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Natural-fiber area rugs are affordable and look great

Natural-fiber rugs look perfect in just about any room, whether it be traditional or modern.
Natural-fiber rugs look perfect in just about any room, whether it be traditional or modern.
Landon Collis

When I redecorated my living room this year, I struggled with a few of the decorating decisions, like what color palette to choose and what pieces of furniture I'd need.

But picking my flooring was a no-brainer. I knew I wanted a natural-fiber area rug.

I have fallen for natural-fiber rugs, officially known as vegetable-fiber rugs. They look great with just about any decorating style, from traditional to modern. Their subtle texture and subdued color work with any color scheme. They wear like iron, so they are family friendly. And they are so affordable you don't feel like you're making a lifetime commitment when you purchase one.

For my living room, I picked a large sisal that covered most of the floor. In the winter, I layered Persian rugs on top to warm up the two distinct sitting areas. But this summer, I rolled up the wool rugs so I could enjoy the crisp look of the sisal. I'm so crazy about the effect I may install wall-to-wall sisal in my bedroom.

If you're in the market for an area rug, you can't miss with vegetable-fiber rugs. But as with any design decision, the more you know before you buy, the happier you'll be. So I asked Jerry Williams with Design Materials Inc., where I get my rugs, for the scoop on fiber flooring.

First, Jerry suggests learning about the different vegetable fibers so you can pick the one that works best in your home. Sisal, my favorite, is made from the same cactus plant used to make tequila. The pulp is spun into ropes, which are then woven into mats. With its clean, bright appearance, sisal is a great choice for those who want a transitional or contemporary feel.

While seagrass rugs have a similar look to sisal, the fibers are very different. Seagrass is a reed that grows in marshy areas. As a result, the grass has a natural coating that allows it to more easily repel moisture. A friend of mine swears by seagrass rugs after her teen boys spilled a cola on one and, the morning after, the liquid was still beaded on top of the rug and wiped up easily.

When seagrass grows in more arid soil, it takes on a slightly darker color and is called dragon grass. Often, dragon-grass rugs are available in a wider variety of patterns, some of which have a more refined appearance, making them a better pick for formal rooms.

Coir rugs are made from coconut husks and are the roughest of the vegetable-fiber rugs. It's best to use them for walk-off mats by your door or on a screened porch. While these are some of the most common vegetable-fiber rugs, you can also find rugs made of hemp, jute, bamboo and even woven paper. And if the natural fibers are too rough for your feet, check out the wool rugs woven to look like sisals.

You'll also need to pick how the edges of your new rug will be finished: surged or bound in cotton tape. I'm a fan of cotton tape, but picking the right color can be tricky. Light-colored tapes look marvelous and are so versatile you can move them from room to room. However, they will show dirt more readily. Dark-colored tape hides dirt, but when you pick a distinct color, like navy or red, you limit your design options.

While vegetable-fiber rugs are very durable, they are not indestructible, Jerry warns. Like any natural product, they can break down under wear and weathering. So he suggests keeping the rugs away from moisture and treating them with stain protector to prevent spills and dirt from absorbing into the fibers. For day-to-day maintenance, use a high-suction vacuum cleaner, but don't ever engage the beater bars, as they can tear up the fibers.