Mixing Patterns – The Ultimate Guide To Getting It Right

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

Dear Laurel,

I’m so confused as to what the rules are for mixing patterns in a room. For instance: Can you mix stripes? Or can you mix stripes with plaids? What about stripes, plaids and geometric patterns?

When is it too much?

Are there patterns that should never be mixed together?

And, how do you avoid making it look too contrived?

Thank you. I hope that you can do a blog post to clarify this confusing topic.

Pat Urnt

*********

Well, Pat asks some very good questions. So, today, we’re going to tackle this all-important topic of mixing patterns in a room.

And, actually, there is a post which goes over strictly mixing fabric patterns. Originally, I was going to mix the two posts. But, this is an all new post and takes a different bent.

 

One solution to mixing patterns in a room is to have no pattern whatsoever.

 

This is typically associated with contemporary or modern styles, of course. However, traditional rooms or rather, classic rooms as I prefer to call them, can be completely devoid of pattern.

 

Martha Stewart pink living room

Martha Stewart above and below is known for using very little pattern in most of her rooms.

For more pretty pink rooms, click here and here.

 

Martha-Stewart-Living-mixing patterns

Love those Chinoiserie panels!

 

Gerald Bland Instagram - mixing patterns in a room

Above and below, the exquisite home of antiquarian Gerald Bland on instagram. Remember this post from last year celebrating his gorgeous style.

 

Gerald Bland Instagram - no pattern living room - exquisite art

There’s virtually no pattern except in the pillow. By using no or very little pattern, it allows Gerald’s exquisite art to shine through.

 

Well, Laurel, isn’t art also a pattern?

 

It’s certainly a consideration, but I see it the same as what’s outside the window. And yes, that needs to be considered as well, IMO.

 

So, let’s examine all of the places where we can have pattern in a room.

 

 

But, before we do that, I need to tell some of you something.

It’s only one word, so I don’t think you’ll need to write it down.

 

chill - with your decorating

Look, I’m not trying to negate your angst, however, mixing patterns is not really such a big deal.

It’s really not.

Trying to figure out how to pay for your child’s college education is a big deal.

Figuring out how to mix patterns in your living room is not.

And, sure, I can give you some general guidelines, but I have found that when I just put together things I love, they usually go together just fine.

For example:

 

mixing patterns - my bedroom-breaking rules
Here’s a quick pic I snapped with my new I-phone X. Holy crap, that’s pretty freaking amazing! The photo, itself, from a clarity and color standpoint.

 

Let’s take a look at the mix of patterns here.

 

Do these patterns “go” together?

No. They do not.

Is it ugly?

Really, I don’t think so. I think it’s interesting. And, I think so, because it looks collected. (It definitely is!)

 

Is the pattern police going to show up and arrest me for breaking the rules?

 

Maybe. (However, I hope they send some cute cops this time) ;]

Did I plan for things to be like this?

Ummm… no.

The wallpaper from Mural Sources, you guys know that this is for my bedroom refresh which should’ve been completed a while back, but… Please, no judging. Thank  you. Fine, judge. However, please keep it to yourself. Actually, all I need is a new light fixture, mirror and the linens.

But, anyway. The chair, from Sarreid, I’ve had for at least a decade and had it recovered over six years ago.  It’s supposed to go in the living room. That fabric on the seat is from Duralee but discontinued. The pillow was made from some scraps in 2010.

 

And, the rug, I love and purchased from Overstock last year.

 

The point being that most of the elements in the image were not meant to go together.

 

You see… something else I discovered some years ago.

 

In my old bedroom I had a bed from Grange in a cool celery green. And the rug was the one you can see here that was over a wall-to-wall sisal look carpeting. To be clear, the image is from my current bedroom before it was painted and papered last year.

Yes, the rug is gold and the bed was yellow-green. Didn’t it clash?

Yes, it did, haha, but I loved it!

 

I had a similar situation in my den.

 

The fabric on the sofa was a couple shades different than the green colors in the rug. I think you can see that here.

I loved that too!

The truth is… I would never have taken such chances for a client– intentionally. But, what I learned is what I said earlier.

CHILL!!!

It’s okay if the colors and patterns are a little “off.”

In fact, it might even be better.

 

But, Laurel…

 

Please don’t “but me.” ;]

 

But Laurel…

 

Can’t you at least give us the rules and then if we want to break them, we’ll do so.

Fine. Sure. I will give you some rules and then you can go and break them. ;]

 

Some Rules For Mixing Patterns.

 

For me, the most important thing over pattern, is color. But, please listen up, because this one is interesting too.

