A Designer’s Secret For Mixing Fabric Patterns In A Room

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

Dear Laurel,

 

I don’t think that you’ve ever done a post about mixing fabric patterns in a room.

 

And then of course, it’s not just the fabrics, but the rugs, wall color and egads, what about wall paper? That’s another pattern!

Is there some sort of idiot-proof formula or something we can use to simplify the process? Would be very grateful for any advice you can give on the subject.

Thank you,

Pat Urndedrug

 

I do believe that Pat is right that I’ve never done a post about HOW to mix fabric patterns.

 

Although I do recall this post which took a fabric and built a scheme around it.

And recently, there was this post about some of my favorite fabrics.

 

There are lessons scattered throughout these posts in how to build a room from the many inspiring designers I’ve featured here.

 

However, if I had to pick a favorite designer who knows how to mix fabrics beautifully, it is Mark D Sikes.

 

You can find a lot of Mark’s gorgeous designs here.

But what we’re really talking about when deciding on what fabrics look good together, is building an interior space; designing a room. And that is, because it all has to work together into a harmonious composition.

 

Mark D Sikes pin board color stories

And when designing a room, we must consider the design of the entire home as in this gorgeous design board by Mark Sikes.

But… Having pattern on your fabrics is not a requirement! Some of my favorite rooms feature plain fabrics.

I bet that some of you feel mighty relieved.

Bunny Williams and John Rosselli’s breathtaking home in Punta Cana.

 

Beautiful office with an Oriental Rug by Studio McGeeStudio McGee

 

OR maybe the only pattern in the room is on a rug and the rest of the furnishings are solids and textures.

Alternatively, it could be that there is virtually no other pattern except maybe a couple of pillows because there is some art that is so smashing that too much is going to take away from the exquisite beauty of the art.

Frank Babb Randolph monochromatic living room with amazing Grisailles screensA brilliant example is one of my favorite living rooms – EVER, by one of my favorite designers, Frank Babb Randolph. (antiques by Loi Thai of Tone on Tone)

By the way, in Frank’s original iteration of this room, there was no rug. I think that it’s gorgeous either way and the reason for this is trick number one.

A monochromatic color scheme.

 

Mono, of course, means one. Like mononucleosis means one nucleosis, I guess. Any doctors out there who can explain what a nucleosis is?

Hands down and without any coercion whatsoever, my favorite color schemes are monochromatic and its first cousin analogous color schemes. The latter being one color and its close-by surrounding colors. Like blue, turquoise, green.

 

When I’m building a room from scratch in an empty home, there needs to be a jumping off point.

 

In days past, I would ask my clients, if they had not already, to show me rooms that they liked for clues. I also asked them about their preferences in patterns–particularly what they don’t like.

On the first appointment after the initial consultation and after I had been hired and drew up a floor plan(s), I would arrive with a bag or two of fabric samples.

If the client wants a fine Oriental rug in the room, that often becomes the jumping off point. Sometimes, it’s one fabric in particular. Often, it is another room or rooms in the home that have already been decorated.

 

The next thing we need to think about is style.

 

And that can be a more difficult thing to nail down; particularly these days.

But, I had an amazing experience about 20 years ago (!) when my son Cale Israel, was in the second grade. There was a field trip to John Jay Homestead in Katonah, NY and I signed up to be a chaperone.

 

John Jay Homestead front parlor in Katonah, NY

What struck me more than anything was that nothing matched. I do not recall a rug anything like that. In fact, I am quite positive that it was a wood floor. And I doubt very much that they would’ve done a wall-to-wall carpet like that. Any historians who would like to oppose that?

It was a FARM for heavens sake!

 

John Jay, relatively speaking was considered to be slumming it. But I bet you didn’t know this…

 

John Jay was Martha Stewart

Yes, THAT Martha. Why, if John Jay was still alive, he could easily borrow a cup of sugar from his neighbor, Ms. Stewart.

