No longer a dull or dated option, modern carpet can be both practical and fashionable, offering an almost unlimited choice of colour and pattern and, perhaps surprisingly, an enormous range of textures, too
Why choose carpet?
Wood floors are timeless and durable, tiles practical and laminates and vinyls inexpensive. So why opt for carpet? Well, carpet is, indisputably, soft and comfortable underfoot – especially in a bedroom or if there are small children crawling around. It absorbs sound – which helps if you have teenagers who are prone to clattering up and down the stairs. It is non-slip and forgiving if you have a fall, and it is insulating against heat loss and draughts. On the downside, although carpet won’t scratch, scuff or splinter, it may stain and wear. Regular vacuuming is the only maintenance it needs, but accidental spills can be a nightmare to deal with, and it’s unlikely to last longer than stone, tiles or wood.
Choosing a carpet
Deciding which carpet to buy can be a complex and confusing business. As a general rule, the deeper the pile and the more luxurious the finish, the greater care the carpet will need. The shorter and denser the pile, the better it is likely to wear – if you fold the carpet back and part the pile, you should not be able to see the backing. So your final choice will probably involve trading off softness and comfort against durability and resilience. Standard carpet descriptions are for light, moderate, general, heavy and extra heavy domestic use, which will give you a good indication of how suitable a carpet will be for each room. Obviously, a carpet in a hallway will need to be very tough – perhaps a high-end 80:20 twist classified for heavy domestic use, while in a living room (general domestic) you’ll probably require a combination of a luxury look with a robust performance, such as a loop or velvet, and a spare bedroom could be much more delicate – a velvet or Saxony classified for light domestic, for example. If you choose a carpet that is suitable for general use, you can lay it throughout to create a seamless look that pulls a decorating scheme together. Carpets are inadvisable in kitchens, and best avoided in bathrooms, though if you are keen, there are splash-proof types available.
When it comes to choosing a carpet style, ask your retailer for samples and take them home where you can see them in your own environment and your own light. If you are redecorating from floor to ceiling, it’s a good idea to choose the carpet first and ensure that the rest of the scheme co-ordinates with its colour and pattern – remember, the floor is the largest area you will see in a room, so it’s important to get it right. When you are doing building work, however, always install the carpet last, to protect it from splashes and spills. Last, but by no means least, when you work out your budget don’t forget the cost of underlay and fitting. Get your room professionally measured to ensure that you don’t over- or under-order and when replacing a carpet, always buy new underlay. Not only will it ensure that your new carpet sits properly and wears evenly, but it could prolong its life by up to 40 per cent.
What’s the difference?
Wool: Naturally flame-retardant and resilient to compression, wool is warm, soft, durable and does not soil easily. 100% wool is a sumptuous choice. The best wools come from Britain and New Zealand.
Nylon: Extremely hard-wearing, nylon has the greatest abrasion resistance of all fibres. It takes dye and stain-resistance treatments well.
Polypropylene: Inherently resistant to stains and abrasions, polypropylene wears well and is value-for-money. It is used mainly in plain twists, loop patterns and saxonies.
Polyester: Stain-resistant, light and bulky, polyester has a lustrous appearance and is mainly used in plain, thick saxonies.
Mixes: In order to enhance performance, give a particular feel or reduce price, the four fibres may be blended together. Pure wool, for example, is very expensive, so cheaper options mix a synthetic fibre with wool. The most common blends are 80% wool with 20% nylon (often recommended as the ideal combination of softness and strength); 80% wool with 10% nylon and 10% polyester; and 50% wool with 50% polypropylene.
Loop: The pile tufts are left uncut and can either feel smooth or may replicate the appearance of natural flooring such as sisal and coir. Not a good idea if you have pets, as animal claws and loop piles do not mix.
Cord: The loops are pulled tight against the backing, giving a very low pile.
Saxony: A deeper pile with a soft, sensuous feel and appearance. Very popular in bedrooms.
Shag: Extra-long pile – watch out for high heels.
Twist: A loop pile that uses yarn with a higher twist than usual to give a coarse, rugged surface. The best types twist two yarn ends tightly together for a very hard-wearing carpet.