How to Mix Motifs in Your Space
Combine Complementary and Contrasting Patterns for a Room with Maximum Style
Tritia Gustine of Del Mar’s Beach Bungalow Designs got her start in interior design creating rooms for children. It was an obvious outlet to flex her flair for mixing colors and patterns. “Kids’ rooms can be so much more whimsical and free,” Tritia says. When she progressed to more grown-up spaces, she encouraged clients to take a chance with patterns. “It can mean the difference between a room that looks custom and one that looks like you ordered it out of a catalog,” she says.
Local interior designers say there are no hard-and-fast rules about the correct way to mix patterns but offer some guiding principles to help DIYers design spaces that blend disparate motifs with sophistication.
Mixed patterns can feel like a big commitment. Tritia advises starting small: Throw pillows are great for experimenting with patterns without breaking the bank.
“It’s also fun to do draperies and cornice boards in different patterns,” Tritia says.
Michelle Meyers of Joli G Interiors & Designs in Carlsbad says patterns are a satisfying way to modernize a space with the latest on-trend design but cautions the budget-conscious against using the latest print on furnishings that anchor the room. Pottery Barn’s red paisley or Laura Ashley’s China blue might be de rigueur today and outdated tomorrow, she says. “It’s very expensive to reupholster,” Michelle says.
She recently created a playroom with bold black-and-white striped walls, a gray geometric rug and a side chair in damask-print upholstery. The wall pattern is striking, but it’s a quick fix if the homeowners eventually want a change because Michelle painted the walls with a stencil rather than applying pricey wallpaper. Michelle likes to juxtapose hard and soft lines against each other and pull patterns from different eras. “It’s a mistake to make everything matchy-matchy. It just doesn’t look interesting,” she says. It’s important to have a diversity in print scale to mix patterns effectively, the interior designers agree. Gay Butler of Rancho Santa Fe’s Gay Butler Interior Design says she won’t put together patterns that are too similar in relative size.
“The sizes of the patterns need to vary,” Gay says. She suggests putting patterns on a few smaller elements—a pillow, an ottoman or a lamp—and building a design from there. Stronger patterns have a way of making certain furnishings stand out as focal points. “You can use a large pattern on an ottoman and it makes a great small statement, but if you use it on the sectional it makes a dominant statement,” she says.
Tritia suggests identifying an inspiration piece to guide your pattern color palette.
“Start out with one thing you love and build everything around it,” she says. “It could be a rug, a curtain, a pillow, artwork. Then pull the colors from that. As you pull the layers of color out, it will come together. I like to repeat a color four times and bounce it across a room for balance throughout.”
Gay doesn’t shy from color when mixing contrasting patterns. She recently combined chairs upholstered in wavy teal lines with a sofa in gold stripes, multicolored checked benches, an animal print rug and artwork of a leopard. Custom throw pillows on the sofa employ colors from each pattern for a cohesive look.
“I like to use a common color in each one of the patterns to coordinate or have one fabric that ties all the colors together. [Color] is what makes the various patterns and styles work together,” Gay says. “It connects the dots to make it work visually and add interest.”
Michelle advises homeowners pick just one or two colors to guide and unify the pattern scheme of a room. Unsure where to start? She says to pick a furnishing you already love for its color, texture and style, and let it set the tone. Mismatched patterns, metal sheens and wood tones are OK in modern-day design, according to Michelle. “The whole thing will pull together in the end,” she says. “Take risks!”