 

Uh… Laurel… Okay, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not terribly helpful about the fabrics not matching.

 

Well, I disagree because my point and it was quite an epiphany back then, is that we need to lighten up. I can tell you that the English aren’t overly concerned with their colors/fabrics matching. Not based on what I saw. And it is infinitely more interesting than our all-too-thought-out and too-frequently, banal interiors.

But golly gee. Another neighbor. Ralph Lauren is a stone’s throw from Martha down the road. It is exquisitely beautiful there. I used to live near there.

Ralph breaks the only one or two stripes allowed in one space rule.


The easiest way to mix fabric patterns is a monochromatic or rather, a color family and white.

Mark D Sikes exquisite living room for the Southern Living Showhouse.

 

Okay, it’s time to put this baby into action. And please know that some of this is part of ones creativity and some is common sense.

 

For instance, you wouldn’t put a rug like this in a room

mixing fabric patterns and rugs- Handmade-Herat-Oriental-Persian-Hand-knotted-Tribal-1940s-Antique-Heriz-Wool-Rug-7-8-x-10-6

Herat Vintage Persian Rug

 

Schumacher Jahanaara Carpet Turkish Red-23201 - mixing fabric patterns

With a fabric that could be its sibling.

Of course, it could go in the same house, or it could go in a different part of a very large room. Both are fabulous, just not together.

First let’s put the different types of fabrics into categories.

 

Solids 

Thibaut Crypton - mixing fabric patterns

This includes textures and subtle patterns woven in. And solids can be made of many different types of materials.

  • Mixes with everything.

 

Damasks

Schumacher CHATEAU SILK DAMASK CITRON Fabric

A damask is usually a type of jacquard weave, and usually made of silk, but there are some that are not traditional damasks, but that type of pattern that are printed on linen or cotton.

  • Mixes with solids, luxurious florals, tapestries and more formal geometrics.

 

MarkSikes not boring beige sofa with fabric from Claremont Fabric Furnishings Company

 

A good example of a more casual damask is Mark Sikes’ sofa and chair fabric that he used in the Southern Accents Show House.

 

Florals

Mary McDonald for Schumacher Bermuda Blossoms

 

A floral can be anything from very small to very large. It can be realistic, painterly or stylized. My favorite ways to use floral fabrics are for pillows, draperies for more traditional rooms and smaller upholstered pieces like slipper chairs.

 

Geometrics

Can be large or small, angular or curved.

chinoiserie-pillow mixing fabric patterns small geometric with Chinoiserie floral

Schumacher’s Betwixt snuggling up with Brunschwig and Fils Le Lac

 

Stripes

Come skinny, wide and variegated. Some have high contrast and others are more subtle.

Sam Allen Interiors fabulous dining room with slipcovered chairs in a beautiful blue and white stripe

 

  • Stripes go pretty much with everything.

 

Checks and Plaids

When I started working for a decorator in Bedford, NY (about 2 miles south of Martha), her rule was usually, a solid, a chintz or two and a beautiful plaid.

Plaids are usually a fabric that I use sparingly. Some are sophisticated but many say country. However, there are some wonderful rooms that feature plaids.

 

Ikat

is a stylized motif in a woven pattern.

Cowtan and Tout – Rapallo Beige that Mark Sikes used for the draperies for the tone on tone showhouse.

Laurel Bern living room in Bronxville NY

OR, my living room chairs in Kravet’s Malu Ikat that I painted to make them more tone on tone! Love them.

 

Paisley

Brunschwig & Fils KOMAL PAISLEY INDIGO 8016101.50

Brunschwig & Fils KOMAL PAISLEY INDIGO

Paisleys are a little tricky to work with when mixing with other patterns. They tend to be a little bossy unless it’s a very simple pattern. Oftentimes, they are used luxuriantly as the star of the show with maybe only one other coordinating pattern.

