What Goes With This?

What goes with this? That sounds like a simple question but it actually is very complicated to answer. Hopefully by the end of this post, you will learn some things that can help you make that decision (or help you decide that you need a professional to take care of it for you).

I started a new Facebook group called Ask The Design Ninja, where people can ask general questions when they have a design dilemma. I encourage the other members of the group to jump in and give their opinions and we can have a discussion about it. This is not a replacement for a professional consult which would be required for more specific, personalized and detail-oriented answers. I just thought it would be a great place to learn what people are struggling with and sometimes I find teachable moments that are bigger than the initial question.

Which leads me to one question that popped up this week:

What color rug and ottoman goes with this drab brown sectional?

pottery barn, sectional, leather, living room, pillows, family room
This is not the room in question. Click to see details on this sectional.

I’m not going to share the homeowner’s images, but if you join the group, you can see them. And I’m going to leave the ottoman convo for later and focus on the rug. While I could simply provide a color answer, say blue or green, is that really what she is looking for, simply a color direction? I don’t think so, even though that was the question.

west elm, sectional, souk rug, living room, family room, interior decorating, interior design
Click for details on this rug.
Throughout this post I will include images that might give you some design ideas and all of them work with a “drab brown sectional”. I like to make them shoppable (affiliate) links, and if you click on any and actually make a purchase I may be compensated a few bucks, at no extra cost to you. I also have all sorts of shopping sources on my SHOP page.

What color goes with this?

There’s more than just a color that comes into play when selecting a rug. Before deciding on a color of any one thing, such as a rug, ottoman, wall color, or even tile or cabinets, you have to take a lot of things into account. This is where you have to stop yourself before making ANY purchases (including big brown sectionals) and ask the questions below. If you don’t have the answers, then the trick is to not make anymore purchases until you have put together a cohesive plan. Make sure all the pieces of the puzzle work together before you start buying the stuff. Or you could try the piecemeal route, but it will probably never feel complete.

If you’ve already started buying things, or have to work with something (like a big brown sectional) then STOP and get the rest of your puzzle pieces on the table before moving on. For instance, once you decide on the rug, before you buy it determine if you really want an ottoman. Maybe a wood or metal coffee table would look better and last longer. If you really want an ottoman, the color and pattern scale need to work with the rug. Large rug pattern, small ottoman pattern, and vice versa. Smooth sofa fabric, heavy texture on the ottoman and/or pillows. This can get tricky, there is an art to it, but challenge yourself! Ok, now on to the questions.

If you need help coming up with a plan, a paid consultation with a pro is always a good place to start and could save you costly (and/or ugly) mistakes in the end. Email me if you’d like to learn more.

What colors are already in the room?

In this case, I already know the walls are basically white, which gives the homeowner a pretty clean slate. But there could be orange lamps, aqua artwork, or chartreuse pillows I don’t know about and they all have to relate to each other.

velvet pillow, chartreuse, throw pillow
In case you were wondering what a chartreuse pillow looks like. Click on the image to learn more.

jute and sisal rugs, wayfair, woven, natural, family room, living room, white walls, interior design, interior decorating
White walls and wood floors provide a backdrop for many looks. Click to see rug details.

What colors are in the surrounding rooms?

Every room is related to the next, with a few exceptions like a fun powder room. In the room in question, the family room is open to the kitchen and there are french doors off to one side leading into another room.

It would be wise to consider the colors in all of the other rooms, but don’t think everything has to “match”. Maybe look for a color that is in something small in the room with the french doors, like a pillow. Find a rug with a lot of that color, and then add towels or a planter with a little bit of that color in the kitchen. Something that connects and carries across the spaces but doesn’t over power any room. Do not make the mistake of putting the same amount of one color in every room. #designfail

navy and white, chinoiserie, pottery, vases, foyer, entry, entryway, stairway, stairs, hallway, living room, interior design, interior decorating, cowhide
Everything is connected but not matching. See how the blue in the foyer is repeated in the living room in a different way? What do you see when you’re looking from another room? Click on image to see more of this room. Click here to shop for a cowhide rug.

What other patterns, materials, textures are in the room and the surrounding rooms?

Are there pillows, window treatments, throw blankets? Make sure your pieces are varied in tone and texture as well as pattern. Otherwise you will have a BORING, flat room no matter how many colors you put it in it. Patterns and textures matter, especially if you want to do a more monochromatic room. If you follow me on social media, you’ll see me talking about pattern and texture a lot.

serena and lily, blue and white, denim, rug, ottoman, nautical, beach decor, natural, interior design, interior decorating, design ideas, family room, living room
There are a zillion shades of blue, so it would be hard to just say “buy a blue rug”, right?  Click image for details on the rug.

