Friday, December 21, 2012

Using area rugs as wall art

It amazes me how infrequently area rugs are re-purposed as wall art.  Perhaps interior decorators are terrified of the idea, remembering the nightmarish but thankfully short-lived 1970's trend of putting shag carpet on walls, but it seems that basically nobody has attempted to re-interpret this idea for contemporary design applications. 

Seriously, as of the date of this blog post, there's just nothing out there:
Google auto-fill has zilch.
I mean zilch.  Which tells me that nobody is even searching for ideas on this.

Same with images.  I can't find a single decent example of an area rug used on a wall.  I did find this article, which extolled the virtues of the idea - but tellingly, it contained no pictures.  Same with this article - great logical arguments for doing it, but no photographic evidence of success. 

Even design trailblazer HGTV has apparently not yet hit upon this idea (hint, hint, link, link). 
So nobody is currently doing this kind of thing, except me, of course.  We wall-mounted our second rug the other day, so let me run through the before-and-after sequence to show you how (and why) we chose that option.
This was our bare target wall, in our "spare" room.  This room must serve multiple purposes, which I'll explain in a future post.  For now, let me just deal with the area rug which is sitting on the floor in this photo.
I am an Overstock fan.  Overstock does not pay me to say this.  Nobody pays me to say anything.  This is called "blue abstract rug".  It is the fourth area rug I've purchased from Overstock and I've been more than pleased with every one of them.  Overstock has literally thousands of area rugs to choose from.  Their website is easy to browse and their prices are excellent. 

Actually, Overstock should be called Overstalk, because it pays to over-stalk them.  Stalking the website periodically over the course of a month or so, and waiting for Christmas sales and also for a promo code to show up in my mailbox, I snagged this 5' x 8' abstract creation for just $97.92, shipping included. 

Screengrab above from this site.
When I was shopping for accessories for this room, I had that Overstock photo pulled up on my phone, and I was wandering around Pier 1 Imports.  I ended up buying this drapery panel (but note that the URL may not show the correct color) and this pillow to coordinate with the rug, but as I was being led around the store by my own cellphone, one of the salespeople was clearly curious about what the heck I was doing.  I showed her the rug pic, and she declared, "That is a work of art."  I replied to her, "Exactly - which is why I've placed it on the wall rather than on the floor."

So here's the project sequence - How to mount an area rug to a wall as art:
I mentioned in another post that nothing comes into our house without first being built as a cardboard mock-up and tested in place.  This was one exception only because we had already mounted another rug in a different room, so we knew what we were doing.  What I did instead in this case was draw the room, the couch, and the rug to relative scale, so that I could figure out the exact wall position in advance.   This was importantly mainly so I could experiment with how high above the sofa we could mount the rug and still have it look cohesive, rather than looking like it was a disjointed magic carpet about to fly into outer space.  We settled on the rug being about eight inches above the back of the sofa.
Knowing how far up the bottom of the rug was to be above the back of the sofa then told us how far down from the ceiling the top of it had to be.  We used Post-It squares to mark a horizontal line at that level, with the bottom of the Post-Its to line up with the top of the rug.

That blue painters tape you see marks the center of the wall, which was to line up with the center of the rug.

The one Post-It note page that is higher than the rest marks the place where the water lines run through this wall cavity to a bathroom sink that is on the other side of this wall.  We didn't want to risk nailing into those lines, so we avoided the space six inches on either side of this position.  As always, you have to be careful not to puncture water or electrical lines when hammering nails into walls. 
Correspondingly, we put a piece of blue painter's tape in the very center of the rug. 
Because this rug is eight feet wide, we had to employ some means of control so it wouldn't be flopping around as we were trying to lift it onto the wall.  I rolled it up like a scroll on each side...
...and used ordinary binder clips to keep each side from unraveling.
I can't show the part where we nailed it to the wall, because it was a two-person job, meaning the camera person was unavailable to shoot pics during that part.  But here are a few tips on the nailing.
We use ordinary finish nails with small heads.  Don't use a rusty hammer for this because some of the rust might rub off on the rug, which would be bad. 
We started in the very center, and then worked our way out from there, pulling the rug taut and nailing about every ten inches or less.  TIP:  Don't hammer the nails all the way in.  The rug is probably going to stretch under its own weight and relax a bit after it spends some time on the wall.  This might make it sag a bit, so you may have to go back, remove these nails, pull it tight again, and re-nail.  Leave the heads sticking out far enough for the hammer claw to grab easily. 
Now you have to see the "BEFORE" picture one more time...

