This post is the first in a series of three articles covering the topic Using Pattern in Interior Decorating.
Mixing fabric and wallpaper patterns has always been something that is considered a difficult thing to do by most people. Being visually bombarded by, what seems to be endless options of pattern choices, has struck fear into the hearts of many would-be home decorators. This post I hope will demystify the myth, and help you see how easy it really is.
In the world of fabric and wallpaper patterns there are really only six basic design motifs, and variations on the six patterns.
ROUNDS .. The first classic design motif is the Round. The quintessential round is the Rose. The rose’s flower head is round shaped, and its petals have round edges (look at illustration 1). When roses are shown on fabric or wallpaper, they are drawn as single round shaped heads, or in mass as rounded bouquets with arching branches of leaves. Words like round, circular, arching, curved, and oval all come to mind when looking at rounds.
Now look at illustration 2. What makes this a round motif is the round shape of the elephant, especially its backside. Illustration 3 shows a round bowl decorated with three circular patterns making up its design (outer edge, inner ring and circular center medallion). Illustration 4 is a pattern made up of many round flower hears. Number 5 shows horse shoe shaped wreaths of leaves. #6 shows three flowers (a marigold, tulip, and carnation) that all have round, curved-oval heads. #7 is like motif #2. The rounds in this toile de Jouy are the backsides of the horses, and their arching necks. The clouds and the curved lines between each segment of this pattern, that suggest land and water also say round. #8 shows many round waterlily like heads put next to each other to form a pattern. #9 is all about arching shapes created by foliage. Look at the second plant from the left. It has round-oval seed pods.
Now look at illustration #10. It has arching branches and round flowers. #11 is made up of design motifs that have round edges, and curving center patterns. #12 shows a pattern made up of all round edged shingles. In a way, the shingles are like flattened petals of a rose, (illustration #1). Illustration 13 shows round medallions on a rug. #14 is a very similar illustration to illustration #7. It has design motifs that show plants and birds that are drawn in a round edged medallion. #15 shows a fabric pattern made up of round shaped flowers, with arching leaves and foliage. Illustration 16 is all about arching, twisting shapes. #17 is a tapestry showing a man and woman. Round shapes are everywhere on this piece of fabric. Look at their heads, hair and the round curved shape of their limbs and bodies. Also notice the round edges of their clothing, and the draped fabric behind them. The twisting trees and leaves in the woodland setting surrounding them is all curved shapes. The final round in this sample is the Paisley that is next to my name. It has rounded edges and is a heart-shaped tear drop.
STRIPES .. The second classic design motif it the Stripe. Stripes are patterns based on straight lines, that can run vertically or horizontally over a surface. Stripes can be thin and close together, or fat and wide apart.
Now look at the stripes across the top of the illustration. Then look at the illustrations 18 and 19. Thin stripes with large bands of space between them #18 are less busy (optically) not causing much visual movement. Thin stripes that are placed close together, with little distance between the stripes #19 cause much more visual movement.
Not all stripes are exactly straight. Illustration 20 the zebra stripe , #21 the bargello / flame stitch pattern, and #22 are stripes that ripple / curve a bit.
DECORATED STRIPES are stripes with embellishments. Look at illustration #23. Number 23 has the straight lines of a stripe, but notice the paisleys that are running up the center of the stripes. Illustration 24 shows many different elements making up the stripe. You have the gold toned background stripe, the purple strip with the squiggle in it, and the flowers in stylized baskets that linked together, one on top of the other, forming a continuous chain (stripe). Illustration 25 is a stripe made up of vertically stacked dots. #26 is a stripe made of a rope pattern. #27 shows two decorated stripes that are made of vertical bars that have vertical foliage patterns in between them. Finally, illustration 28 shows another example of a stripe. The ribbon / streamer part that goes up the center of the design is the stripe. Its decorations are the bow loops that edge the center ribbon.
DIAMONDS and CHECKERBOARDS .. The third classic design motif is the Diamond. The diamond is a geometric shape, often shown on wallpaper and fabric as a lattice pattern. Illustration 29 shows the classic diamond pattern. The diamond pattern can be outlined like illustration 29, or shown as alternating color blocks like #30.
Diamond patterns are not always composed of straight lines. Illustrations 31, and 32 show what I call embellished diamonds. They are rendered with soft edges.
This part of the post is called Diamonds and Checkerboards. Illustration 33 the diamond, becomes a checkerboard illustration 34 when it is turned on its side.
Not everything in the pattern world is all cut and dried. The visuals across the bottom of this illustration shows other variations of the diamond and checkerboard world.
PLAIDS .. The fourth classic design motif is the Plaid. Plaids are made up of different widths of stripes running vertically, and then crossing horizontally, one on top of the other. When a row of colored horizontal stripes crosses over a row of vertical stripes, a new color is made at the point where the stripes lay one on top of the another. Illustrations 35, 36, and 37 show three different plaids.
A variation on the plaid is a CHECK. Look at illustrations 38 and 39. Checks are made up of equal sized horizontal stripes, crossed by equal sized vertical stripes. Checks are always made up in one color, on a white or cream background. The space between the vertical and horizontal stripes is always equal to the width of the vertical and horizontal stripes.
TONE-on-TONE and SOLIDS .. The fifth classic design group is the tone-on-tone. Tone-on-tone can be the paring of two tones of one color, one lighter and one darker, or two colors that are similar, like gold and apricot, or soft sage green and gold. Tone-on-tones are soft looking, and rarely dramatic.