 

Toile

 

my kitchen with Barbara Barry Indo Day Roman shade

Above and below Kravet’s Indo Day, but I think that they discontinued this colorway.

mixing fabric patterns - Barbara Barry for Kravet - Indo Day toile

 

Toile which is short for Toile de Jouy originated in France and depicted either French country scenes or alluring fantasies of the far east. AKA: Chinoiserie.  The above toile is not a traditional one.

Kasmir scenic toile - blueThis is a traditional toile from Kasmir Fabrics

 

Toiles can be used as the primary pattern or as an accent. I find that a lot of my clients don’t want to see fabrics with people on them. So be it.

Faux tiger and leopard

Le Tigre lumbar pillow

Goes with everything.

 

mixing fabric patterns

 

Next, I took one of the Laurel Home Palette and Home Furnishings boards and put together some fabrics pillows and a few alternative pieces so that we can see how mixing fabric patterns works.

The wall color is either Strawberry Red or Chili Pepper. I couldn’t decide. Both are lovely reds which I’ve used.

Of course, I wouldn’t put everything all in one room.  Let’s take a look and then we can discuss.

I put a white sofa in the widget because a lot of the pillows and accessories would look great if a change of pace is desired for summer. You could put a white slip cover on the sofa for an entirely different look.

When I’m putting a room together, after the pieces have been decided for the most part, then I will work on how it’s all going to work together.

 

Draping on a chair works!

mixing fabric patterns for a client
This is actually two different rooms. The two red fabrics were for the (red) dining room. Everything else went into the living room.

In all things, I’m looking for balance. And if two fabrics aren’t getting along, one of them has to go.

 

My rule that’s always served me well is– “if in doubt, leave it out.”

xo,

 

 

PS: If you love One King’s Lane as much as I do, they are having a PRIVATE sale. Well, not so private now. hehehe.

 

But just use the code: OKL20POST and you’ll get 20% off on any single order. Exclusions here.

 

And use OKLCHEERS20to get 20% off on rugs. But that one is ending in two days.

  • Beth - May 13, 2018 - 5:13 PM

    This is SO well done! I love your mood board as well. Great examples!ReplyCancel

  • Elle - May 9, 2018 - 4:19 PM

    Sooo, are red/dark red dining rooms still ok???ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:23 PM

      Hi Elle,

      IMO a red dining room is always a classic.ReplyCancel

      • Elle - May 9, 2018 - 5:44 PM

        OK!! But with turn of the century mahogany furniture? I will have to do a lot of reading to figure out how it might work.ReplyCancel

  • susie - May 9, 2018 - 1:04 PM

    My favorite patterns are stripes and Jacobean florals. I don’t know why, but they were in my grandparents’ home and they have always been my favorites.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:23 PM

      I think a lot of us have fond associations with our grandparents and I think that’s lovely!ReplyCancel

  • Catherine - May 9, 2018 - 11:08 AM

    Great post! Have you come across the British designer Kit Kemp? She mixes colour AND pattern fabulously. Not for the faint hearted though!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:18 PM

      Hi Catherine,

      I had not heard of her and some of it is cool and some of it turns my stomach. But, that’s just me.ReplyCancel

  • Shawn - May 9, 2018 - 10:46 AM

    Laurel, SO happy to hear you are also a fan of monochromatic and analogous color schemes. I secretly feared that my preference for these schemes might be a lack of confidence in combining colors, or a fear of commitment to living with them long term. But over the years, I’ve learned that I want my home to be a serene, relaxing refuge from the hectic, stressful, visually chaotic world (agoraphobic much?), and keeping the color palette “tight” helps in that regard and also feels more intentional.ReplyCancel

