How To Mix Patterns – Designers’ Secret Formula

 

Dear Laurel,

I’m so confused about how to mix patterns in a room. For instance: Can you mix stripes? And, how many stripes can you mix in one room if so? 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?

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

Thank you. I hope you can do a blog post to clarify this confusing topic. In other words, what are the rules for how to mix patterns in a room?

Pat Urnte

 

*********

 

Pat Urnte, a fictitious person, asks some very good questions.

So, today, we’re going to (attempt to) tackle this important topic of how to mix patterns in a room. Although, it’s also a large topic. Therefore, I’m going to focus more heavily on the fabrics.

 

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

 

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

 

Martha Stewart pink living room

Martha Stewart, above and below, is known for using a minimal amount of pattern in most of her rooms.

For more pretty pink rooms, click here and here.

 

Martha-Stewart-Living-mixing patterns

Love those Chinoiserie panels!

 

@stevecordony - eclectic interiors - new trad living room Rosedale Farm gorgeous crystal chandeliers - white slipcovers - white-on-white

Above, the exquisite decorating of Steve Cordony’s home in Australia.

You may recall my attempt at replicating Steve’s gorgeous style here.

Please follow Steve on Instagram!

 

@tradchap on instagram - handsome dining room

No pattern can be in a dark, moody room like this one belonging to Jack Laver Brister @tradchap on Instagram.

 

Gerald Bland Instagram - mixing patterns in a room

Above and below the exquisite home of antiquarian Gerald Bland on Instagram. Remember this post that celebrates his gorgeous style.

 

Gerald Bland Instagram - no pattern living room - exquisite art

There’s virtually no pattern except in the pillow. Using no or very little pattern 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 dive in and look at some examples of how to mix patterns in a room.

 

But, before we do that, I need to say something.

 

This isn’t as complicated as some of you are thinking it is. However, in a bit, I’m going to show you a method that has always worked for other designers and me. You can copy it so that you’re less likely to make an expensive mistake when you mix fabric patterns.

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

For example:

 

 my bedroom-breaking rules - how to mix patterns
Here’s a quick pic I snapped with my phone back in 2019.

 

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

 

Do these patterns “go” together?

No. They do not.

Is it ugly?

I don’t think so; I think it’s interesting. And, I think so, because it looks collected. (It definitely is!) In addition, the pillow isn’t always on the chair. I move things around sometimes.

 

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

 

Here’s the thing. There are certain colors I love and use over and over.

 

And, I believe that when the color scheme is harmonious and unified, the actual patterns matter less.

 

The wallpaper from Mural Sources, you guys know that this is for my old Bronxville bedroom refresh.

The chair is a classic from Sarreid that they discontinued. I’ve had two of them for at least a decade and had it recovered about nine years ago. The fabric on the seat is from Duralee but discontinued. The pillow was made from some scraps in 2010.

 

The rug I love and purchased from Overstock in 2018.

 

The point is 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 townhouse bedroom in northern Westchester County, I had a bed from Grange in a cool celery green. And the rug was the one you can see here that was over wall-to-wall sisal-look carpeting. Yes, the rug was 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 of shades different from the rug’s green colors. 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.

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

In fact, it might even be better.

 

But Laurel… Can’t you at least give us some solid rules, and then if we want to break them, we’ll do so. ;]

 

Well, we’ll get to that.

 

I think the best way to approach this is to first look at the main categories of fabrics.

 

And, I’ll intersperse some examples of how people have used patterns in their rooms.

 

Let’s begin with Solids.

 

book-beautiful-crypton-fabrics-thibaut-highpoint-furniture-market-design-bloggers-tour-fall-2015

Solid fabrics come in all materials that can be used in an interior and blends of those materials. A solid fabric can also be with or without texture. Some solid fabrics have a pattern in the weave. Above is a super-practical Crypton fabric that I introduced to you here.

