Designers’ main advice: Don’t be afraid to try

One of the best ways to express your personality and add flair to your home is to incorporate a mix of patterns into the décor.

Whether you like florals, stripes, geometrics, animal prints or paisleys, a variety can make any room visually more interesting and comfortable.

Choosing and mixing patterns, however, can be intimidating.

Perhaps the most important thing is not to be afraid to try, agree three designers asked for tips on choosing and combining patterns. Anything can be fixed, they say.


“One of the secrets to successful pattern mixing,” says New York designer John Chadwick, “is continuity in the color palette. Having one shade in common and others that are similar is what ties them together.”

A dining room he recently designed for a client has a large, meandering flower pattern on the walls and plaid curtains at the floor-to-ceiling windows. While completely different from each other, they work together because leafy green and red dominate both.

Chadwick completed the scheme with chair upholstery and a rug in a dusty gold that references the walls and curtains. Woven with a raised check effect, it also adds texture.

Designer Cindy Raby of Oklahoma City favors deep, richly colored patterns for dark rooms: “They add drama, warmth and comfort.”

But she also likes the way light colors and textures give rooms a crisp, airy feeling.

“Dark or light can be right,” she says.

Grounding and balance

Also important when using patterns is “grounding” them with large swaths of solid color, says Chadwick – “perhaps a rug, wall or sofa, so the eye has something to focus on.”

Los Angeles-based designer Joe Nye tends toward sisal and seagrass floor coverings.

“They unify things, and having a casual quality produce a pleasing juxtaposition with a lot of upholstered furniture,” he says.

Sometimes he repeats patterns in two adjacent rooms for “a nice bit of harmony.”

And it’s key, Nye says, to “distribute patterns evenly throughout a room so it doesn’t appear lopsided.”

How to begin

Magazines are filled with ideas for composing decorative schemes, as is nature. Another path, says Nye, is to study the vignettes at retailers like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn and see how they do it.

He advises starting small with patterns; lamps, pillows and bibelots are good choices.

“Once your eye becomes accustomed to these,” he says, “you can continue layering.”

Artwork is another form of pattern. Not to worry if you’ve inherited a houseful of traditional furniture and you collect abstracts, Nye says: “Putting them together is contradictory in a good way, and can look terrific.”

There’s a lot of art in Nye’s home, including the bathroom. Here he hung a large painting, striped the walls and added a small, decorative table, all of which share similar colors offset by white.

Worth the effort

“You can turn even the most ordinary box of a room into a showpiece with color and pattern,” says Raby.

But she has found that people often are afraid to experiment. To ease them into the process, she advises a visit to a good fabric store.

“Choose a variety of colors and patterns that you like best. It doesn’t matter why,” she says, “just so they appeal to you.”

“Try to think out of the box. A touch of animal print, for example, can add excitement to a room.”

Then “take the swatches home, lay them on a table, mix them around, and eliminate until you have your favorites, usually three to five patterns in compatible shades,” Raby says.

Like Nye and Chadwick, she thinks odd numbers produce more interesting results than even ones.

And finally? “Choose one with a large scale – that is, the biggest pattern; a second that’s medium-sized; and a third, the smallest,” Raby says. “If they’re all the same size the room will look too busy and overwhelming.”

One technique she likes is to use the largest-scale pattern for the sofa, the medium-size one for a chair, and the smallest for drapery panels and throw pillows.

One last thought from Chadwick: “Decorating should be fun. So if it all seems just too much to do alone, find a local designer to help, or a store that offers pre-coordinated wallpapers and fabrics.

“Add your own touches with throws, pillows and vases, and it’s done.”

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