Demystify (and Master) the Art of Pattern Mixing

Demystify (and Master) the Art of Pattern Mixing

Rayan Turner
Aug 29, 2016

Pattern mixing is nothing short of an art form that is often elusive and frequently underestimated. Having this skill set is what separates the professionals from the minor leaguers and those of us who merely dabble in design for our own personal benefit and pleasure. To help us conquer our design fears and polish up our pattern mixing prowess, I went directly to the source and asked 6 world-renowned designers for their ultimate tips and tricks, for mixing patterns like a pro!

While true design genius is most frequently associated with those who step outside the box and forge their own path (exhibit A is the explosive living room above by Miles Redd featured on Architectural Digest), it is still safe to assume that for most of us, our own personal design perfection will generally lie somewhere near the intersection of risk and rule—it will be a true compromise between expected and unexpected.

Begin at the beginning, starting with the end

We have been taught throughout most of our young lives to start small and build from there. As it turns out, the art of mastering the mix works best when you go big—first. Andrea Schumacher (who's bedroom design is seen above) tells us to "start with the largest pattern first as this print will have the most impact in the space." From there, we should choose patterns that vary in scale, working from "large to small."

(Image credit: Mr. Jason Grant)

Find common ground

If the basis of any well-constructed space is a solid foundation, it only seems logical that this should apply to all the elements within the design as well. This foundation will set the tone for everything else in your space and will naturally extend to the patterns you choose. Sage advice from Mr. Jason Grant (a living room by the designer is shown above) is that, "there needs to be a common link, something that holds everything together—this could be a color palette, a decor style or a shape."

(Image credit: Studio Four)

Opposites attract

The gals from Studio Four suggest, "some patterns just don't play nice together." When considering pattern type, aside from choosing a variety of print sizes, most of our designers mention they prefer a contrast in pattern style and find a pleasing balance in the differences. (The fabric collection above from Walter G. includes a mix of prints in a coordinating color palette, which is one way to make "opposites" work well together.)

(Image credit: Marks and Frantz)

Lydia and Lisa of Mark and Frantz (known for their stylish set design for the "Sex & the City" movies and "The Devil Wears Prada"; a pretty living room of their creation is shown above) "love mixing a loose organic pattern (like a toile or floral) with a more structured geometric or stripe." Andrea Schumacher adores the contrast, finding that "botanic prints and geometrics harmonize beautifully." After all, "it's [often] the clash that makes patterns work together; they can either be harmonious or [make] a loud statement," according to Mr. Jason Grant.

Don't leave baby in the corner

Texture can speak volumes without ever uttering a single word. If pattern is the star of the show, then "texture is its quieter cousin," Mr. Jason Grant suggests—it's definitely more subtle, "but it can add depth and make a room visually interesting." Even your patterns have texture and this is just as important in the process of mixing prints as the prints themselves. Michelle Nussbaumer of Ceylon et Cie loves explore the contrast of polished cotton mixed with a wool or cashmere blend (the above glam bedroom is a study in this balance.) Just as with pattern it is often the contrast of textures that creates a luxurious, well-layered space.

(Image credit: Kelly Wearstler)

Keep it together

Every designer interviewed stated the importance of having a common thread that binds your patterns together, and they were unanimous in their belief that color is a great choice for this common bond. While none suggest staying away from multiple colors, it was very apparent they all felt the introduction of multiple colors complicates the process of choosing patterns. This is definitely something to consider if you are new to the world of pattern mixing.

Michelle Nussbaumer (a living room by the designer shown above) warns that "when you mix multiple colors, all bets are off," and the process of choosing a mix of patterns that work together becomes altogether more difficult to do and do well. This leads me to believe that using different shades of the same hue or analogous colors—those that are neighbors on the color wheel—might be a great way to create drama and interest with far less risk of overdoing it.

(Image credit: Kelly Wearstler)

Less can be best but sometimes more is more

A maximalist is a minimalist's distant relative—they are related by blood, but unique in their general makeup. Both are equally dramatic but neither should give us license to throw the entire rule book out the window. In design and pattern play, sometimes more is definitely more, but proceed with caution and refer back to tips one through five if things get dicey. As Kelly Wearstler tells us, when done well, all of the various patterns and "graphic forms [should] come together to tell one beautiful story."

If you live life in the fast lane and your mantra is go big or go home, Studio Four suggests you "make sure to consider the overall style you are going for in the finished look" – because in the end the perfect mix of patterns "should read more as layers within your space than as individual ingredients". Everything should blend together seamlessly and balance each other out even when bold and dramatic are your goals.

Matchy-matchy is the new black

Once you have picked your patterns, you will in all likelihood need to place them at some point. So where, pray tell, should that be? Well the vote is in and these designers say that pattern can be used anywhere and nothing is off limits. Rules need not apply here… but, if guidance is what you seek, Michelle Nussbaumer suggests you match scale with scale, "If you have a really large pattern, it's great on [a large scale piece like] draperies or a sofa. You want to be able to see the entire pattern." Andrea Schumacher wisely tells us to consider that "if it's a bold print that you could get tired of, put it on something that you can foresee changing out." Problem solved.

All in all, there are rules and then there are rules… Pattern mixing has a well-rounded set of ideals and a methodology that exists to help us keep the crazy in check. Ultimately, rules are made to be broken but it is certainly helpful if you understand the rules before you adventure to break them. In the words of Kelly Wearstler, "Love color. Take risks. Stay curious."

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