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At Home with Pattern

Oscar Wilde one said, “My wallpaper and I are fighting  a duel to the death.  One or the other of us has to go.”

We are here to make the case that, when done correctly, pattern in a home adds just the right touch of personality, warmth and individuality. On the other hand, when pattern is overdone or not paired just correctly with other prints in a space, it tends to create a visceral reaction of either love or hate. Since it is such a polarizing subject, clients often tell us that incorporating and mixing patterns into their home is full of challenge and frustration. We’re here to give you a few tips that will make it easier to mix things up — and add some interest to the spaces in your home.
When working to implement patterns and prints into the homes of our clients (and ourselves), the first thing we consider is this — what kind of environment are we trying to create in this space? Does the space in question need to be a calming place to unwind, or do we need this space to be energetic and exciting? By first deciding your space’s function, you have narrowed down the types and colors of prints and patterns that will be appropriate in your space. For example, if you are creating a space for entertaining, you may want to incorporate bold prints with lively colors that will create an energetic feeling in the room. If you want a soothing space to relax at the end of the day, you may choose more tonal patterns with natural textures. Once you have decided how you need your space to function, you will have eliminated many options that may have steered you away from the space and the feeling you’re trying to create. That will leave you with a pattern you’ll be happy with long term.  From there, the three main things to consider when using pattern are scale, composition, and color.


Scale is the most important factor of using and mixing patterns in the home. If you have a pattern that is larger in scale that you want to incorporate, you will want to scale down for the other prints in the space. Typically, multiple large-scale prints in a space tend to compete with one another. We recommend pairing a larger, bolder print with something that is smaller scale and more subtle. It is important to give your eyes moments of rest, making your focal point more dramatic, and letting everything else blend into the background. In addition to considering the scale of the print, you also have to consider the scale when deciding how you’d like to use it. A larger-scale fabric may work well as upholstery on a chair, but it loses its effect on a small pillow. In contrast, a small-scale print might be lost or even become dizzying on a larger application, such as draperies, but works perfectly as a sofa pillow.


Once we have determined the functionality of a space, the spaces we design almost always begin with a patterned fabric. Generally, we like to use a mix of organic patterns — like florals, botanicals or animal prints — with more geometrics — like stripes, dots or plaids. This ensures one specific style doesn’t take over, and the contrast between the two prints creates a sense of balance. This contrast plays up the design elements of each print and helps with the longevity of the design of your space. Some patterns tend to be a bit trendy, which is why so many people struggle to commit to them. Incorporating contrasting prints and textures helps to downplay the trendiness that some prints inherently take on. That being said, texture is another great — and often forgotten — way to mix patterns into your home. If you are intimidated by big, bold patterns, ease yourself into it with patterns that are created with texture instead of color. Look for a slubby linen, raffia, seagrass or other woven fabrics to pair with a pattern you love. This could come in the form of a rug, natural woven window shades or upholstery fabric for a major focal point in the room. Mixing it up with composition and texture is a much less intimidating way to mix it up and create a more eclectic, collected look that will age gracefully in your home.


When choosing pattern, this is a fun place to go for the unexpected. For those who aren’t fearful of color, try treating a non-traditional color as a neutral. At the beach, one of our favorites to use is a light blue-green in this application. We use this element throughout the room — as you would a white, tan, taupe or gray — using it as our “base” and layering other colors with it. It works great with both lighter pastels and more vibrant brights. Another route to consider is starting with a multi-colored print as a base and pulling your favorite colors out as accents. One you have the scale and composition correct, color is where you have the most flexibility to play with your own individual style.


Now that we’ve discussed how to mix patterns, let’s dive into the implementation. Accent pillows are a great way to start for anyone who is scared of pattern. They are a relatively low-commitment and can be easily switched out if needed. Begin with a neutral base on your sofa and other upholstered items, so you can go either bright and bold, or subtle and neutral with your accents. You may not know which camp you fall into until trying both. Start small and work slowly to develop layers that work for you and your home.
For those who aren’t afraid to really go for it, consider a longer-term relationship with pattern. Wallpaper has made a huge comeback recently (although we don’t think it ever went away), but its history dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a great way to add depth and interest to any room. We recommend starting small. A powder room is perfect place to play with a bold pattern. It is still a relatively low commitment since that is not a room where you spend a lot of time, and it also keeps the monetary commitment to a minimum. If you have a larger space where you’d love to use a patterned paper but it seems overwhelming, try applying it to the ceiling instead of the walls.
One of the most challenging elements in decorating is properly mixing and integrating pattern into the home. When it is it not done just right, it often sticks out like a sore thumb, much like Mr. Wilde’s wallpaper. However, when pattern is properly mixed and integrated into the home with the correct balance, the payoff is huge.

Written by Anne Scott Shelley

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