Knowing how to mix patterns can be difficult for beginner designers. We use patterns in our everyday lives, but more often than not we are afraid to use more than one.
However, interior designers must know how to effectively mix patterns. This is because pattern mixing can be very foundational to achieving particular design styles. Styles such as country style and farmhouse often incorporate various patterns such as florals, gingham, and stripes. By knowing how to mix patterns, you can properly design spaces with these kinds of interior styles.
Outside of particular design styles though, you can use patterns to incorporate a layer of dynamism into an otherwise simplistic design.
Pattern Categorization: Motifs
We categorize patterns on their motifs. A motif is a design unit that is repeated to create a pattern. There are four types of motifs in textiles that you will encounter.
A geometric motif utilizes geometric shapes. This can include squares and triangles, but also ovals, stars, and hearts.
Natural motifs take inspiration from nature to create patterns. Florals fall into this category, as do animal prints, insect prints, and other depictions of nature.
To stylize something means to add one’s interpretation to something else. Therefore, stylized motifs can incorporate geometric or natural motifs, but these motifs may have their own unique design spin to them.
Paisley print for example is a stylized motif. The shape of the paisley represents a pinecone, but this may not be inherently obvious to someone who isn’t familiar with the history of paisley prints.
An abstract motif does not attempt to depict reality. Often, if a motif doesn’t fit into one of the other three categories, then it is likely an abstract motif.
Repetition in Textile Patterns
How a pattern is repeated will affect its overall appearance. There are four common types of pattern repetitions.
A square repeat is when a motif is repeated in such a way as to create a grid-like form. A checkerboard pattern is the simplest of squared repetitions.
A brick repeat is when a horizontally oriented motif is offset by half in the repeat directly below it. In other words, brick repeats look very similar to brick layouts.
A half-dropped pattern is one where the motif is vertical in orientation and the succeeding repetition is offset halfway down. It is very much like a brick pattern, only the drop is vertical.
A random repeat is when a motif has no structure in the way it is repeated. The motif may therefore not be evenly spaced and may not always appear upright.
How to Mix Patterns
Use Scale to Mix Patterns
Scale refers to the size of a motif that is repeated on a pattern. Patterns on textiles can either be large-scale, medium-scale, or small-scale.
Scale is important to pattern mixing because when done right, it will add a layer of complexity and visual interest to a space. However, when done unsuccessfully, patterns can clash and feel disjointed, thus affecting how we experience a space.
When you are evaluating the scale of a pattern, think about the pattern from three perspectives:
- The scale of the pattern relative to other patterns.
- The scale of the pattern relative to furniture or accessories.
- The scale of the pattern relative to the size of the room.
If you are considering using a patterned fabric to reupholster a couch or a bench, then the scale of the pattern remains relevant. A large piece of furniture like a couch can support a large-scale pattern because couches have large surface areas. Large-scaled patterns will not work well with small pieces of furniture such as a footstool. This is because footstools have a small surface area to cover. Therefore, much of the details from your large-scale pattern would not make it onto the footstool.
When mixing patterns, it is important to consider the scale of each pattern and how it will look relative to other patterns. The easiest way to mix patterns is by utilizing patterns that are different in scale. For example, the best way to mix three patterns is to have one of each scale.
This combination often works because large-scale patterns will carry the most emphasis while the other two will complement it. Therefore, your eyes will be drawn to one pattern and not three.
Proportion and Pattern Selection
Proportions deal with how various parts relate to one another. Proportion is less about literal dimensions and more about how the size of an object – or pattern – appears relative to the size of the space.
We can understand proportions in the context of a dining table in a dining room. A standard 6-person dining table is about 6’x3’. A table this size would appear too large in a space that measures 9’x6’. And this is not because the table is inherently large – it’s standard size and it fits in the room. Rather it is the ratio of the table to the overall space that is off.
With that in mind, large rooms will require large-scale patterns to be noticeable from afar. Conversely, a small room will better accommodate small to medium-scale patterns. In doing so, the patterns will not overwhelm the space because they are proportional to the size of the room.
A little tidbit to keep in mind is that details in small-scale patterns are often only noticeable up close. From afar, your small-scale pattern may appear as a solid color. However, this does not mean that you should avoid small-scale patterns. When used correctly, small-scale patterns can incorporate patterns into your design without having to consider color and scale.
Color in Pattern Mixing
Another way to mix patterns is by considering the colors you use.
You can start by selecting a color scheme. If you’ve already developed a color scheme for a space, then you can use it to narrow your pattern choices. One way to do this is by selecting patterns that share colors with your established color scheme. This means that if your color scheme is founded on blue, peach, and beige, then select patterns that have one or some of these colors. This will create harmony in your space because the patterns will share colors with other elements of your design.