I think one the best designers who truly understands how to use color and pattern together is Mark D. Sikes.

mark d sikes - blue and white living room in Montecito via instagram

Amy Neunsinger photo – Mark D Sikes

Let’s take a closer look at Mark’s work because this one is a great example of how to mix patterns.

 

  • There’s a solid blue linen from Rogers and Goffigon used for the sofa. That is one of my favorite boutique designer fabric companies. I have not seen it sold online to the public.

 

Althea citron - Lee Jofa mixing patterns

 

  • A floral used on the chairs and repeated on one pillow. We saw this classic block print from Lee Jofa, Althea, in last week’s pillow post! It’s one of my favorites too.
  • A small scale floral jacquard, it appears to be in lemon yellow (sorry, I don’t know where that one is from)
  • Then, a more contemporary stripe in blue and white gives a fresh note.

 

 Lee Jofa - Suzanne Rheinstein

Then, there are the details like that gorgeous fringe, the layered rugs, other furniture, lighting and accessories. All of those elements are what give this room a beautiful richness in texture, color and pattern.

 

Amy Neunsinger photo - Mark D Sikes mixing patterns

Amy Neunsinger photo – Mark D Sikes mixing patterns

 

Another shot of the room from the spread in House Beautiful. Interesting that Mark put the chintz on the opposing sofa. However, it’s actually further away than it looks. I see another coffee table in front of it. And, who knows? Maybe in real life, the furniture is arranged differently. What you see in photos is not always what you get.

I also think that the pink/orchid chairs is a great example of using something a little off-color to provide a certain tension. This is the element that feels scary for most of us. But, the blue and white chinoiserie, introduces a “clashing” shade of blue and the green lamps, a “clashing” shade of green.

 

So, maybe it IS the clashing shades and sometimes patterns that create the best designs?

 

I certainly feel that these are elements not frequently seen in rooms by novice designers. And, I do believe that it takes a particularly refined eye to pull it off so beautifully as Mark does. I’m bringing it up because all of the furnishings that go into making a beautifully designed room are inter-related.

That’s why it’s so difficult to answer questions without seeing the entire picture.

 

Mark D Sikes pin board color stories
Mark’s method of putting the fabrics up on a board or somewhere and seeing everything together is very helpful tool.

 

So, to recap. A terrific formula for mixing patterns:

 

  • A solid fabric or more than one solid. Or, a solid with a texture or tone-on-tone fabric
  • large scale floral and maybe a smaller scale floral
  • jacquard and/or smaller geometric
  • Larger geometrics can be used too, but probably in smaller doses
  • stripe(s) and/or a plaid or check

 

Please be sure to check out this post for more ideas.

 

Oh, I just wanted to finish with a charming photo of the lovely Russian ballerina, Maria Khoreva who at only 18 is already a first soloist (only one rank under principle dancer) with the Mariinsky Theatre, one of the top companies in the world.

 

Maria Khoreva - Marachok - instagram - ballerina Mariinsky Theatre Russia

I swiped this from her instagram where she goes by the name of Marachok. If you love ballet even half as much as I do, you will love her feed. Maria also speaks fluent English, and is wise well beyond her years! Smart, beautiful and immensely talented.

And oh my, oh my! Is that a Greek Key pattern I spy on the mirror? Yes, of course!

 

Last fall, I had the great pleasure of getting to see her perform, here in New York City.

 

Please, no comments about her weight. She is not under weight for a ballerina. This is Maria’s natural body type. She is naturally small boned and finely muscled. And, I can assure you, she does not starve herself to look like that. Think race horse. I’m only saying that because I featured her two years ago and some made some derogatory comments.

Another 18-yr-old Russian ballerina I am adoring also named Maria but frequently referred to as “Masha” Bulanova. Here you can see her dancing brilliantly and with the panache and charisma of one at least ten years older.

Enjoy!

xo,

 

 

PS: please check out the newly updated Hot Sales and especially the huge TRIPLE dipping sales at One King’s Lane.

 

5th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2018 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Lori Gonzalez - July 13, 2019 - 12:18 AM

    I have been reading your blogs for a few years and never realized that I was not subscribed, oops!
    This is a topic that I search all too often and am always second-guessing my decisions when it comes to pattern mixing. After weening myself off those few years of ALL neutral ALL over, I suddenly am craving color, like tons of color! I started with every room having blue and whites, and am now in full on vibrant accent mode. Every formula says to add in a solid or textured solid, but I am already bored of the solid.

    please help, can I add another pattern instead?
    For reference, I have a white slipcovered sofa, large pillows in Thibaut blue “cut paper”, Opuzen large scale leopard (only 1 since I measured wrong and cant afford more of this),and custom drapery in white with raspberry pink and darker magenta embroidered large diamond like pattern. My goal is to add more hot pink, but the solid pink isn’t doing it for me.
    Can I add a fushia print as the third pillow set to coordinate with curtains behind this sofa or am I going over board?