 

light-weight-classic-ticking-stripes-via-the-slipcover-maker

 

Stripes

 

Stripes come in all different sizes, from tiny pinstripes to super wide stripes. One of the masters of decorating with stripes is Ralph Lauren, as you can see here.

 

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.

 

buffalo-check-chair-slipcover-side-slipcover maker

This large buffalo plaid looks chic on this English roll armchair by the Slipcover Maker.

 

Florals

 

Althea-citron-Lee-Jofa-Mark D. Sikes fabric on chair

Althea – Citron – Lee Jofa

Florals can be small, medium, or large.  There are millions in the marketplace. However, not as many designers use them as they did a few decades ago.

 

Some fabulous designers who use or used florals beautifully are:

 

We sadly lost Mario Buatta, the “prince of chintz,” not too long ago.

Colefax & Fowler

Mark D. Sikes

My favorite ways to use floral fabrics are for pillows, draperies for more traditional rooms, and smaller upholstered pieces like slipper chairs.

Some florals are known as chintz. A chintz has a protective glaze on the fabric. This does wear off over time if it’s on a piece of furniture that’s sat on.

 

Damask

 

Chateau Silk Damask Schumacher - how to mix patterns

Schumacher CHATEAU SILK DAMASK CITRON Fabric

 

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

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

 

Ikat

 

Rapallo Beige by Cowtan and Tout

Rapallo Beige by Cowtan and Tout

is a dyeing technique originating in Indonesia. The pattern is created by a process called resist dyeing of the yarns before they are woven. Ikats look great with just about everything.

 

Geometric

 

how to mix patterns-chinoiserie-pillow mixing fabric patterns small geometric with Chinoiserie floral

It can be large or small, angular or curved. Above is Schumacher’s Betwixt, one of my favorite accessory-type geometrics.

 

Paisley

 

Brunschwig & Fils KOMAL PAISLEY INDIGO vignette

Brunschwig & Fils KOMAL PAISLEY INDIGO

 

Toile de Jouy

 

my kitchen with Barbara Barry Indo Day Roman shade

Above is my old kitchen in New York with a Chinoiserie Toile Roman Shade. The fabric Indo Day designed by Barbara Barry for Kravet has been discontinued.

For more about Toile Je Jouy fabrics, please check out this post.

 

Animal Prints

 

Scalamandre Le Tigre Pillow

Le Tigre velvet pillow by Scalamandre

 

Tapestries

 

scalamandre-cut-velvet-marly-tapestry-featherdown-pillow

Scalamandre Marly velvet pillow

 

my living room holiday 2021-warm lighting

Above are my beloved tapestry pillows. I rarely use the hackneyed word “obsessed.” However, back circa 1996, I was completely so with the home of Ina Garten in South Hampton, NY.

 

ina garten living room That’s where I saw this fabric from Clarence House, and even though it was over $200 a yard at my designer’s price, I ordered a yard of it and had the pillows made.

 

So, how do we put all of these fabric patterns together?

 

my living room holiday 2021-warm lighting-how to mix patterns

Most would probably think that the fabrics above in my living room do not go together in a traditional way. However, they’re not fighting each other, either.

 

A balanced tonality is perhaps the most essential element when mixing fabric patterns.

 

Each of the fabrics and pieces of furniture makes me happy. What I find interesting, is that everything I loved 25 years ago, I love, as much, if not more, today!

 

For example, if I introduced a fabric like this damask below, it wouldn’t look very good.

 

chateau du chambord silk orange damask

But some of you might prefer this, so it’s also a matter of taste.

It’s also a matter of artistry. If it looks good to you, it’s good. If it doesn’t look good to you, believe what you see, either way.

 

For example: Are you the kind of person that many patterns in the same room will make you crazy? If so, then maybe you don’t need any pattern at all. Or, perhaps you’ll do one smashing pattern, and the rest are solids.