Conversely, you can also select colors that are not present in your initial color scheme. To do this, establish where you’d like to use your patterns. Do you intend to use it as drapes? To cover a pair of chairs? As wallpaper? Once you have an idea of its placement, then you can consider how it will interact with other colors and textures around it.
The best way to select colors is by using the color wheel. By employing color theory, you can select patterns whose colors complement or juxtapose other patterns of your design.
There are a handful of color combinations that we often reference in color theory. The best color combinations to use in pattern mixing are monochromatic, analogous, and complementary color schemes.
Monochromatic Color Combinations:
Monochromatic colors are those that use variations of the same color. By choosing colors that are the same hue, you will create a sense of cohesion. Even if your patterns have vastly different motifs, monochromatic colors will make the patterns appear related.
Analogous Color Combinations:
Analogous colors are those that are located next to one another on the color wheel. This combination can have more variation in hues, but these hues are often either warm-toned or cool-toned. Same color tones thus help establish similarity between two or more patterns.
Complementary Color Combinations:
Complementary colors are those that are located directly across from one another on the color wheel. These colors will always include one cool-toned and one warm-toned color. You can use complementary color schemes when you want contrast between your patterns.
Texture in Pattern Mixing
The texture of a textile refers to how a fabric feels and appears. Some adjectives we use to describe texture include soft, hard, shiny, matte, smooth, or rough.
Texture is an element to consider when designing a room because it affects how we experience a space. A lounge designed with many hard materials like marble, stone, and wood will feel and look less comfortable than a lounge designed with primarily soft or smooth textures (wool, velvet, silk). Therefore, when deciding which textures are best for your design, consider the function of the room. This will help you determine which textures are most appropriate.
When it comes to pattern mixing, the best approach to utilizing texture is to have variety. This means that you should have some soft textures mixed with rough ones. Not all of your textiles should be shiny, but having some is good. For instance, consider pairing chenille with silk. Chenille fabrics have some weight, and structure and they have surface texture. Silk on the other hand is lightweight, very fluid, and has a smooth surface.
Because chenille and silk are different materials, we experience them differently. As a result, you can select one type of pattern – like stripes – and this same pattern will feel and look different on chenille versus silk.
Direction in Pattern Mixing
Believe it or not, the direction of your patterns can determine whether they will harmonize or feel off from one another. Geometric patterns in particular tend to have a linear direction. For example, striped fabric can be vertical or horizontal, and polka dot patterns can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal.
Too many linear directions will not feel as dynamic as a mix of directions. However, in smaller rooms, having too many directions in your patterns will make the room feel confusing.
Use Similar – But Distinct – Patterns and Colors
Gingham and buffalo checks can pair nicely if you vary their scale and select monochromatic or analogous color schemes. The key here is scale. Scale will prevent the patterns from looking the same from afar, and will therefore eliminate any competition for attention.
Mix Patterns with Different Motifs
Patterns with vastly different motifs can often work together. Geometric patterns like gingham can complement a natural pattern. The straight lines and structure of gingham will counterbalance the often free-flowing, curved lines in natural patterns. Simply be aware of color and scale when pattern mixing.
Balance Complex Patterns with Simple Patterns
Complex patterns can be very detailed but they can be balanced with simpler patterns. Because complex patterns generally carry more emphasis than their counterparts, our eyes will be naturally drawn to them. A simple pattern then will balance the busyness of the other.
Be Aware of Patterns Outside of Textiles
Although this article focuses on textile patterns, you have to keep in mind that patterns can exist elsewhere. In interiors, patterns often exist in tiling, flooring, and brick. As discussed, you want variety in your patterns. If your flooring pattern is geometric, counterbalance it with a pattern that has a natural motif.
Use Solid Colored Patterns When You’re Struggling
Remember that not all patterns are multicolored. Some are monochromatic, and others are single-colored.
Techniques like burnout, goffering, and embossing can add textural patterns to an otherwise simple textile. By selecting fabrics that utilize these techniques, you can add visual interest to your design without having to wrestle with busy color schemes.
Some key takeaways about pattern mixing:
- Patterns fall into one of four categories: geometric, natural, stylized, and abstract.
- The compositional elements of patterns include scale, proportion, color, texture, and direction.
- To mix patterns that don’t clash in color, use monochromatic or analogous colors.
- To mix patterns that don’t clash in scale, use different scales to establish emphasis.
- Texture affects how we see and feel a pattern. A floral pattern on cotton will look and feel vastly different from a floral pattern on velvet.
- Too many directions in your patterns will make a small room feel confusing. A larger room can better accommodate many directions.
By keeping all of these points in mind, you can put together interior designs that incorporate various patterns that harmonize with one another.