How much can you spend?

This is the question a lot of people don’t want to answer when I ask it, but relax. It’s not so I can spend all your money (unless you WANT me to, which could be arranged). It helps me determine “what goes with this” just as much as you were thinking of simply a color. You should buy the best you can afford. That doesn’t mean the best known (over-rated) brand, it means the best quality in your price range. Alternately, if you have been drooling over a $20K rug you saw on Pinterest and you only have $200, you might be disappointed. Do some homework.

Part of my job with my clients is to spend all their money to help them answer “what goes with this” is to find something that looks good, is at the client’s taste level, works in the space, relative to the value of the home (if you live in a mansion, don’t be shopping for drapes at Walmart), and is affordable to the client. 
hand-knotted,recycled sari silk,master artisans, what goes with this
Maybe you have an extra several thousand for a hand-knotted in India from master artisans, one-of-a-kind piece, woven from recycled sari silk. Click image for details (it’s on sale).

What is the function of the material in question?

In this case, the rug, we need to know who lives here, pets, the daily traffic, etc. Knowing it’s going in a family room off the kitchen of a family with kids and a pet, a viscose or silk rug is out of the question. So, what goes with this scenario? If I just said find a purple rug, and you went on your merry way and bought a purple rug but it was made out of a material that won’t hold up or stay pretty, are you going to be mad?

what goes with this, Aswan Rug, Safavieh, purple, lavender, medallion
This has a delicate look but is a manmade material that will hold up to family room activities. Click on the image to learn more.
This is one reason why people like me can’t answer “what color goes with this” that easily, because inevitably our professional reputation is on the line. If the rug doesn’t hold up because it’s the wrong material, somehow it becomes a reflection on me, even though I wasn’t asked what kind of material it should be. Nobody got time for that.
what goes with this, purple, rug, persian, interior design, interior decorating, family room, living room, colorful, multicolor
A richer color works, and this is still super family friendly. Click image for more details.

What is the overall vibe you want in the space?

Some examples to describe the vibe would be “relaxing, calm”, “fun, vibrant”, “industrial”. You could try “coastal”, “formal, traditional”. Or maybe you like something like”feminine, delicate”, or “farmhouse”. (But enough with the all white farmhouse, please, unless you want to be sheep that just follow the outgoing trend… did I just say that out loud? Oops…) I don’t mean a “theme”. How do you want the room to feel when you walk in? Ask a bigger question, what goes with this vibe that you’re trying to create?

what goes with this, zebra rug, indoor/outdoor, woven, neutral, interior design, lord and taylor, family room, living room,
Some people fear zebra pattern, but it really is a great look and goes with everything. This one is even indoor/outdoor! Click image for details.
rug, lulu and georgia, keziah, pink, orange, kid friendly, colorful, fun, living room, family room, interior design, interior decorating
It’s not just color, it’s the vibe. What goes with this vibe? Click image for details of this rug.
gray rug, momeni, contemporary, graphic, interior design, interior decorating, living room, family room
This one is hand carved and tufted, feels and looks like wool but can stand up to high traffic. Click on image to learn more.


So, what goes with this? I think now you know it’s more than just a color and I hope that my advice helps you on your design adventures.

With the exception of one high end rug, I showed you several reasonably priced, durable rugs that would work with a young family and dog. Knowing what we know about the room in question, how would you answer “what goes with this”? Which of these rugs would you pick for the space? Which one appeals to you, fits your “vibe”? Let me know in the comments!

One final thing…

If you think someone else could benefit from this post, please share it! Again, please join in the fun in the Ask The Design Ninja Facebook Group and invite all your friends. You never know, the topic might end up here on the blog.

PS the sectional wasn’t drab at all. If the owner follows the tips above, I think we will see it will look amazing in the end. If we’re lucky, we might get a before and after shot!

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10 thoughts on “What Goes With This?

  1. This is such an awesome guide for us laypeople. I have purchased chartreuse for the first time, love the pillow! I have two colorful rugs I would have passed by prior to your suggestions.

  2. Love the post! What great insight into how designers go about making selections. It’s not as easy as people think! This looks like one of those random questions that shows up on Houzz…

  3. Good post! It is why I think an initial consult should be about fact finding and not design per se- too many variables to “design on the spot” in a meaningful way.

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