Mixing patterns can be an incredibly daunting proposition if you’ve never done it before. We’ve all seen the hideous fashion faux pas that happen when the wrong stripe rubs up against an equally wrong plaid. As a result, many people shy away from mixing patterns or believe mixing patterns is a no-no altogether.
In fact, mixing – or layering – patterns is a sophisticated interior design technique and will do much to liven up your living spaces. If you’re ready to take that plunge, you’re probably wondering, “how much is too much?” There is no concrete answer to that; if you used three different patterns and they look terrible, it’s too much. If you use 15 different patterns and they look incredible, it’s just right.
Therefore, I’m not going to tell you whether or not there is a specific limit to how many patterns one room can handle. What I will let you in on, however, are a few tips and tricks on how to layer patterns for living spaces that come alive and look amazing.
Tips and Tricks for Mixing Patterns
Stick with odd numbers. You’ll see this “rule” often in the world of interior design. Of course, it doesn’t mean two or four different patterns will look terrible. It’s simply a fact that there is something harmonious about sets of three. So, when it comes to layering patterns, try to choose 3 or 5 that will look good together. My advice is to start with three. If you nail that, enjoy it for a while before throwing another pattern into the mix.
Use similar color families. Often, it’s the colors – not the patterns – that do the bulk of the clashing. One of the easiest ways to get your feet wet with pattern layering is to start with simple color patterns, like black and white or a particular shade of blue and white, etc. This will help you see the relationship between prints and patterns more clearly. Once you get that down, it will be easier for you to “sense” if multi-colored patterns complement one another or not. For example, in the eclectic dining area of this English Tudor, I mixed a white and black geometric pattern on the window drapes with the black and white zebra print area rug. Both are considered “bold” or “busy” patterns and yet the consistent color themes allow them to blend peacefully with the rest of the room’s decor.
Understand the difference in fabric textures. Other times, the mix of fabrics is the problem, not the patterns. When mixing patterns, try to keep within similar fabric families so your formal damask doesn’t clash with a casual gingham. Certain materials, such as linen, have a foot in each world and can work to transition different fabric families into a more functional set.
Start with the star of the show. Don’t decide to mix patterns for patterns’ sake. Instead, begin with a pattern you really love. Is it a piece of art? A handmade quilt on your bed? A gorgeous Persian area rug? Find the star of the show and make that your feature, then choose a few patterned furnishings or accents that will pay homage accordingly. In this contemporary living room in San Francisco, the shining star was definitely the area rug. Thus, we let her shine and chose boldly patterned throw pillows in complementary colors. The wall hanging and table ornaments have more subtle patterns in colors pulled from the rug as well.