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Best Ways to Mix Patterns In Your Décor

October 31 2010

You’ve seen attractive rooms in home decorating magazines and wonder how the designers know certain patterns will mix so well together. 

There are definitely tricks of the trade that are foolproof in any room, and you can learn them, too. 

Recognizing which patterns go well together really boils down to the opposites attract theory. Soft rounded floral patterns work well against the harder lines of stripes. Bold geometrics work well against less competitive small prints or solids. The closer fabrics, patterns and colors are to being the same, the more soothing and calming the effect will be. The more opposite they are, the more attention-grabbing they will be.

You want to shoot for a happy medium, where your focal point is the star supported by a cast of colors, patterns, and textures that don’t compete for attention

First, choose where you want the most emphasis – the focal point. Then choose your patterns to celebrate that focal point. Remember to emphasize what you want your eye to see first, keeping in mind that color, pattern and background can lead your eye where you want it to go.

You don’t want a roomful of the same type of pattern, or the effect can be tiring. Instead, choose a favorite pattern for a sofa or chair, and support it with non-competing color, texture and pattern in pillows, throws, painted walls and rugs.

If you need more emphasis, you can always step up the color to a bolder hue, or the texture with a bolder weave. But another way to do it is to choose a more muted background so your focal point will stand out better. Use a backdrop of tone-on-tone fabric or pick up the softest color in the focal point fabric with paint or solid pillows.

For example, let’s say you want the wallpaper in your room to be the focal point. That means that furniture, rugs, curtains and decorative items have to play supporting roles. They have to be simpler, less colorful, and less textured than the wallpaper.

Now let’s say you want the fireplace to be the center of attention. Your wallpaper, with the intricate pattern, ends at the solid wall of color around the fireplace mantle. The solid against the pattern makes both pop. If you want to lead the eye to the fireplace, put pillows in the most vivid hue of the wallpaper at the end of the sofa pointing toward the fireplace.

You’re leading the eye where you want it to go, and you can apply the principle to any focal point.

When you are hanging a painting, for instance, it will show up best against a solid painted wall, or a tone-on-tone wallpaper so subtle that it almost appears a solid color.  For contemporary art with bold colors and simple designs, wall colors can be whiter or brighter.  The stronger the detail in the picture, the calmer and less busy the wall pattern should be. 

In bedrooms, the bed is usually the focal point.  Often, you will find the busiest pattern to be on the bedspread, duvet, or other covering against a striped or floral-patterned wall.  Quilts that have a variety of patterns sewed within are showcased by by repeating one or two of the fabrics sewn into the quilt in shams and bedskirts.

A living area may have one strong focal point, and several co-stars that can include wallpaper, rugs, couches, fireplaces, windows or art.  Choose no more than three emphasize, emphasizing the “stars” in order of importance with the brightest or strongest patterns, or as a solid surrounded by patterns.  Use the remaining areas as a background to help your focal areas pop by using quieter, subtler, or opposite patterns. 

Keep in mind that all patterns create ambiance. Animal prints can be seductive and exotic, blending surprisingly well with almost any other pattern, such as Asian designs.  Stripes can be dramatic, soft, bold, or subtle depending upon the width of the stripes and color. Large floral patterns can be sophisticated while small floral prints look more country, country French, or sweetly casual.  Checks and plaids can appear gender neutral or masculine in appearance depending on the colorway, and are great for creating a more casual ambiance. Acanthus leaves will add classic richness and sophistication to a room.   Geometrics appear urban and stylish.  

Be careful not to overuse any pattern. Evenly repeated patterns such as stripes or dots can be dizzying as focal points and are better used as background. Too much floral can make a room cloying. Too much geometric can make a room unwelcoming. 

To be certain of the patterns you choose, try to obtain the largest samples as possible, even if you have to buy a yard or two of fabric to drape over your sofa or chair, or paint a poster board with sample paint to see the color best. Place the samples where they will be and step back and look. Where your eye goes first will be the dominant focal point.

Sometimes all it takes is changing one fabric or two to pull your look together. Ideally, a mix of a little floral, a few stripes or other pattern, a little solid here and there will blend in a room beautifully.