...and the "AFTER".

The only thing that I might go back and tweak here is the paint.  This room still retains the builder-grade paint scheme.  Not only is it a generic beige with traditional white ceiling, it's not executed properly because the white ceiling extends down the vault, for a disjointed feel.  Some builders are creating interior ten-foot ceilings on eight-foot stud walls by vaulting thusly.  It's a great way to achieve the additional height while spending very little extra money (ten-foot studs would be much more expensive), but it creates a painting dilemma like this.  The second rug-room photo further down in this post will show you how this type of partial ceiling vault should be painted. 
Tell me what else I could have added to that wall to create that much impact for less than one hundred dollars - I'd love to hear.  The Pier 1 salesperson was quite correct - this IS a work of art.  At a tiny fraction of what actual art would have cost me. 

The effect of rug art is similar to having an accent wall covered in a graphic wallpaper.  Here's somebody else's excellent blog post describing examples of that, but I'll tell you my issue with it:  I find wallpaper accent walls to be too visually dispersed.  There's no focal point to them.  My eyes zig-zag back and forth across the entire wall looking for a place to alight every time I see one.  If you use a rug instead, the graphic pattern is contained to a discrete area and the focal integrity is maintained.

The secret to having an unconventional wall-mounted area rug turn out to look pleasing is as follows: 

You have to be absolutely disciplined about the stylistic cross-referencing.  In this room above, the design discipline is achieved partly through the stylistic restriction (every element is contemporary, and contemporary style is very forgiving of the unconventional), but mostly through color control.  Every color in that room is tightly constrained.  Every color in the accent pillow is also in the rug - and I don't mean it's close - I mean those shades are exact.  The color of the sofa leather is prominent in the rug.  The drapery panel and the throw both match the exact shade in the rug.  If the colors were not constrained, this would instead look like a dog's breakfast.

My family is well aware of my obsession with thinking outside the box on all matters, including home design.  When we got done with this most recent rug installation, my husband said, "I bet you anything that we are the only family in greater Houston with two rugs on our home's walls." And my teenager replied, "Yeah, I know, but I kind of like it." 

Ah, yes, two rugs.  Let's talk now about the other one. 

In our other rug-wall room, the design discipline is established using the opposite strategy:  some measure of internal validation is achieved using color coordination, but mostly it's done via geometric and thematic cross-referencing:

This one I HAD cut out of cardboard prior to purchasing it a few years ago, and I mounted the cardboard on the wall in successive sizes corresponding to the different purchase options for this rug.  My husband and child were adamant that I had to get this size, the largest one that would fit.  Smaller sizes looked lost. 

I love ferns.  Love them.  Always wanted an art piece something like this, but could never afford "real" art.  This rug also came from Overstock and was more expensive than the one shown above.  If memory serves me, it was about $260 - still far less money than a large art piece would be.

