The 18-inch rug rule is the clever trick to choose the right size rug for your living room – here's how it works

If you need a helpful starting point when buying a new rug this is the rule to stick to

A pink-painted living room with a cream sofa and a patterned rug
(Image credit: Future PLC)

When it comes to choosing the right rug size for your home, it’s all about balance. You don’t want a rug to be too small or too large. But if you’re not experienced in regularly picking rugs for different spaces, this balance might be a difficult one to strike. Which is where the 18-inch rule comes in.

This method is making rounds on the internet as the golden rule one should abide when coming up with any living room rug ideas. Used less often to prevent any bedroom rug sizing mistakes, the 18-inch rug rule is, in fact, most often used when choosing the right size rug for a living room.

But is this something you need to abide by? That’s exactly what we asked our flooring experts, as well as what exactly the rule entails. And this is what they had to say.

A teal-painted living room with a rust velvet sofa and fluffy rug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Anna Stathaki)

What is the 18-inch rule for rugs?

The soft textures of a rug is central to any cosy living room ideas – especially now, given the home decor trend favouring large area rugs. But getting the measurements right can really make or break the room. Which is why experts do recommend the 18-inch rule if ever in doubt.

‘The 18-inch rule for rugs is a common guideline used in interior design to ensure a room looks balanced – its premise is that when placing a rug in a room, there should be about 18 inches of bare floor space between the edge of the rug and the walls of the room,’ says Daniel Prendergast, design director at The Rug Seller. ‘This helps to create a border around the rug, framing the space effectively.’

Kirsty Barton, brand storytelling manager at Alternative Flooring, further elaborates on this rug sizing and placement tip, ‘If you are unsure where to start, this guideline is an excellent starting point, especially for enclosed rooms, creating a subtle visual contrast whilst adding texture and dimension to your living space. For traditional interiors, this is a golden rule.’

A pink-painted living room with a cream sofa and a patterned rug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Damian Russell)

Do you always have to abide by it?

The short answer is no, you don’t always have to leave 18 inches between the wall and the edge of your rug as the experts further explain – it might especially not be a great tool for small living room ideas.

‘While the 18-inch rule is a good guideline, it’s not a strict rule. Designers often adjust it based on specific room dimensions, furniture sizes, and personal preferences to achieve the best look. For instance, in very small rooms, an 18-inch gap might make the rug look too small, so a smaller gap is used,’ Daniel says.

Kirsty agrees, ‘For more playful or eclectic styles, feel free to bend the rules and explore different arrangements to discover what suits your space best.’

A rustic living room with a blue sofa and a jute rug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

When does the 18-inch rule not work?

Daniel also points out that there are situations where the 18-inch rule doesn’t really apply, such as in bedrooms.

‘In bedrooms, the rug is often placed under the bed, extending out on the sides and at the foot of the bed. The 18-inch rule can guide how far the rug should extend from the edges of the bed, though this can vary based on room size and layout. If a large area rug isn’t practical or affordable, a good alternative is to choose a rug that your bed and your bedside tables can sit on. If you go for this look, remember to leave space all the way round your bed – this will give you some warmth and cosiness underfoot when you get up. A second option for an area style rug is to place your rug so that the lower two thirds of the bed sit on the rug,’ he suggests.

Another instance is when your chosen rug comes in an asymmetrical or a round shape. ‘There is also a move towards shaped rugs that means the 18-inch rule doesn’t really apply. We’re seeing an uplift in the popularity of round rugs as well as curved non-symmetrical designs,’ Daniel says.

A bedroom with a pink pattertned rug and layered scatter cushions on the bed

(Image credit: Future PLC/Nick Poped)

If ever in doubt, go big

But if you’re ever unsure when picking the size of a rug, experts advise it’s always better to go too big than too small.

‘As a general rule, when considering the size of your rug, it's best to go big. A rug that's too small can become lost in the expanse of the room, losing impact. However, a larger rug can be used as a beautiful statement piece and can provide a soft touch underfoot when placed beneath a sofa or a coffee table, bringing the room together,’ Kirsty explains.

Our favourite rugs

Are you going to use the 18-inch rule next time you’re buying a rug? We’ll definitely be trying it out.

News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home decor and interiors, as well as trend-led pieces, shopping round-ups and more. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors, working with the likes of 91 Magazine and copywriting for luxury bed linen brand Yves Delorme among others. She feels that fashion and interiors are intrinsically connected – if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.