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Mastering the Art of Patterns - an interior designer's guide to mixing patterns with confidence

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

We’ve all been there. A seemingly well thought out room that still falls flat. The usual suspect in this design dilemma is a lack of pattern. The human eye loves pattern. It creates visual excitement and adds life to a room. However, the process of incorporating patterns into a room seems to be one of the most daunting tasks for novice designers. Lucky for you, following a few insider tips will have you mixing patterns like a pro.

The Art of Layering

The concept of layering is the framework for building pattern into any room. The easiest way to do this is to start from either the ground up or the ceiling down. I prefer to work from the ground up, as I love setting the tone of a room with the rug. This is also the easiest way to start for a beginner. In this instance we would layer in this order:

  1. Rug

  2. Furniture

  3. Pillows & Accessories

  4. Curtains

  5. Walls – paint or wallpaper*

*If there is a patterned wallpaper that you have fallen in love with, start there and work through the numbers in the opposite order, because the wall covering will be the main pattern in this space.

Step 1: Select your Color Scheme

Everything you choose will be tied to this palette. If you already have a color palette in mind, perhaps from a large piece of art, or the surrounding outdoors, then look for a rug that you love within those parameters. If not, just start browsing rugs and find one that speaks to you. This is your jumping off point. Pull the main 2-3 colors from the rug, and this is your color palette. If you are using a monochromatic scheme, just keep in mind that pattern is going to be that much more important to keep your space visually interesting. One insider tip is to match the colors in your rug to paint chips to help you pull the specific tone and saturation of each color. Then you can just throw those paint chips in your purse and easily compare them to other items while out shopping!

Step 2: Understand pattern types and scale

Pattern Types: To keep things simple, I have grouped patterns into three main categories:

  • Geometric - stripes, checks, plaids, argyle, Greek key, chevron, polka dots ...

  • Organic - animal prints, florals, chinoiserie, toile, abstract patterns, ikat, whimsical prints ...

  • Solid - look for solids with texture: linens, velvets, wool, shine, fringe trim ...

Scale: Scale is the size of the pattern/repeat:

  • Large Scale

  • Small Scale

Tip: Determining scale when shopping for patterns online can be a bit tricky. Always look for a yardage ruler (usually available on fabric websites) or a pattern repeat on items such as wallpaper, fabric for pillows and curtains. What may look like a tiny horse in an online image could actually be 6"x12"!

Step 3: Coordinate, Contrast, but never Match

The general rule for all things design is that everything looks better in odd number groupings. So for instance, if we were choosing throw pillows, we would mix three patterns: one from each category. One should be a large scale print, one should be small scale, and the third can be either (or a solid) – but should include colors from the other two that tie it all together. Let's walk through an example ...

Here I have used three patterns within a coordinating color scheme of pink, grey and chartreuse:

Stripes + Dots + Whimsical Dragons = Exciting Combo!

We could have done a solid silk chartreuse pillow instead of the dots, but I wanted to showcase how mixing in the small scale pattern with the larger scales elevates it even further.

Pattern Mixing Interior Design

For a quick update (and an easy way to try out your new pattern mixing skills) consider revamping your throw pillows! I know throw pillows can be touchy - you either love them or would love to live without them. I am in the former camp, while Mr. Tiger Oak is in the latter. So in our family room, we compromised on 2 pillows in each corner, with different sizing to add interest. Our family room has two mismatched sofas, one leather and one a creamy greige weaved fabric, but both are solids. When it came to throw pillows, I knew I wanted to shake up the patterns on each sofa. This meant I needed a LOT of patterns (8 to be exact!). We pulled our color scheme from a gorgeous piece of custom art that we have hanging above our fireplace, and then I got to work ...

Each couch had the same colors, but in different patterns and sizes. For the first couch I used:

  • Multi-Color: Large Scale Organic

  • Green: Large Scale Geometric Squares

  • Purple & Blue: Small Scale Geometric

  • Solid Blue Velvet

For the second couch, I used:

  • Gold - Small Scale Bindi

  • Purple & Gold - Large Scale Organic/Geometric Stripe

  • Green: Small Scale Dots

  • Solid Blue Velvet

The accent chair has an organic print pillow that helps carry the blue throughout all three sitting areas.

Our rug is also an abstract blue pattern that shades from light to dark depending on where you stand in the room. All the patterns speak to one another, but are not the same, with the exception of the solid velvet. I purchased all these covers from my favorite pillow shop, Spark Modern (not an ad), who also happen to be local to NWA! They also have a few convenient pillow combination sets to get your creative juices flowing!

Step 4: Execute

Finally, let's look at how this can be applied to an entire room using the layering technique. This stunning bedroom by Les Ensembliers in their Montreal home is a beautiful example of layering:

This is a great example of why starting with a rug will make pattern mixing so much easier. One of the most common question designers get asked is, "what is that paint color?", but in my experience, paint is the final tool to pull it all together, not the starting point. Here, the rug sets the mood: it's abstract with an edgy, vintage vibe and has deeply saturated colors. The rest of the colors in the room pull from there and it can be done easily and with confidence once you have your parameters in place!

I hope this guide has helped you, and that you feel ready to take on the world of patterns! If you are still feeling stuck, check out the Design Services page on the website where you can learn more about the different services offered at Tiger Oak Designs!

xx- Natalie

"When your home shows up well for you, you can show up well for others"

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