    Thank you for any advice you may have.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 13, 2019 - 2:45 PM

      Hi Lori,

      I’m so sorry, but can’t see what you’re talking about and my powers of visualization based on a description of only parts of a space or like trying to figure out what a puzzle of 500 pieces looks like if you only have 20 of the pieces. And, a description of those puzzle pieces, at that. I hope that you’ll understand.ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Cullen - June 17, 2019 - 9:12 PM

    I feel okay with color but terrible with pattern mixing, so I used a few fabrics from the same Fabricut French General collection, and I think it works. People don’t think they “match” but there are common colors and it all goes, I think. I hope! I added a few solids and a stripe from the remnants wall to balance it out (pillows and a footstool).ReplyCancel

  • Tsippi - June 16, 2019 - 11:08 AM

    I just want to say how much I love Gina’s comment. Thirty-five years ago I read a book by Alexandra Stoddard that said that if you love something and are sure you have the space for it, you’ll figure out how to make it work in your house. I’ve found that to be absolutely true. I also second how terrific Laurel’s blog is because Laurel refuses to be dogmatic. I’ve stopped reading a lot of other blogs because the writers make me so paranoid about the pattern and color choices I’ve made. (I’ve also given up on some blogs because the comments sections are just too rude and confrontational, so thank you, Laurel for your outstanding moderation efforts. It can’t be easy.) Anyway, spending another happy Sunday enjoying your blog, Laurel.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - June 16, 2019 - 1:37 PM

      Thank you too, Tsppi for your wonderful support! It means the world to me!!!ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - May 26, 2019 - 8:29 AM

    Great post and thank you for the ballet nuggets at the end! I will follow her for sure. Love your ballet info keep it coming! Decor + ballet were my childhood obsessions…I havent changed much or at all !ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 26, 2019 - 11:41 AM

      Hi Kathleen,

      Isn’t it cool that we love what we love and it usually begins quite early on.ReplyCancel

  • Gina Arias - May 23, 2019 - 2:56 PM

    Laurel,
    This is my first time to comment on a blog – ever!!!
    I LOVE interior design, save all my House Beautifuls in my library and follow your blog because you are so REAL. My house is full of pattern because I buy what I love and throw it in the room without worrying about matching. To all my Laurel blog friends, your taste is consistent so don’t worry about it. You will love your purchase somewhere in your house. Also, love the CHILL advice, right????haha Peace and love.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 25, 2019 - 12:53 AM

      Hi Gina! So sorry about the delay in moderating and answering your comment! I’m so flattered that this is your first blog comments. And thank you for the kind words!ReplyCancel

  • Mary E - May 21, 2019 - 3:14 PM

    Hi Laurel,
    Since I learned to sew my own pillows & window treatments, it also taught me how to layer patterns. But over the years I’ve discovered I tire of them. And end up replacing them…a lot! It was extremely wasteful.
    I’m finding I don’t tire of solids. Now all the drapes in my house are solid. And my pillows are mostly woven textures. Another bonus to that is my tiny house doesn’t look as busy or cluttered.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 22, 2019 - 12:57 AM

      I’ve never had a lot of pattern, either. But, the ones I have, I never tire of.ReplyCancel

  • Carol Chaligne - May 21, 2019 - 10:13 AM

    Your website is my favorite interior design website because you always explain why things go together (or don’t), how to achieve a lovely room, and you give examples. You’re an excellent instructor! I’m not in the design business, but by reading your blog I think I have learned a great deal Thank you for your hard work.ReplyCancel

  • Pat - May 20, 2019 - 6:59 AM

    Hi Laurel
    Thank you for all your hard work on fhis blog. It is so appreciated! I have a question about sea grass rugs. I noticed that some are backed with rubber and others are not. Will a rug without the rubber backing last as long as one with the backing? When you layer rugs, is it : pad, seagrass, pad, small rug on top?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 20, 2019 - 9:29 AM

      Hi Pat,

      Such great questions. I have not seen seagrass without the rubber backing. As far as I know, that must be there for stability! Or, it needs some kind of backing, if not rubber. And, yes, you have the pad situation correct. I should do a post discussing some of these details as to binding, sizes and what kinds of pads are best for which rugs.

