Design tricks

Create interesting rooms by mixing patterns confidently
Design tricks

Aim for patterns and colors that complement one another, rather than compete for attention. Credit: Calico Corners —  Calico Home

Novice home decorators tend to shy away from mixing patterns. Worried about how much is too much, they tend toward solid textures in their purchases or perhaps just a single print — and then end up with plain vanilla interiors.

"Marrying patterns is the hallmark of a confident designer," says Jan Jessup, director of communications for Calico Corners and Calico Home stores. "But even amateur home decorators can learn to combine prints and textures like a pro, with just a little knowledge, practice and trial."

What pattern adds to a space

While patterns in home furnishings certainly add visual interest, they also give the eye a place to focus. Pattern also hides a multitude of sins. A boxy chair that's seen better days can be softened with a great paisley print. A not-so-great view can be minimized by a pretty print on custom draperies. Pattern also adds personality to a room. "It can tell stories about your interests — from flower gardening to modern art, to literature, travel or sports," says Jessup.

Patterns that play well together

There are certain combinations that work beautifully together: a graphic print and a bold geometric jacquard; a paisley and a tartan plaid; a great floral print and a wide stripe; a toile and a check; a jacquard tapestry and velvet. Here are a few unifying principles to keep in mind:

  • Use a multi-color pattern and then pull out colors from that for the rest of the room. If prints are not your style, go for multi-color stripes instead.
  • Vary the scale — allow one pattern to be the hero and then let everything else play second fiddle. If decorating with a floral pattern, complement it with both plaids and checks — as long as one of them is small in scale. Pinstripes and small checks will be perceived as a solid color from a distance.
  • Mix up the textures — a room of all informal, casual fabrics is too one-note — as is a room filled only with formal, lustrous textures and silks. Try silk with linen, cotton prints with velvet.
  • Repeat patterns for harmony — if using a bold design on an ottoman, repeat it on a sofa pillow. A print drapery can be repeated on a bed coverlet or in shams.
  • Make it contemporary — try adding a graphic pattern, geometrics or bold stripes to the room. Use them on upholstered chairs for greatest impact, or on pillows for colorful accents.

Location, location, location

If choosing a pattern for a sofa or chair, that design will make a clear statement in the room. And the larger the piece, the bigger the statement. "Perhaps you won't want to see 22 yards of a bold floral on a sofa," Jessup says, "but it would look fabulous on a big chair and really showcase the design."

On the other hand, pattern used on window treatments tends to soften among the folds and pleats of curtains and shades — and becomes much less prominent. A great pattern that is showcased on top of a bed can also be used at the window where it will recede in the fullness of a drapery.

Harmonious color

Sometimes customers come in, Jessup says, with a swatch of fabric or carpet or wallpaper — and they want that very exact color, no substitutes. She says a "matchy-matchy" approach can result in a formulaic design. Step back from your swatches and paint colors, she adds — and focus on whether they appear harmonious together.

About the Author

Calico Home stores are among retail fabric stores that provide decorating advice and free in-home design consultation. For more information, visit www.CalicoCorners.com or call (800) 213-6366.

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