Give your room the red-carpet treatment

A lovely, durable, comfortable overlay, be it wool, synthetic or woven, will transform any space, says Kya deLongchamps.

A beautiful, comfortable and durable, well-chosen carpet is a key investment. Confined to one or two rooms, carpet can transform a space for a reasonable cost. If you’re selling your house, the glitter and slide of a new nylon carpet is unlikely to impress a dewy-eyed viewer, compared to the yielding beauty of a modest wool mix, they can live with for years.

Know the width of the room, including any strange alcoves or run-off spaces. Measure up, sketch it on paper, jotting down the dimensions in centimetres, skirting to skirting. Bring these measurements to the supplier. Carpet widths vary, and having the exact layout will reveal where a pattern with a repeat will be lined-up and if multiple rolls will work in the space.

Beyond colour and pattern, your choices revolve around quality and sensory feel. Quality starts with toetingling, caressing, pure woven wool and descends in practicality and budget to incredibly cheap and acceptable synthetic tufts.

WOOL: Wool has dimensional stability (it won’t flatten with wear, and it springs neatly back to shape), no static, is soft to the touch, hypo-allergenic when untreated for stains and is highly durable (sheep wear it clinging to wind-battered mountains sides, after all).

Wool is naturally flame-resistant, and when it does burn it will not release the toxic fumes of a petro-chemical floor covering. It has been proven to regulate humidity and airborne toxins, and is an environmentally sound choice. Woven and tufted wool and wool mixes are available, as is cheap, skinny, badly produced wool carpeting that will depress and shed for years when you vacuum. Look for the wool ‘rich quality’ mark.

Cheap, thin underlay undermines a good wool carpet. Upstairs, a thick product will deaden noisy footfall, and adding spring and reducing slide prolongs the life of the carpet.

SYNTHETICS: Easily detected by a cock-eyed leer across the pile for that man-made shine. Somewhat halting to the touch, nylon and polypropylene are used to make cheaper, tufted carpets. Nylon is used in combination with wool to lower the cost and improve the durability of wool carpet, and, on its own, nylon will stand up to many years of spills and heavy abuse. If you insist on the antediluvian practice of putting carpet in the bathroom, choose a nylon carpet with a rubber back and moisture-resistant pad to hold off the intrusion of moisture and stains. Rip your carpet out regularly and replace, as it becomes smelly. Flotex, a sort of flock-topped vinyl, is a more expensive but more durable option.

WOVEN OR TUFTED? Woven is where the weave of the carpet is pulled forward and back through the backing material. It’s time-consuming to produce and a traditional, pricier choice. The two types of woven-wool carpet are Axminster, which carries a design, and Wilton, which can carry multiple colours but has a plain, overall look. Ulster Carpets, in Craigavon, are among the most famous makers of woven carpet.

Most carpets are tufted, with the pile poked through the backing fabric and secured with another backing layer. The tufts are trimmed to a uniform length. Don’t choose a looped finish if you have cats or small dogs; watching them rip it up, into waving stalks, with their claws, is domestic heartbreak.

For a good, median quality carpet with durability in a heavy domestic setting, stick to an 80:20 wool/synthetic mix in a tufted carpet with a good, rich pile and a brand name you’ve heard of before entering the shop.

A high pile-density, approximately 40oz, is suggested for living rooms where spillages are inevitable (look for ‘heavy domestic’) and stain treatments will give that carpet extra survival skills.

NON-STANDARD TRADITIONALS: Naturally sourced alternatives to fluffy carpet include coir, seagrass, sisal, jute and sisool — a blend of wool and sisal that delivers the durability of one, with the famed softness of the other. Woven into heavily textured flooring, they deliver the slightly tougher, corded character of fine rope. Jute has a delicate fibre and is a good choice for quieter areas of the house, where you want that rustic, tweedy look but an inviting feel under bare feet. Seagrass, and other flat herringbone, boucle and basket weaves, can polish with use, making them unsuited to stairs. Colours for grassy carpets are a restrained palette of golden straw and greenish hay shades. Hidden seams and proper-edge finishing make professional installation obligatory. Try Matt Britton Flooring for crucial trading products.

TRADE SECRETS: Don’t buy from the first supplier of the carpet that you want. The market is highly competitive, and retailers are fighting for survival with keen deals through every season, not simply during sales.

Shop around and venture a haggle. I was gifted some fascinating figures by Curragh Carpets, who commissioned a secret shopper survey of 124 suppliers carrying their carpets, and a wide range of other makes, through consumer research specialists, Customer Perceptions Ltd. Curragh found the results rubbed their pile the wrong way and they have warned buyers to be on their guard. Pure-wool carpeting was priced from €13.75 a square metre to a whopping €120 a square metre, and the price offered on their own highly popular Townhouse carpet, in pure wool, varied from €22.35 a square metre to a remarkable €66.25 a square metre. Wool and wool-mix carpets were suggested as good products, with value for money, by 78% of retailers. The lesson here is to ask for quality, shop around and don’t blithely accept the ticketed euro-per-metre. No surly challenges of ‘my God, man, that’s very dear’. Try an upbeat, but firm ‘is that the best you can do?’

If the price point is still high, see if the supplier might sweeten the deal with free, quality underlay or a break on installation. Retailers have a margin for profit they are often willing to trim back for a sale, so always, always ask.

Ask if the company can responsibly dispose of your old carpet and underlay (do remove as one) and can please take their off-cuts away with them, too.


Ten Uses for Carpet Scraps

1 A fraction of traction: If your car, or ride-on mower get stuck in the mud, place a slab of carpet under the edge of the trapped wheel.

2 Keep things immaculate with a handy boot-liner of clean carpet.

3 Move furniture over hard flooring. Cut the carpet into generous pads, and carefully rocking the furniture put these under the legs. Now slide the piece across the floor.

4 Make a gardening mat. Simply cut out a piece of carpet twice as big as a kneeling area and double it over for extra spring.

5 Heat up the compost. Throw a piece of carpet over an open dung heap to really get things cooking. The carpet will get wet and heavy. A couple of smaller pieces are more manageable than a single slab.

6 Scratch this. Cats are opportunists, but offered somewhere they can scratch will head them off your good furniture. Staple it to an upright board, or set a post about 50cm long on a timber off-cut base for stability and upholster in carpet using firm tacks.

7 Remnant rugs. Have large remnants whip stitched around their edges into useful rugs. Great for utility areas, workshops and for wiping your feet.

8 Use large pieces of carpet cut to size beneath loose mulch or stone chips to suppress weeds on paths.

9 Muffle a noisy washer or dryer. Make a pad cut to the floor size of the machine and place it on top to reduce vibrations.

10 If the weather turns nasty, lag outdoor and garage pipes in tight rolls of carpet set over rolled up newspaper. Tighten up with zip ties or heavy carpet tape.

Worth the Saving?

Slamming one quivering knee into a carpet punch while genuflecting in agony over the toothy stretchers is not everyone’s idea of a great weekend. But it’s the sort of entertainment likely to put your chiropractor’s children through college. Knowing how to stretch the carpet for a perfect fit is crucial to the success of the finish. Budget for having the carpet professionally installed and for the inclusion of a good quality underlay with the price of the carpet. It’s simply too big and expensive and on startling show if you screw it up. Rolled up carpet is as heavy and unyielding as a large rubbery tree trunk.

If you do decide the slender savings is worth the trouble, ensure you have some extra muscle on hand to haul the carpet into position, and trim back in stages after the carpet is in position, not before. Never put carpet tack strips all the way up to the wall or your carpet will end up sitting off the skirting. Underlay is cut to fit up to the tack strips but not to lie over them.


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