by Chris Hillman
Remember when you first started dressing yourself and your mother warned you not to mix polkas and plaids? She may have been on the right track, but nothing is absolute. Mixing patterns is a sophisticated technique that requires an experienced touch. Brush up on the basics of pattern and print mixing and then give it a try in your own home!
Check the scales
The first rule of mixing patterns and prints is to vary the scale of each pattern so they are not of similar sizes. A classic example of this from men’s fashion is the gingham shirt with a broad-striped tie. Patterns of different scale are more pleasing to the eye because they can be easily differentiated, creating a sense of depth. This principle applies perfectly to home decorating, where you can work with even larger scales. If you have a wide striped rug, try pillows with a small, detailed floral pattern. Mix batik curtains with large square patterns that recall the curtain’s job of accentuating the windowpanes. Soften big geometrics with flowing, small-scale patterns from nature.
Narrow your hues
Because mixing patterns is an advanced technique that requires an experienced eye, reign in your colors when you begin decorating. If you stick to three or fewer complementary colors as you try new patterns together, they will look like they were designed for each other. We have all seen magazines that feature luxuriously eccentric room décor that looks fabulous despite having seemingly no rhyme or reason, but rooms like that are meticulously plotted by lavishly paid decorators. Keep your colors simple until you are a master.
Do yourself a solid
Once you have a grasp of pattern and print mixing, you may be tempted to do it everywhere. If the patterned sofa looks great with the print on the pillows, and the zigzag curtains perfectly suit the damask wallpaper, then a patterned rug must surely be the cherry on top, right? Maybe not. Solids keep patterns grounded. If decorating is like painting a canvas, the solids are the all-important negative spaces that serve to frame and contextualize the main subjects: the patterns. To add a unique flair to your collection of prints and solids, apply solids where a pattern is expected, and vice versa. Try patterned walls with a solid rug or solid throw pillows on a patterned chair.
Take your time
Patience is one of the best decorating decisions you can make. Mixing prints and patterns well is an exhibition of your personal taste, but just like taste, it is earned over time. Do not begin pattern mixing with a blank slate room renovation project or you’ll likely overdo it. Start with a pattern you already own and build off of it. It could be a plate, a pillow, or a plant; accentuate it slowly and deliberately. Look for other areas of the room that would benefit from the same pattern, and consider where you could offset it with a complementary pattern in a different scale. Apply all the principles we talked about here, and remember not to get in a hurry.