 

Ben Pentreath Exceptional Interior Design - colorful living room-how to mix patterns

Ben Pentreath in this beautiful living room used a cheerful, colorful color scheme and then stuck primarily to one floral. (ignoring the pillows on the left. He added a small animal print; almost everything else is textural solids.

 

The next consideration is color.

 

I think one can get away with more of a mix if the room is primarily monochromatic. Mark D. Sikes is the master of that style.

 

mark-d-sikes-living-room-southern-living-idea-house-how to mix patterns

Above Mark’s gorgeous room from the Southern Living Showhouse, around 2016

 

A classic formula I saw ad nauseum decades ago was to do a solid, a chintz, a stripe, and maybe a plaid or a small geometric, or sometimes an ikat. That was paired with a Wilton diamond geometric with a floral border. I mean, it looked tired to me in 1992. Now, I heave a little looking at this.

 

Old Stark Wilton trellis - floral border

I checked Stark’s website, and I don’t know if they’re even making these patterns now. The rug above, I found on an auction site, but it was sold.

 

What about Oriental rugs, Laurel?

 

Well, that’s a great question and probably needs to be a separate post. However, I think Oriental rugs look great with solids, a floral or two, and a stripe.

 

But again, there’s the issue of color.

 

Stacie Flinner - via StuckonHue - throw pillows - how to mix patterns Nobilis Tiger fabric

photo: Stackie Flinner

 

I adore everything Holly Rich from Stuck on Hue did in her fantastic living room. If you don’t know, Holly makes these incredibly gorgeous pillows. You can see many more of her pillows in this post, which links to her website.

 

how to mix patterns-kitty-tuttle-interiors-classic-english-blue-and-white-living-room-with-an-oriental-rug-randall-mill

Kitty Tuttle Interiors photo – Randall Mill

 

I love what Kitty did in this traditional parlor that is definitely in the classic English style but still feels fresh and not at all fuddyduddy.

Let’s, please, look at more lovely takes on trad designs.

 

I think one of the best designers who truly understands how to use color and pattern, as mentioned earlier, is Mark D. Sikes.

 

how to mix patterns - 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 an excellent example of how to mix patterns.

 

  • Solid blue linen from Rogers and Goffigon was 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 was used on the chairs and repeated on one pillow.
  • 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.

 

Suzanne Rheinstein blue ikat by Lee Jofa

 

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 how to mix 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 chair is an excellent 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 these elements are not frequently seen in rooms by novice designers. And, I believe it takes a particularly refined eye to pull it off as beautifully as Mark does. I’m bringing it up because all of the furnishings that go into making a beautifully designed room are interrelated.

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

The truth is, there is no one formula that explains how to mix patterns.

However, there is a trick to putting it all together so that it’s harmonious.

 

Mark D Sikes pin board color stories - how to mix patterns

 

And, that trick is putting it all together as Mark has done so beautifully on a board or somewhere, where all of the elements can be seen together.

 

This works whether it’s for a living room or a kitchen that has numerous fixed elements.

It’s vital for a kitchen, however, that the elements be looked at how they’re going to live and in as close as possible actual lighting situation.

Sometimes when viewing materials on a board, it’s helpful to put only a tiny sample up of something that’s a small accent in the room.

 

the secret designers use for mixing patterns in a room

Please pin to Pinterest for Reference

While there isn’t one precise formula, a good starting place for how to mix fabric patterns is:

 

  • A solid fabric or more than one solid.
  • large scale floral
  • jacquard and/or smaller geometric or ikat
  • or maybe a damask
  • stripe(s) and/or a plaid or check

 

You can put it all together, and if it looks good to your eye, then it’s a go. If you’re not sure, leave it out. That goes for everything when furnishing rooms. Usually, if I left something out for a client, it stayed out. And, we realized our instincts had been correct when the room was finished.

xo,

 

***PS: please check out the newly updated Hot Sales

***And, definitely head over to the ground zero page for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. It’s one of the year’s best sales and ends on July 31. However, the best stuff sells out quickly.