Added bonus for this particular wall:  soundproofing.  My teenager's bedroom is on the other side of that wall.  This rug cuts down on the rock 'n' roll that is able to come through. 
So let's run down the constraints on this example.  Even if you don't consciously notice stuff like what I've tabulated below, your subconscious artistic eye will register these details very well when it returns a verdict on whether or not you enjoy the visual result:

Color cross-referencing:
  • The grey on the upper right fern almost matches the grey that runs up the exterior wall and across the ceiling (I had to de-blue the wall color a bit) and also the grey of the slate tiles inset into the conference table.
  • The cream of the left fern and the outlined fern matches the cream of the end-cap wall exactly.
  • The charcoal of the rug background matches the charcoal of the office chairs, the photo frames, the lines in the African basket in the foreground, and many other elements in the room.
  • The different wood tones are paired with each other (desk with bookcase; conference table with half-round table), which is essential if you want to mix wood tones in a single room.
Geometric and thematic cross-referencing:
  • The unruly plants on the rug match the unruly plant hanging in the window.  These two elements impart the same "feel", which leads to a cohesive impression. 
  • The shape and scale of the window itself are echoed in the shape and scale of the rug, so they look like they go together as being giant rectangles (for those of you with a scientific bent, they have virtually the same aspect ratio). 
  • Three square photos on the wall, three square inset slate tiles in the table form a balanced visual right-angle. 
  • The arched forms in the ferns echo the arched forms in the chandelier, which happens to be a Meritage builder-grade standard fixture which I like and retained here (although we later flipped it upside down for better illumination of this table surface). 
  • The "feet" of both office chairs appear similar to claw-like roots clinging to the stone floor (i.e., the primal plant theme expressed in the abstract). 
  • Running the paint up the exterior wall and across the ceiling rather than painting a traditional ceiling also adds to a primal flavor.  Where do you often find ferns?  Clinging to the rocks at the mouth of a cave.  The paint choice gives a bit of sophisticated cave-like feel. 
So there you have it - examples with actual pictures of how to use area rugs as wall art (conventional tract home thinking be damned!).  Artistic basis thusly explained, I'll follow up with a future post detailing the rationale behind the sofa room's functional development, because the rug art was only the first step for that one. 


  1. thanks for another entertaining and informative post. I'm like you, I feel that these huge expanses of plain wall ache for massive pieces of art to fill them up. well designed rugs can be a great way to go.
    fyi, I found that searching for "hanging carpets on wall", or variations on that, can provide quite a few hits - from home depot to DIY sites, with lots of tips and tricks for rug hanging.

  2. I have yet to find a single one that I like. I was tending to avoid the term "carpet" because it invokes an avalanche of ethnic references, largely Middle Eastern and Asian but some Native American as well. Some cultures seem to use the terms "carpet", "rug", and "textile" interchangeably which results in considerable search engine pollution.

    The other problem I have is that many of those "carpet" references over-engineer the wall-mounting process, referring to the addition of velcro, cloth loops, metal rings, or other hardware. I've actually been hanging rugs for about 15 years now, and I find that elaborate mechanisms create a lot of extra work for no good reason. If someone has a thinner or hand-made rug such as a kilim which perhaps they don't wish to put nails through, the easiest way to do it is to mount a long curtain rod to the wall and use ordinary drapery ring clips to string the rug across (i.e., nothing needs to be sewn or added to the rug itself). The only difference then being that you leave it stretched neatly across the rod rather than pulling it back like you would a drapery panel. And of course if the rug is heavy, you have to add several extra brackets to the curtain rod so that it will not sag. Mounting an area rug that way also adds a bit of dimensionality if that kind of effect is desired, because it stands out a few inches from the wall. I did that for many years in previous houses I owned.

    The other great potential idea here is using carpet tiles to do some sort of a large-scale elaborate and not-necessarily-rectangle design on the wall, which would look even more like true "art". The company called FLOR makes some fascinating products and they are only about $8.00 - $20.00 per individual tile. I would love to experiment with that, but I've basically run out of rooms at this point. Aesthetically, it doesn't work to over-carpet (or over-rug) a room. If there's an area rug on the floor, it usually doesn't look right to also put one on the wall - it looks like death-by-rugs. I have New Zealand wool area rugs on the floors of the great room and master bedroom (also from Overstock), and wall rugs in the bare-floor'd office and spare room, so I'm pretty much maxed out on rugs now.


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