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Know Your Rug Style: Traditional, Contemporary, or Transitional

May 07, 2010 2 min read

When you first walk into one of our stores and share that you’re on the hunt for a new rug, a design associate is likely to ask, “What style are you looking for?” and then throw out these three overarching possibilities: traditional, contemporary, or transitional. While “traditional” and “contemporary” seem self-explanatory, there’s a little more to the descriptive terms than you might think. And that last one, well, it’s a tad trickier, since it often means different things to different people. So, let’s talk a bit about the big three styles. But remember that we’re speaking in generalities. The old saying “You say tomatoe, I say tomoato!” surely applies here. Except it’s more like “You say traditional, I say transitional!” You get the idea.


By definition, traditional designs are modern-day representations of time-honored European and Asian patterns. In some cases, a traditional rug’s design may even be the exact same pattern used for generations and generations! Traditional rugs tend to be thought of as formal; however, they can certainly be at home in casual living spaces, like dens or game rooms. And, more often than not, their designs contain specific elements: floral and other intricate patterns, borders, and central medallions in shapes like diamonds, octagons, and hexagons. The photos above and below are great examples.  Soumaks, dhurries, and kilims, popular rug types, usually contain elements of traditional designs. They typically have complex, intricate patterns and feature central medallions or shapes. However, many in the rug world would classify these rugs, as well as rugs with a southwestern design, as “tribal” in style. The photo below shows a pattern that might be described as tribal rather than traditional. See, we told you there was more to it! 


Contemporary rug designs are generally characterized by stark contrasts, bold uses of color, and geometric or free-form style elements. By and large, they’re architectural and modern in their look, like the rug below. 

Contemporary rugs can feature retro patterns, however. Typically, these designs are references to the art deco and arts and crafts periods. In other words, while a contemporary design can nod to the past, the look and feel of a contemporary rug is very different from the traditional style described above; see below for a retro take.


You’ve probably already guessed that the term “transitional” describes a blending of traditional and contemporary styles. Often, the blend aims to provide the elegance and timelessness of a traditional pattern with a little less “formality.” For example, a transitional rug may feature a classic floral pattern but not a border, like in the photo below.  Or, the rug’s design may feature a border and an intricate pattern but with little color contrast between the two elements. You can see in the rug below a "traditional" pattern in transitional tones for a subtle feel.   While there are more than these three rug styles to choose among—from the tribal mentioned earlier to organic/natural (rugs made from sisal, seagrass, etc.)—many rug designs fall into these broad categories. In other words, understanding these terms is a great step toward knowing your personal rug style and finding the piece that’s just right for you and your home. You can browse by style on our website,

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