Multiple patterns help create smart, styled living spaces

by Judy Stringer 

People tend to fear printed home décor and patterns in much the same way they fear bold colors, said Julie Pawlowski, owner of Hudson-based MOD: Matter of Design. In an attempt to avoid misusing patterns, many homeowners opt to use them sparing or not at all. That, the designer said, is a mistake.

“Patterns add interest to a living space so it won’t be so boring,” she said. 

Mixing patterns is a must, according to Pawlowski and Rory Stringer, an interior designer with Pine Tree Barn in Wooster (no relation to the writer). Rather than appearing as “too busy,” Stringer said, successfully mixing patterns adds a level of complexity that is often found only in professionally designed homes. 

As for the secret to making different patterns work harmoniously? It’s all about scale and connection, the designers said.

Scale has to do with the size of the patterns. Connection refers to how patterns relate to the overall room design.

Pawlowski advises her clients to identify a color scheme for the space first. Then they should pick three or four patterns of varying scales – ideally one large pattern, which should be their favorite, and then a few smaller ones – which relate to that color scheme. The patterns can share the dominate tones of the room, for example, or they can add complementary colors.

“As long as it’s all in the same basic color scheme,” she said.

Also, pick bigger patterns for bigger items in the room. Wall coverings are making a comeback, Pawlowski said, and are a great place for large-scale patterns like a giant chevron.

“If you do that, then choose a more subtle pattern, like a floral, for an area rug, for instance, and bring in additional but different-sized patterns in pillows or a throw,” she said.

Stringer said another factor to consider when choosing patterns is the size of the room. The bigger the space, the more likely it can visually accommodate a large patterned item like wall covering or a sofa, she said, and larger rooms lend themselves to as many patterns as homeowners would like, “so long as they are different sizes and have something that is connecting them.”

While she agrees that color is the easiest way for most people to ensure patterns work together, Stringer said choosing patterns that have similar textures is effective as well.

Both designers noted that florals are one of the trendiest patterns. Stringer said homeowners with more of a contemporary or transitional style don’t typically gravitate toward florals, but many current patterns offer a “fresh, upbeat look” to more traditional prints, including florals.

“Like a Jacobean pattern, which is like a viny floral,” she explained. “It used to be a little more small scale and subtle and in the jewel tones, but now you will see them with these bold elements and colors like purples and oranges.”

Geometric shapes are another trending pattern, primarily because the straight lines and linear aesthetic fit into today’s contemporary, monochromic room designs. 

Pawlowski said overusing one pattern is probably the most common mistake DIYers make. If you’ve fallen in love with a fig leaf pattern, use it on one of the larger items in the room and then move on to another pattern, she advised. Stringer said buyers also should look out for pattern mismatches when purchasing printed upholstered items. Cheaper manufacturers aren’t as careful at maintaining pattern “flow” across seams, she said.

“But really, the biggest mistake most people make,” Stringer said, “is being afraid to use patterns in the first place, assuming [patterns] are too bold or that they won’t be able to find patterns they like or fit the room’s aesthetic.”