 

18 Responses

  1. As an artist and Plein aire painter I was taught that all greens in nature go together. Perhaps that is why a discordant looking green in a room actually works?

  2. No fair, Laurel Bern and Mark D. Sikes. You two and your talent and skill and now you’ve made me like two things I was very happy disliking and ruling out: pastels and Ikat.

  3. My late mother was an interior designer, and I sadly did not inherit her eye for making everything work! However, she wrote out rules on how she liked to mix patterns for me when I bought our first home – and they seem strangely similar to what you have written, Laurel!:

    Pick –
    1 bold/busy pattern you love with lots of colors (a floral, chinoiserie, pictoral, etc.)

    1 or 2 solid colors from the busy pattern, often with a texture for interest (velvets, linens, textured performance, etc.)

    1 graphic/modern with a color from the busy pattern (stripe, plaid, geometric, Ikat, etc.)

    1 animal print (most are neutral colors, so go leopard/tiger for warmth and zebra/snow leopard for cool.)

    Thanks for posting this as it brought back happy memories for me!

  4. I popped over to read what you had to say about pattern mixing, and was surprised and delighted to see my living room featured. Thanks for the compliments! Actually, it’s now my former living room, as we moved in January. I’ve been busily making plans for our new home, and can hardly wait for them to all come together. I’ve been moving ahead at full steam, because I need to schedule a pillow photo shoot, but since almost every room in my house is involved, I have to give myself some grace on getting everything selected and installed. Here’s hoping for early spring 2023!

    As an aside, I’m so thrilled to see that Ben Pentreath room, because Pierre Frey’s Palmyre, from the Le Manach collection, is my lead fabric for my new living room, which is the same floral fabric as the pillow in the Ben room. It has a tea-stained ground, which can lean dark, but Ben used it in such a happy room, which is what I want to create in my own room too. And Palmyre pillows will be coming to my pillow shop as well!

    1. Hi Hollie,

      Well, you put me to shame. I will be lucky if my renovation BEGINS in the spring of 2023! I can’t wait to see what you do. I’m sure it’ll be gorgeous!

  5. What a lovely and informative post! I want to second what you said about using some kind of “mood board” when pulling together a room. It helps immensely. I really love that Holly Rich living room! And I also second GL’s comment about James T Farmer. I adore his work!

  6. I’ve always loved your tapestry fabric cushion on that armchair, Laurel, and the colour of the chair and the colours in the tapestry work wonderfully well together. I love verdure tapestry and am happy I found a remnant of Gobelin velvet for a very good price to make my own cushions.
    I think mixing patterns is a matter of which one(s) you want to be the star(s), and which are the supporting cast. The room with the four chinoiserie panels (the stars) has just enough variation in the plains and small geometric to keep the room interesting but not to overwhelm the panels.
    I was a bit surprised to find no pics from James T. Farmer, who I think is a master at these mixes. The sitting room in the house he did in St Louis contains a marvellous mix of colours and patterns, varied but cohesive.
    In your post, the one I really admire is the Kitty Tuttle room with an oriental carpet (a difficult thing to handle, I think) which otherwise limits itself to very similar shades and intensities of blue, plain and patterned, with just that touch of pink in the upholstery of the Louis XV chairs which takes the eye down to the blues and reds of the carpet. And then that yellow + pattern cushion to bring the whole thing “down” a bit. But isn’t it French rather than English?
    I also love Swedish Gustavian rooms which have medium-sized checks used for slipcovers to bring down the rest of the room.
    And I really enjoyed looking at your post on greens from 2016 to which you linked — beautiful colours!

  7. As someone who was born into the world of fabrics, I can’t imagine not groking them. My own taste trends towards solids because I only want the most beautiful patterns which are few and far between and tend to be very expensive.

