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Designing with Patterns: Mixing Colors, Motifs, and Textures

Designing with Patterns

Pattern is one of the most important principles of interior design. When the right combination is achieved, a room is taken from satisfying to splendid. Whether you have a decorator or you are the decorator, here are some concepts to consider as you begin to mix your home's pattern palette.

Color Conversation

Start with a favorite color–select an inspirational pattern that incorporates this color and let this be your guide. Your hue may appear prominently or it may be only a hint in the details of the design. Also, be open to slight variations on your favored shade–it doesn't have to be exactly the same throughout the room.

As you select additional elements, recognize that patterned pieces should "communicate" with one another throughout the room. For example, the red floral pattern on an accent pillow will "speak" to a red vase on a nearby table. Common color cues keep patterns from being overwhelming, and should help guide the eye around your space.

Design Intermix

If you're planning to mix a group of patterns in your space, it's a good idea to create a balance of at least three densities: fine, medium, and oversized. Fine patterns include tiny prints or motifs that are so busy that they're close to being a solid color. Medium density patterns can be plaids, tribal designs, or traditional botanical motifs. Medallions and enlarged geometric patterns serve as oversized. For a finishing touch, combine these motifs with the solid color you chose as a highlight.

Next up: decide where each pattern should appear in your setting. The largest pattern should rule the room. Display it in wallpaper, an area rug, or on an upholstered sofa. Keep in mind that larger patterns will make your room feel more intimate. So if you're looking to make your space look larger, a bold pattern may work better on an accent wall, on the floor, or on the sofa.

Put your medium-density pattern to work as a secondary trimming. Less dominant furnishings, such as side chairs, ottomans, and draperies are the best places to introduce medium-sized motifs. Use them to compliment your largest pattern.

Lastly, the finest patterns should serve as accent pieces. Add them to pillows or lampshades for extra depth. Small accessories with ornate motifs mix beautifully with solid colors–display them together and combine them with complementary hues.

Keep in mind, three patterns is just a recommendation; your space may allow for more experimentation, or require less visual noise. A general rule of thumb is to display larger patterns on larger objects, smaller patterns on smaller objects, etc. Also, remember to tie artwork into the scheme–or even lead the design with your favorite piece of art.

The Texture Trick

While it's customary to think of patterns in terms of graphic prints–stripes, plaids, paisleys, etc.–patterns can also be found in the texture of many textiles and objects. If it feels like your space is missing something, try adding a little dimension to the design. Combining woven textures with soft or supple upholstery is the textual equivalent of combining patterns and solids. Even amongst a great group of graphic patterns, dimensional or metallic accent pieces are sure to spice things up.

If you have a monochromatic or neutral setting, it's a great idea to use a variety of textures to give the room extra depth. Balance a richly carved wooden chest with a creamy cashmere throw, or combine a woven back with a buttery leather seat on a bar stool or armchair. Adding dimension and sculpted details will make your space even more inviting.


Whichever patterns or textures you decide to incorporate into your space, you are the best judge of your own comfort. Don't be afraid to experiment: trust your eye and determine your own preferences as you mix and match.

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