for the perfect color to co-ordinate with your sofa or walls, but what are the odds of finding exactly what you need? And what if the space calls for a rug that isn’t a perfect 6’ x 9’? Or you need a shape that will accommodate the heating vent on the floor? At this point, you should start considering a custom area rug.

I’m the owner of and rug designer for Classic Rug Collection, a custom rug company located in New York City. When I design rugs, I start by asking a lot of questions. I want to know about the colors that you like—and the ones that you dislike! Color is never a problem with custom rugs because the yarn can be dyed to whatever color you need. I take a look at pictures of the furniture, samples of the paint colors and fabrics, and the layout of the room. I’ll ask you to have a look at some of the designs on my Website, or to look through a book of sketches at my showroom. Then I’ll make some suggestions based on this information. I’ll do a few preliminary sketches—80% of my rugs are one-of-a-kind designs—and pull together some colors.

I’ll also ask about the location of the room and the amount of traffic that it gets. For example, if you live in an upper-floor apartment, then people have already walked through the lobby and down the hallway before arriving in your home. Therefore, their shoes are probably pretty clean. If your home has a small vestibule, and people step into your living room almost before you know it, then dirty shoes are a real factor. This factor helps guide my fabric and color selections. The function of the room—if it’s for sleeping or TV viewing—also helps me decide on the rug’s construction type and fiber content.

The next step is to refine the design, making changes so that all of us are pleased. If possible, this meeting will take place in your home so that I can see what the colors look like in the actual light of your room. For major projects, I travel to the

residence to ensure that the colors work in the local light. If it’s not possible for us to get together, I’ll send the color poms to your home so that you can see how the colors look.

Once I have this information, I order a “strike-off,” a small sample that shows the colors and a portion of the pattern that will be used to make the rug. In two to three weeks, the strike-off arrives, and I’m ready to do the fine-tuning: I may change a color or modify the design. If necessary, I order another strike-off; if everything is fine, then I order the rug, which usually arrives in six to twelve weeks, depending upon its size and complexity.

For maximum cleanability, I recommend a hand-tufted rug made of New Zealand wool. The type of wool is important because New Zealand wool is one of the strongest in the world. It also dyes beautifully, and it has a lovely luster. Inexpensive rugs are made with Indian wool, which is much less desirable because the fibers break easily. Have you ever bought a rug that shed and shed, creating dust bunnies all over your home? That rug was probably Indian wool. This wool can also have an unpleasant smell to it, and it doesn’t dye evenly. So it pays to use the finest wool wavailable.

When making a hand-tufted rug, an artist draws the pattern in mirror image on a piece of fine monk’s cloth stretched on a frame. Each stitch is added individually, according to color. When the tufting is complete, the back of the rug is coated with latex and jute to hold the stitches in place. Then the rug is sheared and carved by hand, and the edges are trimmed using a big pair of scissors. So each rug is made completely by hand.

A tufted rug is perfect when you want a bold, graphic pattern or more intense color. The thick pile of this type of rug, about ½”, lends itself to carving. And the soft, chemically untreated surface of the rug makes this a great choice for families with young children or for people who like to plop down on the floor!

More elegant rugs are hand-knotted. This is the technique that is used to make fine Oriental carpets. Each piece of yarn is tied around a long piece of fiber; the greater the number of knots, the finer and thinner the rug. My rugs range from 40-300 knots per square inch. When all of the knots have been added, the edges of the rug are serged(sewn by hand), and the surface is hand-sheared. Please visit the “All About Rugs” section of my website,, to see pictures that show how both types of rugs are made.

What knot count is best for you? A 100 knot rug is ideal for a runner or under a dining table because it is thin enough so that there’s no tripping hazard, and furniture will move smoothly over the surface of the rug. A lower knot count rug is good for a bedroom or family room, where you want a thicker, cozier feeling. It’s also less expensive, allowing you to save more of your rug budget for the higher impact areas, such as your formal living room. In this area, the knot count depends upon the complexity of the design and the elegance of the effect that you want to create.

When designing knotted rugs, I use a wide variety of fibers: wool, silk, hemp, linen—even pashmina. Often I will use two different fibers in the same rug to vary the visual texture of a piece. The vegetable-based dyes used to color the fibers lend a muted, antique look to these rugs. In some cases, I use undyed yarn to create rugs that are especially eco-sensitive.

All of these factors—manufacturing technique, knot count, complexity of the pattern, and composition of the fibers—determine the cost of a custom rug. My custom rugs range from $45-$295 per square foot, so it’s always best to share your budget with your rug designer. That way, I can provide the finest rug that suits your budget and meets your needs.

Owning an original work of art—a rug designed exclusively for you—gives years of pleasure, because a well-made, properly cared for custom rug will last a lifetime. If you haven’t yet designed your room, think about starting with the rug, as this is the piece that you will have for the longest time. And if you’re puzzled about how to finish off your existing space, call a rug designer!