Play with patterns

Learn to mix home decor patterns with authority

By Linda Turner Griepentrog / For The Bulletin

From the expert

Jan Jessup, director of communications for Calico Corners and Calico Home stores, offers these simple reminders for pattern mixing:

1. Use a multi-color pattern

2. Vary the scale

3. Mix up the textures

4. Repeat patterns for harmony

5. Use a graphic pattern, geometrics or bold stripes to make a room feel more contemporary

On the edge

If you’re a DIY decorator, take a clue from the focus fabric selvage as to what might mix well with a given print. It shows dots for each color screen used in the fabric printing process and provides an ideal indicator of what other colors might go with the print you love.

Stripes are nice — solids, too — but what if you want to throw in a floral or two?

When you decorate (or redecorate) your home, mixing patterns can throw you into a tailspin if you’re not sure what goes with what.

Can you really put stripes, plaids, checks, dots and/or solids in the same room and have it look like something TV decorator Nate Berkus would be proud of? The answer is “yes,” if you follow some basic principles for pattern mixing. It’s fun and fashionable, and no super skills are needed — just a little common sense and confidence.

The decorating industry recognizes the challenge of pattern mixing.

Jan Jessup, director of communications for Calico Corners and Calico Home stores, notes, “Novice home decorators often suffer from a fear of decorating, but they especially shy away from mixing patterns. They worry about how much is too much; they tend toward solid textures or just a single print, ending up with a rather vanilla interior.”

Creative cover-up

Prints give the eye a place to focus, and they can hide a multitude of sins. You can soften a not-so-great view with floral drapes or disguise a perhaps too-worn chair with a new look.

In addition, patterns add personality to the room. “They can tell stories about your interests — from flower gardening to modern art, travel or sports,” Jessup said.

Mood magic

As you look at decorator fabrics, you have an emotional reaction to them. Some fabrics are very formal, others shout casual with a capital C. When you think about combining fabrics, the feeling of the fabrics should be similar to avoid any disconnect. That’s not to say that you can’t combine denim with lace accents for a trendy look, but overall, fabrics in a single room should be of a similar feel.

Value says volumes

Colors and patterns of similar values, which means the lightness or darkness of the color, are soothing and comforting — there are no surprises. For example, a nursery decorated in all pastels is easier on the eyes than one bedecked in pastels with some jarring bright primary colors mixed in. The latter creates visual discord. On the other hand, you don’t want to combine similar values to the point of boredom — it’s a fine line.

Odd numbers in

Many designers recommend using an odd number of prints in a room, with three being a good start for most people.

This principle allows you to pick a focus print you love and build around it for the rest of the room pieces — from other furniture to window and wall coverings and accessories.

Where do you begin? Choose a large-scale print and a small-scale print that go together, and use colors from either to pick a third “basic,” like dots, stripes or a tone-on-tone print that can read as a solid.

Julie Linker, of Bend’s Copper Leaf Interiors, notes, “Care should be taken to avoid using more than one dominant pattern — use a medium and perhaps a small pattern as complements to a large one.”

Common sense

Fabrics that have things in common work the best together. A safe way to combine materials is to pick the same basic color, but select different patterns within the same range. For example, gray and white make a clean combo, and combining a like combo in stripe, dot and large floral together in a room works well. Perhaps with a spice of a bright pink for accent pillows. The gray anchors the major furnishing scheme.

Another commonality can be the varying scale of the fabric patterning. Consider a large stripe, medium stripe and a small stripe in the same room (assuming compatible colors). Because they’re all stripes, there’s some harmony and interest.

Taking up a collection

Thankfully, home decor manufacturers have heard the plea of DIY decorators everywhere: “I’m not sure if that goes together or not. How do I know?”

Whether you’re shopping for ready-made furniture or planning on creating decorator pieces yourself, there’s a combination for that.

Home decor manufacturers create fabric collections planned by experts to go together. You can find them at any fabric store if you’re a DIY-er, or at furniture stores if you’re looking for something ready-made. Each collection has a name and offers multiple fabrics/pieces within for mixing and matching. If you’re shopping for fabrics, the collection name is usually printed on the selvage or finished edge of the yardage.

Within each collection are usually several different, but related prints or patterns, and some solids or fabrics that read as solids.

Theme game

Sometimes things are put together because they have a unifying theme — like animal prints, or a kitchen decorated with multiple food prints. If you have a collection of any sort, it’s likely got a common theme, and that theme can be extended into home decor.

It’s sometimes difficult to put themed prints and accessories together without a look of whimsy or humor, so watch for that when decorating with obvious themes. One can only have so many cats and cat fabrics in a room.

Bits ‘n’ pieces

If you’re the least bit timid about combining colors and patterns, home decor accessories are the perfect place to give it a try. They’re less expensive than major furnishings, and the investment is small in case the adventure doesn’t work out. Pillows are an ideal way to introduce additional patterns into a room setting, and they’re perfect for showcasing multiple options on the same sofa or bed.

When selecting patterns to mix, think about proportion of the piece compared with the size of the pattern. Choose the print size based on the visible area — for example, a large floral print is ideal for drapes, but it might be lost on a throw pillow. Big bold stripes might work well on a sofa, but look disproportionate on an ottoman.

Some fabric stores and decorators will let you take home swatches and live with them for a day or two to see how they “feel” to you. Take advantage of this service before purchasing. Linker said, “Place samples you’re auditioning for pattern mixing side by side or on a fabric wall or sample board to help visualize the relationship to one another and the design as a whole. If in doubt, it’s always best to seek the advice of a professional interior decorator to help avoid costly mistakes.”

— Reporter: gwizdesigns@aol.com