  • Danielle - May 9, 2018 - 10:26 AM

    Hi Laurel, I’m back with another question that frequently comes up Out West. Where does a Navajo-type design fit into all of this? It’s like Ikat, but with more color (sometimes many colors), or a Pendleton blanket. I do see Ikat with Navajo all the time. I’ve even seen it mixed with heavier, more formal fabrics like the darker damasks. What about a stylized floral (thinking of a Mid-East or Near-East style)? I’m about to go to New Mexico & splash out for a large, expensive hand-loomed Navajo rug. Help!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:11 PM

      Hi Danielle,

      Like I said to Anna, I use the internet for inspiration. In truth, Navajo is not my thing. It’s not that it’s terrible, it’s just not my taste. But, I would keep the pattern to a minimum and do lots of beautiful slip covered white furniture.ReplyCancel

  • Eleanor - May 9, 2018 - 9:49 AM

    I love your statement “When in doubt, leave it out.” I am making Thibault Providence Serendipity in Green framed wallpaper panels. Originally, I planned to use Schumacher Chiang Mai Dragon pillows on the sofa nearby but I’m having doubts about combining the two patterns. Better stick to the safer choices- Schumacher Betwixt and Imperial Trellis or some kind of cream damask on my green sofa. How do you feel about matching the wallpaper and fabric? I have a sample of the matching Thibault fabric but for some reason I don’t love it like I do the wallpaper. Is that weird? Have you ever had that happen?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:08 PM

      Hi Eleanor,

      That’s the paper that we did in the green dining room in my porfolio! It’s very lovely! I’ve never matched the wallpaper and fabric and one reason why is that it might not match. But usually, I feel that it’s too much of one thing. There might be some situations where that’s not the case, however.ReplyCancel

  • Anna - May 9, 2018 - 9:14 AM

    Hello! I love your blog. Always beautiful images and useful posts. I have a design issue.. I have I have blue buffalo check spindle chairs in my family room with a large wooden coffee table and a performance linen slope arm york sofa from pottery barn. I need advice on what type of rug would work. I can send images if you’re willing to take a look! Thank you very much,
    Anna BradyReplyCancel

    • Wendelin Asbury - May 10, 2018 - 9:27 AM

      I hope you will forgive me for chiming in here, but have you considered using a seagrass rug with a blue twill border? Since it’s a family room, the seagrass is casual as well as practical and will add another layer of texture while not competing with the pattern on your chairs. Just a thought! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:05 PM

      Hi Anna,

      Something super specific like that, I wouldn’t be able to help because it’s too specific for a blog post. But what I do when I’m stuck for an idea or need inspiration is go to Pinterest and do a search on the topic. Hope that helps!
      ReplyCancel

  • Heather Bates - May 9, 2018 - 8:40 AM

    Great post Laurel! What immediately caught my eye was the fabric by Mary McDonald and Le Tigre – I have a larger print based on Le tigre as the velvet drapes in my Family room 🙂
    Still waiting for the sofa to arrive. Ordered it back in September!ReplyCancel

  • Kathy - May 9, 2018 - 8:10 AM

    The design of the John Jay Homestead room is typical of the mid-1800s.

    You can see similar rooms in the Lincoln House in Springfield, IL, restored to the year 1860, at https://www.nps.gov/liho/planyourvisit/lincoln-home-tour.htm and I have seen similar carpet in other historic homes and even in the Hofberg Palace in Innsbruck, Austria in the Salon of the Empress. http://www.hofburg-innsbruck.at/623/php/portal.php?language=en

    These loomed carpets were called Auxminister type carpets, invented in the 1740s to the 1840s. The Auxminister Company went bankrupt, but at least in the US, the style was popular until well after that. Custom-made room size carpets were a sign of affluence and luxury. Coordinating small pattern wallpaper or damask patterns and stripes were also common for this period.

    According to the John Jay Homestead website, John Jay, a prominent politician and founding Father, retired to this house until he died in the 1820s. His grandson John Jay II and his wife totally renovated the house in modern style in 1858, and this room dates to this period. The furniture is somewhat earlier, and I doubt they would have draped the red throw (cloak as in the portrait?) across the sofa.