    My living room has two color blocked pillows in lavender and purple, a purple ikat and soon to be a highly textured ‘sweater’ pillow on a white sofa. My occasional chairs are covered in the most subtle zebra pattern in palest green on cream background. The dining room chairs are going to be covered in a blue/purple ikat. That is plenty of pattern for me.

    I often see patterns I really like in magazines, but when I look for them, I can rarely find those special ones. Of course, if I went to a designer, maybe they could be found. The ikat I have directly from Turkey, which will be used for dining room chair cushions, was the closest I could get to a designer one selling at $500 a pillow. I got my yardage from Etsy by asking for a particular colorway. It is silk and cotton. The whole piece was around $150 for enough for many pillows/cushions.

    By the way, ikat has a somewhat murky history. This is from apartmenttherapy.com

    “The technique seems to have developed independently across many different cultures and continents since at least the Dark Ages, appearing in places like Pre-Columbian Peru and Guatemala,10th century Yemen, Japan,Indonesia,India and Uzbekistan.”

    When the living/dining rooms are finished, I probably will find another pillow which provides a bit of interesting contrast in a special pattern — the odd fellow in the vignette — but I can’t envision what it will be from here. It will just appear, and I will love it and snap it up.

    Absolutely no multicolored flowers a la the Brits for me. Too busy although I can admire them for someone else the way I admire modern decorating in someone else’s home.

  8. Laurel, my two favorite pieces of decorating advice from you:
    1. CHILL! This was regarding patterns in a previous post.
    2. A warm room craves something cool and a cool room craves something warm. I have found that this creates an interest that makes me love my spaces.
    Thank you!

  9. As Rose says, a monumental post! I noticed from your drool worthy photos that proficient pattern mixers often will have an element, whether a single cushion or even an area rug that contains all or most of the colours that may comprise other pieces, thus playing a unifying role or jumping off place to begin the mixing process. The top cushion in your chair vignette seems to achieve this by complementing both the bottom cushion and the backgound patterns. The other examples seem to work so well, perhaps because the colours in most cases come from opposite places on the colour wheel (triadic and dyadic)? Those Persian rugs in the later photos are amazing. Thanks for the inspirational post.

  10. Hi Laurel,
    I have been loving how the English design. So many patterns! Nothing matches & it looks like it was all acquired over time. It looks perfectly undecorated.
    I just love it. It always looks so cozy. And that’s the look I want for my home.
    Something I’ve realized lately is that it can look hodgepodge in the beginning. It isn’t until you’ve added quite a few different patterns that they all start to blend.
    So I’ve been adding bits at a time to my home. As I can afford to. By the time I’m dead & gone it should look perfect.😂

  11. Laurel, Pattern panache is definitely a gift and skill combined. Part art, part science, execution is so satisfying when done well. Thank you for the excellent tutorial and for addressing that the word “obsessed” needs to be obliterated. If I’ve read one, I’ve read a million influencers who are “literally obsessed” with everything from toothpaste to toilet paper that is “totally amazing…” AAAARGH, I want to scream, “acquire some language skills!!!” Thank you for being a safe haven of well-written, original thought.

  12. Great post! Mark D Sikes is my jam! I am having fun redecorating our bedroom so thanks for the timely help!

  13. You did not discuss scale – often a small geometric print will read as a solid, adding an element of surprise upon a closer view. Balance a strong floral/stripe/plaid with weaker patterns of the same kind!

  14. Really? I made it to the FIRST comment slot? Wow. Cool.
    This brought me back to a memory. I helped a client buy a lovely geometric fabric meant for a sofa that we were going to special order.
    A week later she calls me and says “yeah, I don’t love it anymore.” What?! It was deeeelish and I was sad she had loss faith in the vision.
    Things went downhill from there and I never got to play with pattern as I had anticipated. She vetoed everything, one after another. Eventually I fired her. We were obviously not a good fit for each other.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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