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A living room rug can be any size, from a 3'x 5' or 4' x 6' accent rug in front of the couch to a large carpet that nearly fills the room. We can get you thinking, however, with these general observations....
Will the rug be foreground or background?
That is, do you want the rug to set the visual tone in the room, or is something else visually more important? If the space is bland and neutral in color and feel, a bold(er) rug design with more saturated colors and stronger color contrasts will add impact and be be the first thing you notice in the room. If the space is already quite busy with artwork, architectural detail, bookcases, lots of furniture, etc., a larger, more quiet rug will have the effect of knitting the space together and calming the room.
Multiple rugs define multiple spaces
Sometimes the living room is so large that it seems to lack human scale--you're sitting here, and your guests are sitting way over there. Several rugs can be used to carve out multiple spaces that feel more intimate and homey in a large room.
First, think about how the room is used. Is there a natural focus like a fireplace or gorgeous view? Is there a secondary area that will take a comfortable stuffed chair, sidetable, and bridge lamp? Spaces like these can be defined with appropriately sized rugs. The effect is to organize a large space into more complex but more human-sized areas.
A long term tendency toward using smaller rugs
Since the 1950's people have been choosing smaller living room rugs. When wall-to-wall carpeting was in vogue, people so individualistic as to buy Oriental rugs chose big rugs that nearly filled their living rooms. A typical arrangement was a nearly wall-to-wall Oriental with furniture arranged around its perimeter. These days hardwood floors are an expensive and attractive architectural detail, and it seems silly to cover them up. Living room rugs are commonly sized today so that major pieces of furniture (couches, loveseats) abut the rug, but do not sit on the rug. When you sit on the couch your feet are on the carpet. You can appreciate the carpet's design and colors because it's not hidden under the furniture.
You can use quite a small rug as the "main" rug in a living room. An arrangement consisting of a 5' x 8' rug centered on the fireplace in front of a couch and endtables, and flanked by two upholstered easychairs, will occupy a floor space of about 12' x 18'.
How do rugs relate to each other?
If you use more than one rug in your living room, how do you make them compliment each other? Firstly, there needs to be a clear hierarchy: one rug needs to be in charge. You can usually do this automatically by making one rug larger than the other(s). The big rug is the boss. Think about a 14' x 24' livingroom. The space would comfortably hold two 8' x 10' rugs side-by-side, but this arrangement splits the room right down the center and invites psychological disquiet. It would be hard to make this room seem restful. Much better to use a bigger rug in one area and a smaller and clearly secondary rug in another.
12' x 24' room
12' x 24' room
There is also the issue of how to relate colors and patterns in two (or more) rugs. Basically, rugs can resemble one another in three characteristics: color, design, and texture. The more rugs share the same attributes of color, design, and texture, the better they will "go together." Be careful, though! Too much similarity submerges the individuality that makes a particular rug interesting. Better not to try to clone the big rug in a smaller size, but rather to find a smaller rug with an allover pattern instead of the big rug's medallion design, or a smaller rug in the inverse color combination of the big rug. The small rug should add something unique to the space.