No? Well, that’s OK. If your preference is for interior spaces totally lacking in patterned elements — fabrics, wallpaper, rugs — not to worry. For some this is a desired, and successful, approach. Some terrific interiors use no pattern at all. It’s not a necessary ingredient: solid-colored fabrics and walls can provide a backdrop for artwork or can work to create a relaxing space. Take a look at these two examples:
The first room is by designer Frank Roop, who frequently does use some pattern in interior spaces. The second is a room designed by New York designer Vicente Wolf, who rarely uses a patterned fabric or carpet, and never, that I’ve seen, a patterned wallpaper in his designed spaces.
Another New York designer who uses no pattern in her projects, with rare and minimal exception: Jennifer Post. In this room the designer uses a minimum of geometric pattern:
With a lack of pattern the element of texture typically plays an important role.
Using an opposite approach, some designers manage to employ generous quantities of patterned elements, particularly fabrics. Take for instance this nearly extreme example: a living area designed by Michael S. Smith for his Bel Air home. (Images from Elle Decor.)
The above two images are different views of the same room which I’ve shown in order to depict the number of patterns used. I can count at least 10 different patterns; 11 if you include the lamp. Michael Smith nearly always uses pattern in his room designs.
No pattern; a little pattern; lots and lots of pattern. It’s a matter of preference.
If you’re seeking to use pattern in your interior spaces — if you’re pattern inclined — you may be wondering where to start. Or you may be looking for ideas. Considering the abundance of patterned fabrics, wallpaper, and rugs available, providing a nearly irresistible variety of choices, the task may seem daunting.
The Element of Pattern
A pattern, in the sense of a decorative surface like fabric and wallpaper, involves a design element repeated in a regular manner, generally in both a horizontal and vertical direction. (Stripes of course repeat in only one direction.)
Many pattern designs can be grouped into the categories of: floral, leaves, geometric, damask, animal skins and animals, and stripes:
The fabrics patterns shown are from Fabricut and are, from left to right: Dempsay, Garwood, Fixer, Euphonious, Brusse Leopard, and Biscotti.
Use Pattern to Support the Room Design
Choosing to use patterned fabrics — upholstery, curtains, accent pillows, carpets, even lampshades — opens up a whole world of decorative possibilities. Patterns are effective in supporting and enhancing the mood and feel of a room design or in supporting a style direction: traditional, country, contemporary, eclectic, etc.
An example is a bedroom by Christopher Spitzmiller. The designer uses a wallpaper with a traditional yet lively pattern in creating a style direction: a relaxed traditional look with a touch of British colonial. (Source: Elle Decor.)
Eric Cohler uses an ethnic pattern on the sofa of this eclectically styled room. The pattern and its color promote the casual, almost earthy look and feel.
In the dining room below, also by Eric Cohler, the damask pattern of the wallpaper plays a major role in establishing the traditional look of the room. Along with the pattern selection, the color choice has a significant impact on the mood of the room.
The Color Connection
Since most patterns used carry color, this adds a new dimension to the selection of color in a room’s decor. Patterns, and their colors, add an additional level of variety, interest, vitality, drama, or excitement.
Of course the colors in the pattern need to fit in with other colors in the room, augmenting the desired effect. In this room by Madeline Stuart the colors in the wallpaper repeat the other colors in the room.
If you love patterned fabrics and wallpaper — and there’s a lot to love — you might be looking for some guidelines and ideas. Here are some things to think about when using pattern:
- A large patterned wallpaper will have a major impact in the room’s design and make a big statement.
- The distance between the design elements in a patterned fabric or wallpaper is called the repeat. So a large pattern will have a large repeat. This needs to be considered when fitting a pattern to a wall, upholstered piece, or an accent pillow. The repeat of small patterns will work successfully in small spaces, whereas a large repeat needs a large enough area to get the full effect of the motif, as you can see in the examples above and in this room by Keith Johnson and Glen Senk (from Elle Decor).
- Repeating the same pattern on a selection of different elements in a room — curtains, pillows, upholstery, wallpaper, etc. — will promote a degree of unity. Also, odd pieces of furniture can be unified in a room by covering them with the same patterned fabric. Here are two rooms from Country Living showing examples of repeating the same pattern for a unifying effect:
- If a pattern is very small it will take on a single color tone when viewed from a distance. This can actually make it easy to work that pattern into the total scheme. A small pattern will also translate visually as texture when viewed from a distance. In the room below (from Country Living), the small gingham-check print starts to appear as a single tone from a distance, and also has a textural quality:
- Pattern can add to a sense of rhythm in an interior space. Rhythm is created by the repetition of elements, often in a spatial sense. The regular repetition of a wallpaper across an expanse of wall creates background rhythm. This bedroom by designer John Wiley, mixes three patterns and adds a sense of rhythm by repeating some of them with a degree of regularity within the space (from House Beautiful). (My next post will talk about mixing patterns.)
- Wallpaper pattern adds an element of interest, but also a sense of depth to a wall and to wall color; depth that flat wall color could not provide. We can see that in the two room examples below (as well in examples above).
We usually think of smaller rooms, like bathrooms, as spaces where smaller patterns are appropriate. In this bathroom designer Thad Hayes has used a large pattern in soft tones. The result has sophisticated charm.
Using a bolder and tropical leafy pattern — an unexpected motif in a contemporary dining space — designer Nate Berkus has made a definite statement with large-patterned wallpaper. (Image from Elle Decor.)
A large fabric pattern on a sofa will make its own statement and help to set the tone of a space, as in this room by Thad Hayes:
On an upholstered chair it can be effective to use just one of the repeats in a large patterned fabric centered on the chair. This can be used for an accent pillow as well. Below are a couple of chair examples. In the first image, a room designed by Suzanne Rheinstein, two slipper chairs are upholstered in a Brunschwig & Fils linen, (source: Elle Decor). In the second image, from Zoffany, a chair is covered in a fabric from Zoffany’s Fleurs Rococo Weaves collection.
The regular interplay of patterned elements — the draperies, the sofa, and the dining chairs — creates a sense of rhythm in this dining room space by Joe Minton (shown in Southern Living; image from MyHomeIdeas).
The Ming linen wallpaper, from Cowtan & Tout, adds a sense of depth, and charm, to a dining room by Suzanne Coleman Bancroft. (Image from Elle Decor.)
Designer Cathy Kincade gives this bedroom an old-world design theme. The patterned wallpaper adds a sense of depth to an otherwise flat wall, while the soft colors create a sense of intimacy as well as a pleasing calmness. (Image from House Beautiful.)
Pattern and Color — a Dynamic Combination
Interest, vitality, drama, excitement, rhythm — Lee Radizwill’s New York City dining room utilizes, with intensity, many of the qualities achievable by using the element of color and the element of pattern.
We typically think of pattern in terms of fabric, wallpaper, carpet, even tile. And, of course, that has been the emphasis I’ve taken for a focus on color. However, other elements can have pattern, for instance a horizontal relief pattern on crown molding. So I wanted to point out the sense of rhythm the placement of the dining chairs, with their patterned top rails, adds to the dining room above.
In my next post I’ll talk about combining and mixing patterns in interior spaces — an area that can pose challenge, but great opportunity for personal expression in a home’s decor.
See you then …