Market Report: What Lies Beneath

There are two kinds of homes: the kind with a pile of shoes at the front door and the kind without. If you came from a

There are two kinds of homes: the kind with a pile of shoes at the front door and the kind without. If you came from a no-shoes-barred household, you might not have understood the fuss about walking on the carpet — until you start looking for one of your own. Plush deep-pile, Berber wool, handcrafted Orientals — suddenly, mandatory shoe removal starts to make sense.

Luckily, carpeting has been engineered to wear better and longer, but durability is only one of the things to consider when you’re deciding how to treat your home’s fifth wall, the floor. Buying a rug or carpet is as much a personal investment as it is an economic one, so don’t let the choices trip you up. Research and advice from some local flooring experts can help make the whole thing one big magic carpet ride.

Ground Floor
When you have a big, bare spot on your floor begging to be filled, it’s tempting to just hit some showrooms. But make sure you come prepared. Bring measurements of the area you want to cover so you can get a rough price estimate. Doug Kepple, president of Cherry Hill-based Kepple’s Carpet, advises adding about five to 10 percent to your measurement figure to account for cutting waste and possible human error. “Generally, our customers are not great at measuring,” he says. “We’ll always come out to the house to verify.”

It’s a good idea to view carpet under different kinds of light, and some stores may have a lighting box for this purpose. If not, you can usually request samples to take home with you — Kepple’s Carpet will send over a stylist with samples to help you decide — or, as a last resort, bring a camera along.

If you’re shopping for a room that’s already decorated, bring paint chips or fabric swatches. But most experts favor working from the ground up. “It’s easier to start with the carpet,” says Lori Clark, manager of the showroom at Stark Carpet in the Marketplace Design Center in Philadelphia. “If you go out and fall in love with a fabric or wallcovering and it has a color that is not popular in carpet at the time, it can be much harder to work with.”

Practical considerations can help narrow the selection. High-usage areas like family rooms will require a heartier carpet than a seldom-used guest bedroom. Area rugs are free to move as many times as you do — a plus for frequent redecorators — while more permanent wall-to-wall carpeting gives rooms a cozier, more unified look, especially in oddly shaped rooms where a rectangular area rug may look out of place.

Pattern Perfect
Choosing a rug design is like buying art: It’s best to go with what you like. But as in the art world, styles fade in and out of fashion. “Several years ago, country French was a big trend,” says Clark. “Now there’s a lot more interest in contemporary things.” The mosaic-based geometric motifs popularized by designer David Hicks are back in vogue. “We cannot keep them in stock,” says Clark.

A departure from formal, traditional looks has led to a rise in transitional patterns that incorporate bright colors and abstract designs, but are a step down from all-out modern. “We do very well with our Nourison 2000 transitional rugs,” says Mitch White, vice president of sales at Avalon Carpet, Tile & Flooring, with 12 locations in the Delaware Valley. These hand-tufted area rugs, made of both wool and silk, come in more than 40 ornate Persian and European designs.

Show Your Age
If you prefer a more traditional look, check out the Oriental and antique rug market. Usually made of 100 percent wool, these rugs have patterns that date back hundreds of years. Because of their value as investment pieces, Oriental rugs require more thorough research before purchase.

“It’s like art on the floor,” says Azad Kazanjian, co-owner of Kazanjian Oriental Rug Gallery in Villanova and Haverford, which carry more than one thousand rugs — new, semi-antique (at least 75 years old) and antique (more than 100 years old). “It takes somebody three to six months to make a dining-room-size rug — it could take a year.”

The best of these rugs are hand-knotted, although there are less expensive machine-made reproductions. If you’re looking for an authentic piece that will increase in value, ask about the town the rug originated from. The finest come from places like Tabriz, Kashan and Esfahan, all in Iran.

Another sign of a rug’s pedigree is its knot count. The more knots per square inch, the finer the rug. One hundred fifty knots is considered average, while 500 is “fine” and 1,000 and up is “superfine” — in other words, the densest, plushest rug.

Depending on its size, you can expect to pay between $3,500 and $6,000 for a quality Oriental rug, although an impeccable antique — circa 1900, at the youngest — can rack up six figures. “Rugs will last a lifetime,” says Kazanjian. “The people my father sold rugs to, now, their children are inheriting those rugs.”

While traditional colors — reds and blues — are popular on the Main Line, Kazanjian sees more people using softer tones that are easier to decorate with, such as beige, cinnamon and taupe.

The Nitty Gritty
Once you’ve picked a look, it’s time to get down on your hands and knees to find a texture that makes you tingle and a fiber to suit your needs. The fiber used to make a rug affects not only its look and feel, but also its wearability and cost.

At the high end of the carpeting spectrum is wool. “Wool is the ultimate luxury fiber,” says Kepple. “If you buy the right wool carpet, it could possibly be the last carpet you need to buy.” Wool ages with grace and actually begins to look better as it is used, getting softer and homier without appearing worn. But, Kepple warns, in wool especially, you get what you pay for. “If you try to buy a cheap wool and expect it to perform well, it’s not going to.”

Nylon fiber is the most widely used, and the one with the most styles and colors. New, longer-lasting treatments, like those used by Stainmaster, resist stains and spills. Built-in static-resistant filaments have even helped eliminate nasty static-shock buildup. For a neutral-toned, natural look, plant fibers such as jute, coir or sisal are perfect. Because they share a look that is closer to a hardwood surface, plant fibers can prevent even busy rooms filled with European antiques from looking stuffy. “It gives it a fresher feeling,” says Clark.

When all is said and done, the most important thing is to choose something you love. If you make the right choices, your carpeting can last anywhere from 10 years to forever. “If the rug doesn’t make you happy,” says Kazanjian, “then you chose the wrong rug.”