Varied Patterns

Designer Secrets to Successfully Mixing Patterns

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I am a pattern fanatic! I am unable to have pillows (especially), window treatments, rugs and even walls in my home that don’t have pattern on them. However, being able to combine multiple patterns on one sofa or even in one room can be a challenge. That is why I am here today to give away the professional designer’s secrets of how to successfully mix patterns together:

Change the Scale!

Same scales in the patterns

Many of you probably know what scale means but if you don’t, it basically refers to size. In other words, some patterns are large scale, meaning the pattern is big (big flowers, big stripes, etc.) while some patterns are medium scale and some are small scale (obvious, right?). To complicate things further, the scale of a pattern is relative to what it is physically on meaning a large scale pattern on a pillow is different from a large scale pattern on wallpaper, for example, since walls are physically bigger than pillows and thus the patterns need to be physically bigger on walls to be considered large scale. But, the fundamental takeway from this brief lesson in scale is that to successfully mix patterns, you MUST mix the scales. If you have 3 patterns you like, they must vary in scale – 1 large, 1 medium, and 1 small – in order to work together. Let me illustrate:

Varied pattern scales
Varied scales in the patterns

In the first photo, all of the patterns are basically the same scale, even though one is a floral, one is a stripe and one is a geometric. As you can see, none of them stand out and instead all kind of blend together into a colorful but unappealing mess.

In the second photo, the patterns vary in scale (small dots, medium purple floral, large multi-colored floral) and now you should be able to see that the multi-colored floral pattern becomes much more visually prominent while the other 2 provide backup support, creating a visually pleasing combination.

Color Commonality

Another factor in successfully mixing patterns is making sure there is some color commonality between the patterns. You need to have at least 1 element that is the same color (or shade of color) in all of the patterns you are mixing. Ideally you want more than 1 but 1 is a good starting point. The way to figure out which color is to go with the main accent color(s) you want to add (or have already added) to your space. In my previous post, I added yellow and pink to my living room and so these colors became the two that were the most important colors to have in the patterns I chose. I may have other colors in one pillow that seem unrelated to the rest of the pillows, but the fact that all three have yellow in them, ties them together. Get it?

Sea glass color with cream and tan neutrals
Sea glass color with cream and tan neutrals

In the beginning, try choosing one color and combine it with neutrals like white, black, brown, navy blue and/or metallics. This takes the scare factor out of the color part as all neutrals go together, hence the name “neutral”. Lol! By adding in one color with the neutrals you are keeping them from becoming bland and boring and since you are only looking for one particular color in varying pattern scales, it is much easier to choose patterns that will work together.

When All Else Fails, Add a Solid

Pink, Yellow and Blue PillowsI often add in a solid element with my patterns in order to give the eye a visual resting place. This is usually a solid element in the main accent color and often has a texture, such as a large fabric weave, a soft look like velvet or chenille, or fabric that has been overlapped to create a kind of textural stripe, etc. (see yellow striped pillow in photo to left). This works really well when I have a particular pattern that I love and want to force to the front as the focal pattern. The textured solid color element visually fades behind the main pattern, but by sharing the same accent color still feels like an important part of the greater whole.

The Black Sheep Twist

Once you try the simplified tips for pattern combinations described above, it will be time to venture out into the black sheep world of multiple colored patterns combining well together. This is also one of the keys to mixing styles to create an eclectic look that is unique to you and your personality. Start experimenting by combining patterns like traditional florals with mid-mod geometrics or hand woven blankets from Chile with Scandinavian patterns. By changing the scales of the patterns and keeping a few colors in common between the elements, you will be able to achieve a seamless whole out of seemingly disparate objects and these should be things that are unique to you and your life experiences. I encourage you to start playing!

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