Originally published in STIR®
Patterns can be a refreshing and daring way to bring style and verve to living spaces, adding character, drama, depth and energy.

However, as any designer knows, there's a fine line between a pleasing mix and a look that's over-the-top. And with so many vibrant colors, fabrics and pattern choices out there today, it can be challenging to know how to keep it in perspective. Here are some helpful hints.

  • Get inspired. A favorite fabric type or color can be a great starting point for picking the right patterns for a room. This strategy works well when you're first starting out, because using one color consistently creates a more cohesive look. The other benefit of a monochromatic color scheme is that it makes patterns recede, enabling you to incorporate more texture in your fabric choices.
  • Follow a lead. One strong pattern can take the lead in a room, set a theme and inspire other less-dominant patterns. If your first pattern choice is a large geometric or floral print, pick a color from it and then choose smaller patterns in that same color. When incorporating several patterns, be sure you have both contrast and compatibility to ensure proper balance.
  • Give the nod to neutral. If a dominant pattern doesn't fit the space or your taste, consider using neutrals to provide the backdrop for a combination of patterns. Large surfaces, like walls and floors, can be covered in neutral tones so that brighter, more vocal patterns can stand out in supporting roles. Plus, neutrals let you go in any direction, such as incorporating several textures and finishes to give the room a presence.
  • Spread it around. Keep patterns from looking too cluttered by distributing them throughout the room rather than concentrating them in one spot. Combined patterns need space to express themselves.
  • Mix it up. When decorating with patterns, stay away from an entire room full of large, bold prints or a slew of tiny, busy ones. Incorporate a variety of small and large patterns to achieve a sense of balance and scale.
  • Think outside the box. Don't limit yourself to just florals and toiles. Today's choices include everything from classic shell shapes to sophisticated Greek key designs, from funky geometrics to menswear herringbone and houndstooth, from contemporary circles to island-inspired latticework, from sassy polka dots and stripes to dramatic damasks.

Be bold, be daring and have fun!

For more information:

  • The Home Know-It-All
  • Taunton's Inspired House
  • Patterns in Interior Environments: Perception, Psychology, and Practice by Patricia Rodemann. (Wiley, 1999)
  • Tricia Guild Pattern: Using Pattern to Create Sophisticated, Show-Stopping Interiors by Tricia Guild. (Rizzoli, 2006)