Mixing Patterns in Home Decor

by Donna on April 1, 2011

The Appeal of Pattern Combining

Mixing patterns is a great way to add personality to an interior space. Also, the patterns in fabrics, wallpaper and carpets can add interest, texture and color to a room.

The colors in patterns can play a part in the color scheme of the room. Or, a pattern color can be used to add accent color.

Helping to define a room’s style

In addition to adding interest, the patterns used, along with the colors, can help to define the style direction of a space. Three examples:

A mix of Asian-style patterns, in warm orange and peach tones, defines the exotic style of this space designed by Mathew White and Frank Webb (as shown in Elle Decor).
A mix of Asian-style patterns in warm tones defines the exotic style.

The soft-tones of the abstract geometric patterns play a supporting role in the sleek contemporary style of this room by Barry Dixon.
The fabric mix in this contemporary space support the style.

This room in French country style uses many patterned fabrics that fit the look and serve to define the style. The color is key as well. (Image source: Country Living.)
Room in French Country style uses many pattern fabrics that fit the style.

The Challenge of Pattern Combining; Guidelines Help

Mixing patterns in one interior space can be challenging. While there are no particular rules to follow, a couple of guidelines will help.

1. Use patterns that share a common color.

It’s hard to go wrong with this approach — an approach that helps to create a sense of order by using one color that appears in each pattern. We see this very clearly in the French country room above. While there are numerous patterns used throughout the room, all share a similar red – sometimes bolder, sometimes softer – that ties them all together.

  • In this calmly elegant room by Jay Jeffers each of the fabric patterns share the same tone of red.
  • Room by Jay Jeffers - all fabric patterns share the same red.

  • In a bedroom designed by Bunny Williams a very similar blue appears in the patterns of the bedding, the wallpaper, and the carpet. The color is also found in the solid-colored fabrics. The result is a calm sense of unity in the room.
  • A similar blue appears in all the patterns in this bedroom by Bunny Williams.

  • Stripes work nicely with other patterns. In another room designed by Jay Jeffers stripes are combined with a floral pattern. Both patterns share at least one common color.
  • The stripe and the floral pattern in this room by Jay Jeffers share red as a common color.

  • Checks, including gingham, also work well with other patterns. Gingham tends to add a casual quality to a space and is often used in country-style decor. In this room, by designer Gideon Mendelson, the gingham-checked fabric is combined with a toile wallpaper in the exact same color. (Image source: House Beautiful.)
  • The bedroom combines toile with gingham in the same color.
    A subdued blue repeats in the patterned fabrics in this room, including the stripe and the check-like plaid. (Image from Cottage Living through MyHomeIdeas)
    A subdued blue is the common color in the fabric patterns in this cottage room.

  • The common color can be a color family, for instance:

a.) The variety of blues in this room from Coastal Living through MyHomeIdeas:
From Coastal Living - a room with patterned fabrics and rug in a variety of blues.
b.) The various reds and reddish hues in this room by homeowner and jewelry designer Temple St. Clair (along with Paul Engler). (Image source: Elle Decor.)
Temple St.Clair - living room with various reds in the various patterns.

2. Vary the scale of the patterns.

You’re nearly guaranteed success mixing patterns if they share a common color, but the scale of the patterns needs to be considered. Varying the scale of patterns adds interest and variety as well as balance.

Vary the scale of patterns by, for instance: 1) mixing large scale with medium, 2) medium scale with small, or 3) large scale with small. Or, all of the above.

In the rooms pictured above we see variation in the scale of the patterns used. Here are a few more examples (the patterns also share a common color):

  • Red is the common color that runs through this room by Michael S. Smith, a master at mixing patterns in a room decor. A wide range of pattern scale creates complexity and interest, and helps with eye movement through the space. The gingham curtains add a casual element in a room that features a number of traditional furniture pieces and accessories. (Image from House Beautiful.)
  • The patterns in this room by Michael S. Smith vary in scale. They also share a common color.

  • The scale – and style – of patterns employed in this room vary widely, but are held together with a common color: red. (The red in the wallpaper is barely noticeable in the photo.) Our interest is sparked by the variety that results in this room, in a warm color scheme, by designer Anne Page. (Image source: Traditional Home.)
  • An entry area by designer Anne Page uses a variety of scale in the patterns employed.

  • Designer Barry Dixon uses the same turquoise (a monochromatic color scheme) in the very different fabric patterns in this room, including the stripe in the shade. The varying scale of the patterns alleviates the possibility of monotony even though turquoise is the only color used in the two adjoining rooms.
  • Designer Barry Dixon uses turquoise in these adjoining rooms but varies the scale of the patterns used.

  • In another room by Barry Dixon, the traditional style of patterns in the mix are very likely fabrics designed to be coordinated. The cohesiveness of style is comforting; the variety of scale provides eye-pleasing variety.

Brown patterned fabrics in this master bedroom by Barry Dixon share a common theme but vary in scale.

Sharing Two Colors

A variation on sharing a common color is a mix that goes in two directions. I’ll explain via example.

In this English country-style room the two colors, green and brown, that appear in the striped chair fabric are repeated individually in the other patterns: green in some patterns; brown in others. (Image from Country Living.)
Two colors are used separately in the pattern mix in this English country-style living room.

In this room by designer Barry Dixon, the brown and the gold in the pattern of a throw pillow show up separately in the other patterns: the brown check of the sofa and the gold tones in the chair fabric.
Two colors are used in the patterns in this room by Barry Dixon.

The fabric of the slipper chairs, in this room by designer Deborah Buck, contains the colors that appear separately in the two other patterns in the room. The muted pinkish color is repeated in the rug. A narrow stripe of rusty-orange-red is picked up in the curtains – a deep, rich color that adds ‘weight’ to the room. (Image from Elle Decor.)
An eclectic styled room by Deborah Buck uses a mix of patterns.

Breaking the Rules

Experienced designers have a talent and ability to break the ‘rules’, and to make the results charming, fresh, even attention getting. Here are two room examples:

Michael S. Smith frequently mixes patterns ‘outside the box’. In the first room below the designer combines patterns that seem to have little in common. The approach is to create a room that looks as though it has come together over a period of time with furniture and throw pillows being added along the way. Upon closer inspection the patterns of the pillows do each contain the sofa color on which they sit. At least one pillow has the red that’s in the rug. But the patterns are so diverse in style that the marriage seems improbable. But, with a skillful eye, Michael Smith has created a charming and casually traditional library room.
Library by Michael S. Smith using mixed patterns.

In another room Michael Smith combines, on a sofa, four throw pillows: two are covered in the same fabric pattern (with colors they share with the sofa fabric); one pillow is a solid yellow color (adds some punch); the fourth pillow has a pattern that seems not to have any color in common with the others (unless that’s a barely discernible touch of blue) – and a style that, while unexpected, adds visual interest.

Why does this combination work? One reason: the colors of two of the pillows pick up other accent colors in the room. Also: the three colors of the pillows form a triad complementary combination that includes the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow: always a pleasing, and familiar, combination. The grouping has complexity.
A reception room by Michael S. Smith uses a complex mix of patterns.

More Ideas to Come

There are more pattern mixing approaches and concepts to pursue, but more than is manageable in one post. I’ll continue on this theme shortly.

See you then…
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Publication image sources: Country Living; Elle Decor; House Beautiful; MyHomeIdeas; Traditional Home.

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