Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2001

Mix it up: Patterns add pizzazz

September 2, 2001


It took several years of working with my colleague, Matt Fox, on color, pattern and texture before he felt comfortable giving up those terrible plaid pants and striped shirts.

Actually, because Matt's background wasn't interior design, it did take awhile before he was comfortable selecting fabrics and wall textures to be used in the same room. So, if you are looking to go beyond stripes with plaids or even just plain solids, here are a few tips that will help you jump with confidence into the art of pattern mixing.

Always use at least three patterns. There's something about an odd number that makes things more visually interesting.

Keep the background color of your patterns the same. Don't try mixing white with off-white backgrounds. To stay consistent, a light neutral color needs to carry through each pattern.

It is best if all the patterns share the same collection of colors, but not necessarily the same number of colors. For instance, you can combine a floral of six colors with a check that incorporates three of those colors, and a woven jacquard fabric that's just a single color.

Make sure to vary the scale of the patterns. A large floral or fruit pattern with a medium-sized plaid and a solid color woven would be a perfect example.

The mood and weight of fabrics is important too. Even though the colors and pattern size may be appropriate, lightweight plaid cotton chintz might not be the best coordinate with a heavy floral tapestry.

Vary the amounts of each pattern you use in a room. For instance, use a large floral for the sofa, loveseat and valances. Then try a medium-check pattern on a couple of side chairs and as draperies, and finish with a small print on accent pillows.

Once you've made all your pattern choices, take a look around to review the distribution of the patterns throughout the room. Don't put all the floral on one side and all the check on another.

Don't forget that there are other patterns that may already exist in the room. Pattern can be found on a marble tabletop or hearth, an area rug or artwork. Even blinds on the windows or books in a bookcase can create pattern.

(Just a side note: While I was studying design at college, one of my projects was to mix 15 patterns in a room. Well, we all turned in a project, so it can be done.)

So where do you begin? Start by selecting an inspiration piece, like a patterned fabric for your sofa or bed coverings. This will set the tone for the room.

Find one of the palest shades in the pattern, and use it on the walls. It can be in a lightly patterned wall covering, a soft painting technique or just straight painted color.

Go back to your inspiration pattern, and select from some of the medium hues for your carpet, draperies and other upholstery items. Last, the deepest hues make great accents for accessories, pillows or even a lamp.

If you still feel uncomfortable with pattern mixing, remember that many experts have already done the work for you.

Check out wall-covering books and fabric stores for suggested pattern combinations; even magazine photos can give you a good start.

Shari Hiller writes this column with Matt Fox. They also co-host the Home and Garden Television show "Room by Room." For more information, visit

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