      Pads are to rugs what bras are to women. The right one will make everything right. Well, almost everything. ;]ReplyCancel

  • Amy S - May 20, 2019 - 3:52 AM

    Thanks for this post 🙂

    Several comments- did you notice that Martha’s panels are not all the same size, like they have moved from a house where they wrapped a corner. (I’m sure you did). Wonderful!

    I love your bedroom rug, and I could imagine intentionally putting those patterns together. They do work. But even your living room chairs and the pillows on them while less intentional looking work. (I think there they look collected because of the size- I think they would be 2 inches bigger if made for the chairs?).

    I like your ‘chill’ comment. But- pillows ARE a splurge item, so I don’t want to mess it up. So I think I’ll take your advice and do a novice move (do I even qualify as novice?!). I have a white textured stripe from Barclay Butera (on huge sale from one kings lane on your discount!) and I’ll mix that with imperial trellis in mineral and chiang mai dragon in aqua, and a natural jacquard drape. The furniture will be the linen Brooke sofa from OKL (triple dipping a few weeks back) and I’m thinking two swivel gliders in a cream polyester suede (hey I have a 6 year old so need something I can scrub).

    These go with quiet natural and light blue hand knotted ooshak and soumak rugs. Multiple rugs better fit my space and leave a gap for little boots in the event that he forgets something. They aren’t layered on sea grass because they are 5 x 7 and 6 x 9 and make two conversation groupings. And because cat hair 🙂

    It is all coming together thanks to your blog! Even better- I designed an entryway partition based on your post. We are using door slabs to make an entry way. That project should be complete in a month.

    Thank you thank you – you have sparked joy in my life.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 20, 2019 - 9:24 AM

      Oh wow Amy, what a wonderful way to begin my day! Thank you for this fabulous testimonial! I linked to the entryway post from last September if anyone sees and is curious. You know, Bed, Bath and Beyond is closing I think 40 stores. And as you might know, they own OKL. I chuckled when I heard that because it occurred to me that these incredible sales over there are hurting their bottom line. Although, I doubt it. A sale is a sale. I’ve always said, better to offer a substantial discount rather than have the entire thing go somewhere else.ReplyCancel

  • Pamela Sherman - May 19, 2019 - 9:35 PM

    Oh lovely Laurel.
    What about mixing patterns and color with Asian carpets? Graduate school? Help please?
    Thank you and just adore your work and humor.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 20, 2019 - 1:18 AM

      Hi Pamela,

      It’s the same principles at play. But, if you’re still unsure, I would go to pinterest. You can look at my boards. A really good one is a new group board I started a few months ago about Timeless and Classic Interiors.ReplyCancel

  • hjc - May 19, 2019 - 7:34 PM

    Oh Laurel, this would be an entertaining post, to pick an item for each character in a movie and create a room. Different movies would obviously create different feeling rooms…heck, you could start an entire blog on this idea. Hmmm…. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Paula - May 19, 2019 - 5:16 PM

    Love this post! Thank you, because it makes me feel better about my “slightly off” style. I’m more comfortable both in dress and at home if things aren’t too matchy. I aspire to carry off the room with the perisan rug that doesn’t really match much. Super hard, but maybe one day I’ll get it (kinda) right. I forget the designers that can do it, but when I see it done well, I try to channel the lessons I’ve learned here, thanks to you, Laurel to figure it out.ReplyCancel

  • Sandra Duncan - May 19, 2019 - 1:46 PM

    Your post on mixing patterns is the best explanation I’ve ever read.
    It’s just really good…even the decoratingly (is that a word?) challenged should be able to follow.
    Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Linda Larson - May 19, 2019 - 12:28 PM

    Laurel,
    Would you ever consider doing a blog on painted furniture, why/ when it works or not. Is it a fad?

    I look forward to reading your blogs every week!

    LindaReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 2:31 PM

      Hi Linda,

      I love painted furniture and use it in all of my rooms. While it’s on trend, it is NOT a fad in the slightest. Painted pieces have been around since at least the 18th century. Very popular!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - May 19, 2019 - 12:05 PM

    I have a rug question. I often see layering a rug over a natural jute or seagrass rug in “what to do if your rug is too small” articles, and it’s clearly a great solution to that problem. Is it also something that can/should be done as a design choice in its own right to add a more layered look? Or if one can get a single rug the right size from the start, is that nearly always a better choice?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 2:30 PM

      Hi Kristin,

      I think both are valid. I have purposely chosen a smaller Oriental rug because a bigger one would be too overwhelming and the layered look suits the space.ReplyCancel

