Buyer's guide to carpet

Click here for styles, care and varieties of carpet.

Buyer's guide to carpet
Overlooked for many years in favour of floorboards, carpet is making a comeback. Soft and comforting underfoot, it is also a decorator’s delight, providing bold colours, patterns and textures to play with.


Listen to the style setters and you’ll hear strong colour and bold patterns are the big emerging carpet trends. That’s all very playful and fun, but a little hard to live with for most of us.
If you do want to shake things up a bit but baulk at wall-to-wall tones of cerise, then try introducing whatever takes your fancy in smaller portions. “Hallways and stairways are perfect areas for strong pattern and colour as they will add character to an otherwise unremarkable space. Because you don’t spend any length of time there, the bold statement is easier to live with,” says Bree Leech, Godfrey Hirst Carpets’ colour and trend designer.
I recently saw this approach work beautifully in a home where a red carpet runner had been fitted down the centre of a staircase. The stairs themselves, the banister and the flooring at the bottom of the stairs were wood and the end result was elegant rather than over-the-top. Stripes used in the same way would be equally appealing.
“There’s also an emerging trend of mixing complementary styles within a home whereas previously it was commonplace to opt for one carpet throughout,” says Bree. “As carpet starts to spread throughout the home with the resurgence of carpeted living areas over hard flooring, people want to create definition of spaces with a change of colour or style. A subtle way to do this is by choosing carpets that share a colour palette and changing styles throughout the home: soft-cut piles in bedrooms and more practical loop piles and textures in living areas.”

Styles of carpet

When talking about the pile, there are basically two types: cut pile and loop pile, which come in many different styles. Loop pile is where the fibre is threaded through the backing and back through the front again forming a series of loops. Cut pile carpet has had the tops of the loops cut so that the fibre stands upright. Here are some of the more popular styles:
  • Level loop. Where the loops are a uniform length. A carpet with low and tight loops is a good choice for very high-traffic areas, such as a hallway.
  • Sisal or cord. When talking about wool and synthetic-fibre carpet, sisal refers to the look rather than actual sisal, which is a fibre made from agave plants. Sisal carpet consists of textured loops that usually run in straight rows.
  • Multilevel or textured loop. Different loop heights, commonly three, create an appearance of random texture.
  • Plush or velvet. Cut-pile carpets where the pile stands upright yet can lean in any direction, reflecting light in different ways. Temporary marks known as sueding, shading or tracking made by footprints or vacuuming is a hallmark of this style.
  • Cut-pile twist. Where the cut fibres have been twisted, producing a random kink. Much less likely to show footprints.
  • Cut and loop. By using a combination of cut and loop piles, carpet manufacturers can produce carpets with patterns.
  • Frieze. Twisted long cut-pile carpet that has a chunky, textured appearance. Shag-pile carpet is similar but with a longer pile.

Carpet care

A good-quality carpet can last up to 15 years but regular maintenance is the key to keeping it in top condition.
  • New carpets should be vacuumed every couple of days during the first week to remove fluff.
  • Thereafter, vacuum weekly. Machines with a pile agitator, such as a revolving bristle brush or beater bars, are excellent for removing grit from carpet. However, don’t overuse this function as it can be harsh and damage the pile.
  • Empty the vacuum cleaner’s dust-collection bag when it is half full as this generally starts to affect the suction.
  • Attend to spills immediately by lightly scraping away any solids then blotting with paper towels. As different spills need different treatments, keep a handy guide nearby, such as the book How to Clean Just About Everything. When it comes to red wine, the book says to forget throwing salt on the problem and recommends blotting the red wine and then sprinkling with white wine before blotting again. Finally, use a clean cloth and methylated spirits to remove stain.
  • The National Upholstery and Carpet Cleaners Association has an excellent online guide to dealing with stains.
  • Have carpet professionally cleaned every 12 months.

Plant-fibre flooring

Tactile and robust, plant-fibre flooring such as sisal, coir, jute, seagrass and even paper are attractive options. Some are softer underfoot than others but there are now sisal-and-wool mix carpets for those used to the feel of wool or nylon carpet. “The fibres aren’t mixed together; the sisal is the warp and the wool is the weft,” says Judy Silver of The Natural Floorcovering Centre.
  • Sisal, made from agave plants grown in East Africa, is the most popular choice as it’s long lasting and available in natural shades from whites to golds, greys, browns and black. It can be woven in many different designs and has a lovely sheen.
  • Coir is rougher than sisal and made from coconut husks. “It’s quite a traditional floorcovering,” says Judy, “and brought to Australia by the British in the 19th century.”
  • Jute is grown in South-East Asia and is one of the softer plant fibres. However, it’s less suitable to be used as a wall-to-wall carpeting option and is most commonly available in rugs.
  • Seagrass had its heyday in the ‘70s but is definitely making fashionable statements again. Seagrass is woven into squares and bought by the row (much like you’d buy fabric off a roll). “While it can be used wall-to-wall,” says Judy, “it’s not fixed to the floor and must be cut to the size of the squares.” It’s an inexpensive floorcovering.
  • Paper may be a newcomer to us but not in Japan, where Tatami woven paper is a traditional floorcovering. It looks a little like woven wicker and is surprisingly soft yet sturdy.
  • Plant-fibre flooring requires regular vacuuming and a once-a-year dry-clean, not steam-clean, which may shrink the product.

New neutrals

Even neutral-toned carpets are affected by trends in both colour and texture, resulting in a huge range of stylish options. As the average homeowner relocates every seven years, it’s a good bet the range of neutrals now on offer are quite different to the last time you looked.
“There’s been a trend towards consumers matching their carpet to their stone/timber/slate flooring as a result of increased open-plan areas,” says Cavalier Bremworth Carpets’ product manager Michelle Parker.
“For example, a slate-floored kitchen is matched with a charcoal plush pile in the living areas that run off the kitchen. This has meant a trend in colour palettes that mimic marble, terrazzo, timber and slate. You’ll also notice carpet patterns that replicate timber grain or marble veins.”
Michelle also says to look to the new neutrals of silvery, steel greys and soft mushroom beiges for inspiration. “There’s also a return of purple with soft lilac, muted mauve tones in beiges and brown and some stronger jewel-tone aubergine,” she says.
“Look for textures inspired by natural materials, such as linen, felt or styles that replicated knitted fabrics, such as Hycraft Ravine,” says Bree. “In neutrals, you can’t go past creams, shades of white, or warm and cool tones of grey.”