    The house was renovated again in the 1890s and in the 1920s by John Jays descendants, and it became a State museum in the 1950s. As shrines to important politicians who shaped our country, I am sure this room and the Lincoln Museum, a National Park Service property, has been researched and preserved and documented with the highest degree of scholarship possible and accurately portray the taste and furnishings of the time.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 9:54 AM

      Yes, I’m familiar with Axminster rugs/carpets. When I visited the home 20 years ago, I can assure you that nothing coordinated. The hall wallpaper was orange. It all had the look of an earlier time when they took whatever came off the boat from England or wherever. But thank you for your research! I was not aware that it was decorated in a style 40 years after JJ lived there. That was not at all the impression we were given.

      The two parlors had two tea tables with three chairs each and I distinctly recall that the chairs were more formal in style.ReplyCancel

    • Kathy - May 9, 2018 - 8:15 AM

      I meant the looming process, part of the early industrial revolution in England, was invented in the 1740s, and the Auxminister Company was in business until the 1840s. But the process was imitated by others, and us BBC fans will have heard the term “Mind the Auxminister” in some of our favorite period dramas, as sort of British Slang for “Keep your dirty shoes off of the carpet!”ReplyCancel

      • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 9:55 AM

        I learned it as “Axminster.” But perhaps that’s bastardized American.ReplyCancel

        • GL - May 9, 2018 - 11:58 AM

          Dear Laurel, You’re quite right about Axminster: see below the Wikipedia entry for the story of the founder of the business. This is confirmed by other sources, notably the local museum. A good place to see Axminsters which cover most, but not all, of the floor is Uppark in Sussex. The Red Drawing Room has one from c.1800 (it miraculously survived the fire), and another early C19 one in the Saloon, a beautiful cream and gold pattern on a blue ground.

          Thomas Whitty (1713–1792) was an English carpet manufacturer who founded Axminster Carpets in 1755.

          Whitty was impressed by a large Turkish carpet he saw at Cheapside Market in London, and upon his return to Axminster he used his skills as a weaver to work out how to produce a product of similar quality. After several months work he completed his first carpet on midsummer’s day 1755.[1] His carpets were then chosen by wealthy aristocrats to have in their English country homes and town houses. Axminster Carpets were produced for the music room of the Brighton Royal Pavilion, Saltram House, Warwick Castle, Chatsworth House and in 1800 for the Sultan of Turkey.

          King George III and Queen Charlotte purchased Axminster carpets and also visited the factory which dominated the English carpet market between 1755 and 1835 when Samuel Rampson Whitty, the grandson of the founder was declared bankrupt following a disastrous fire seven years earlier which destroyed the weaving looms.

          Blackmores of Wilton, near Salisbury, bought the remaining stock and looms and extended their business to include hand-knotted carpets which were still called Axminsters.ReplyCancel

          • Laurel Bern - May 9, 2018 - 5:22 PM

            Thanks so much for all of the great information Gilly!

  • Shari - May 8, 2018 - 11:11 PM

    Love this post. I’m in the planning process of redoing my living and dining room. I’ve chosen Shantung Garden in the white colorway for pillows in the LR but it’s not playing well with my dining room wall paper choice…B&F bird and thistle in aqua. These are they only two patterns that aren’t getting along so the wallpaper in going in the powder room, the dining room will stay BM Van Deusen blue which will flow into Sister Parish Dolly wall paper in blue in the kitchen. Thank you for all your time and help via your blogs.ReplyCancel

  • Charlotte - May 8, 2018 - 11:05 PM

    Thank you! This is so helpful, especially your advice to “when in doubt, leave it out.” I have trouble choosing and tend to use too many different patterns.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 8, 2018 - 11:15 PM

      Yeah… “restraint,” they call it and it’s difficult. However, there are others who don’t believe in any restraint whatsoever.ReplyCancel