  • Mary M - May 19, 2019 - 11:54 AM

    Always a brilliant post. Particularly enjoy your features about ballet, as it’s in my blood.ReplyCancel

  • Alice - May 19, 2019 - 11:28 AM

    Hi, I love your blog…but most important, thanks for the links to those two great ballerinas!ReplyCancel

  • Valia - May 19, 2019 - 10:59 AM

    Love Mark D Sikes way of layering fabrics. I will never tire of studying him. The more I look, the more I see how experienced and trained he is. And you, Laurel, are super experienced. Huge thank you for all of that. Stripes, chinoiserie, blue and white, samuel and son trim, velvet. When is it too much? And when you look like a novice when you’re afraid of mixing details. Excuse my English mistakes, I’m far from being fluent yet.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 11:40 AM

      Hi Valia,

      First of all, just a few typos. I cleaned them up which I do for most comments. We all make them even when English is our first and only language. haha.

      When is it too much? For some, it’s never too much. The maximalists who can’t get enough color and pattern. Other people don’t want to see much of anything in the way of pattern. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. But, I think it’s too much when there’s too much competition for the starring role.

      For instance. Mark’s star of the show is that very expensive floral print.

      Let’s use The Sound of Music. The floral is Maria. The drapes are the main co-star (Captain Von Trapp) but not the character that the story is revolving around. The rugs and other fabrics are the supporting players who move the story along. (The Mother Abbess, Countess, the children) And, the accents are the cameo parts and chorus. (Rolf, Max, and nuns) The architecture and wall colors are the sets and costumes. It is okay for small parts of the space to have their own personality that’s a little incongruous. ie: A velvet pillow with a linen sofa.

      I think that if we look at our rooms like this, and stay faithful to the story we are trying to tell, choosing things we love, we can’t go wrong.ReplyCancel

  • nancy - May 19, 2019 - 10:24 AM

    We sold our house and 99.9% of our belongings. We live in a 24 foot motor home and are traveling the States and Canada. The plan is to do this 3 years and then travel in Europe, a bit of Africa and other places for a year or two.
    My nightmare is I will prepare for building and decorating a home and your blog is gone, off the internet entirely. I should probably download it all so I can sleep well. Thanks for all your hard work!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 11:25 AM

      Hi Nancy,

      First of all… What you are planning is unbelievably AWESOME! I think that a lot of people fantasize about doing such I thing. I know my wasband did until real life set in. lol (aka: baby and a mortgage). Maybe you’ll start a blog about your adventures. That would be so cool!!!

      And second, that is such a touching thing you said about my blog. It is a lot of work, but I love it and have no plans to stop any time soon. My only other plan is to lead a more balanced life. Right now, I’m having some growing pains, but like everything, they will soon pass. In the meantime, as you have me, I have all of you and am forever grateful for that is another amazing gift handed to me. And, I don’t for one second take it for granted! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Carolina - May 19, 2019 - 10:22 AM

    Hi Laurel!
    Great instructive post.
    But (ha ha) which is his starting point? The floral?
    My question still is how he decides on pale pink and not any other color, orange, violet???? for adding tension ????
    I also see this off issue with Bilhuber interiors being so complex. How on earth does he chooses the palettes???
    I would love you more if you do a post on Bilhuber color matching 😉
    Ballet = magic!
    Thank you !ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 11:16 AM

      Hi Carolina,

      THAT is a superb question! And, yes Jeffrey Bilhuber is another who frequently pushes the envelope with amazing results. This, I think, is part of their genius. I don’t possess it. Few do. However, I usually recognize it when I see it.

      Ballet is the greatest gift of my life!ReplyCancel

  • Veronica - May 19, 2019 - 9:36 AM

    I love that you confirmed that mixing patterns is no big deal. I’m like you, I just put together what I love and it just works. Very instinctive for me, maybe because I don’t overthink it. Thanks for sharing your ultimate guideReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 19, 2019 - 11:10 AM

      Hi Veronica,

      For those who don’t follow Veronica, you should. (and follow her blog) Super talented interior designer who I was lucky to be with for the kitchen and bath show tour (KBIS) last February. As designers, we already have a good idea of what’s out there. However, I can imagine that the general public feels overwhelmed or conversely underwhelmed in some situations.ReplyCancel

  • Diane Amick - May 19, 2019 - 8:05 AM

    I love love love every post you’ve ever done. Your talent, panache and style are my favorites from every magazine spread, show home or Pinterest photo I’ve seen. And, your advice on how…what…why is always spot on. So very glad I found your site. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Catherine - May 19, 2019 - 6:17 AM

    How do you fell about adding animal prints?ReplyCancel