Mix Patterns Like a Pro

Top designers share 8 simple tips on how to mix and match patterns like a pro.
By: Anne Krueger

Choose Three or More Patterns

Odd numbers, especially the number three, just seem to make things work, whether you're combining colors or planting shrubs. Three is the minimum number of patterns you should use, and the key to successful mixing is to vary the scale, from small to large, of the patterns.

Pattern 1: Pick this pattern carefully because it will make the strongest statement in your room, says designer Shari Hiller from Room by Room. It should be a large-scale pattern.

Pattern 2: Select a very different pattern that's half the scale or size of the first pattern. If your first pattern is a large floral, the second pattern could be a plaid or geometric shape that has some of the same colors.

Pattern 3: The third pattern can be similar to either of the other patterns and use two or three of the colors in the other patterns. A smaller floral would work well, for instance, with a larger floral and a plaid.

Pattern 4 and more: Shari suggests that a fourth pattern, such as a tiny check or a printed texture in a small scale, could be used as a complementary pattern. Bedroom design by Erinn Valencich
From: Erinn Valencich

Find Inspiration

This can be a color you really like, a piece of fabric you've found, a favorite chair, painting or even a piece of clothing. Mother Nature, who rarely goes wrong with her color and pattern combos, is another good source of inspiration.

Work With the Same Color Intensity

Don't mix pastels with primary colors, or muted with vibrant jewel tones, says designer Jayne Pelosi of Renaissance. A large floral, a smaller floral, a stripe and a check will work together if they are made from the same set of dyes in the same hue. Bedroom design by Sarah Richardson

Consider Fabric Feel

Be aware that there's more to a fabric than simply its color, Jayne says. "All fabrics have a personality or a feel, as we say in the trade. Most people would identify damask, for example, as a formal fabric, even if they didn't know its rightful name! Conversely, most people would agree that muslin or gingham plaid are examples of casual, informal fabrics. These levels of formality absolutely come into play when you're mixing patterns." Bedroom design by Shelly Riehl David

Watch Your Weight

Avoid putting all patterned pieces together on one side of a room. They'll throw the whole space off balance, says designer Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, author of Mystery of Color. "Distributing solids and patterns smoothly throughout the room will provide an aesthetically pleasant look," she says. Consider, too, that other elements of the room, from fireplace surrounds to paneling, contain patterns that should be considered part of the grand scheme. Bedroom design by Natalie Umbert

Be Careful With Whites

When you choose whites, keep them in the same family, whether it's cream, off-white or bright white, Shari says. "If your whites don't match, the fabric will stand out and take away from the lovely combination already developed," she says. Bedroom design by SPI Design

Think Function

Pattern can have a big impact on how a room feels. If you're trying to pull a space together and create harmony, think larger patterns. Want to draw attention to one part of a room? Smaller patterns will do the trick. Also consider pattern personality. Busy patterns will up the energy level in a room while simple or pale patterns will promote calm. Bedroom design by Erinn Valencich

Cheat With Companion Fabrics

Many fabric companies have made the pattern-mixing process easier for you by creating what they call companion fabrics, Jayne says. "They've created two, three and four patterns all designed to exist harmoniously in one room. All you have to do is choose a color palette you like, and the patterns are already coordinated for you." This may give you the confidence you need to mix up more on your own. Bedroom design by Phyllis Harbinger

How the Pros Mix it Up

"Don't let the fear of mixing three different patterns leave you perplexed. Just remember: large scale with many colors, medium scale with some colors, and small scale with just a few. Don't mix whites with off-whites, and you'll be well on your way!" — designer Shari Hiller, co-host, Room by Room

"Patterns? We love to mix them up! Just a few things to keep in mind. Use related colors to tie the patterns together. Choose obviously different patterns — like a wide stripe and a paisley in the same palette. That way it looks intentional." Kitty and Jennifer O'Neil, authors, Decorating With Funky Shui.

"Mixing fabrics isn't that hard as long as you follow what you like, which sometimes starts with a favorite color. Choose the main fabric — often something out of the ordinary. This isn't necessarily going to be used the most but is the inspiration for the fabric choices to come." — interior designer Alexa Hampton, Mark Hampton Inc.

"Many novices play it safe by having one pattern and all solids in a given room. I urge you to experiment with mixing plaids and florals, or paisleys and stripes. If the thought of multiple patterns in a room gives you the willies, at least offset the solid fabrics with the use of texture. Tone-on-tones, jacquards and moires will offer great interest by virtue of their innate textural appeal, yet they are still considered solid, not patterned." Interior designer Jayne Pelosi, Renaissance Interiors, author of Interior Divine: The Design Coach Walks You Through the Tranformation of Your Home. Bedroom design by Judith Balis

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