All the different design motifs, gone over in this post, can be made up as a tone-on-tone. Corduroy is an example of a tone-on-tone stripe. Fabrics with raised pile, or high and low weaving, which suggests a pattern are tone-on-tones. An example of this is a solid colored fabric with a shell or bee motif woven into it.
SOLIDS are self explanatory. They are any fabric, wallpaper, carpet or paint application done in one color with no noticeable embellishment.
Now look at the illustrations. Illustrations 40, 41, and 42 are all examples of tone-on-tone Rounds. Numbers 43, and 44 show tone-on-tone Stripes. Illustrations 45, 46, 47 and 48 all show Diamonds and Checkerboards. Number 49 is a tone-on-tone Plaid. Illustrations 50 and 51 show two examples of Dot and Medallion motifs.
DOT and MEDALLION MOTIFS .. The sixth classic design grouping consists of Dot and Medallion patterns. Dots and medallions are patterns that float like islands on a background that can be a solid, tone-on-tone, or even a faint delicate stripe. Medallion patterns are large and most often intricately rendered, where as Dot patterns are small. An example of a dot pattern is a single rose bud the size of your thump. An example of a medallion could be a bouquet of many roses the size of your hand, with out stretched fingers.
Illustrations 52 through 59 are all dot patterns, because of their small size. Illustrations 60 through 64 are all medallions. Illustration 63, the tufted headboard, I am considering a tone-on-tone medallion. Being large-sized and just one color, but having a large repetitive tufted pattern, I think it fits nicely in this design grouping.
Patterns sometimes have a way of fitting into more than one defined style family. Illustrations 60, 61 and 62 could also be part of the Round pattern family. I have put them in with the dots and medallions, because their design motifs, like an island float on a non decorated background.
So there you have it, the Six Classic Design Motifs used in interior decorating. Believe it or not, all the same design motifs are part of the fashion world, used on both men’s and women’s clothing.
Now go back to the Cover Illustration (first image) for this post. Looking at it, notice that it is made up of three colors. Gold, peach to russet brick-red, and light and medium sage green. All of those colors appear in the different classic design motifs, unifying them. Looking from the top left, we start with the Floral, a Round. This piece of fabric sets the tone for all the other choices of companion fabrics. It is where all the color choices were pulled from. To its right (top right) is a Dot and Medallion motif, below it, on the right side is a Check, and below the check is a fine Stripe. Looking across the bottom (left to right) is a Solid, Plaid, Diamond, and a bold Stripe. Below them is a Paint Color Strip.
Finally, having gone over the Six Classic Design Motifs with you, I want you to now look through better interior decorating magazines like Veranda, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, etc and carefully study how different interior decorators have used the six basic design motifs on their projects.
second article in this series..Interior Decorating..Looking at the different Sizes of Patterns used on Wallpaper and Fabric 3-20-2012,
the third article is Mixing and Matching Fabric and Wallpaper Patterns 4-13-2012,
When Decorating a Beige Room think Tones, Texture and Sculptural Interest 3-16-2011,
Pick (Use) Four colors when Decorating a Room 3-7-2011,
Picking the Right Paint Colors to go with Wood in your Home ..Color Theory 3-9-2013,
Picking the Perfect GRAY PAINT..A Popular Color of the Moment 2-15-2014
ACCENT WALLS.. Some Ideas for Painting or Wallpapering an Accent Wall in your Home 10-29-2013,
Arranging Furniture TWELVE different ways in the Same Room 9-15-2012,
The Right Way to Hang Curtains and Drapes 5-3-2011
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I just found your amazing site and can’t wait for the second installment of this post! I’m currently struggling with a fabric choice at the moment and hope you’ll address the issue of using the same fabric on multiple pieces without looking too matchy-matchy or worse, clashy!. The room has one strong multi-coloured stripe on a dressing table’s tailored skirt and chair seat, that I’m thinking of using on a bench at the foot of the bed. The other furniture is solid and a neutral check with another chair seat in a small sprig that reads fairly solid. Can I do the bench in another stripe (picking up the base colors) or should I use the same one as the dressing table/chair? Wish you lived close, I’d love to visit your garden.
Hi there Teresa I have been really busy with the garden, it’s Spring cleanup time, and I have a lot to do, so I have been a bit slow on doing the next post. The next one is all about sizes of patterns on fabric and wallpaper. I hope to get it up in a few days.
I thought about your bold stripe on the dressing table and chair seat. A pattern can never be just put on one thing in the room. The eye would just go right to it and stay there. You want to move it around, so the eye goes from one spot of it to another. That is Balance. First of all, put a pillow or two in the bold stripe on the bed. That will move the pattern along. A fabric coated waste basket is another way of moving the stripe around. You would also use it as the dust ruffle, or have it on one side of the comforter.
After that think about moving the neutral check around the room. It could be on the flip side of the comforter, and even used on the mats of framed pictures.
The sprig pattern sounds like a tone-on-tone. Move that around, again as a pillow on the bed, drapes in the room, or whatever.
Interior decorating is like the theater. On stage you have One star, one co-star, and a supporting cast. The Bold stripe is the star, the next strongest pattern is the co-star, and the tone-on-tones are the supporting cast. There are never TWO DIVA STARS on stage at once. They would fight.
If you pick another stripe, pick one that is small patterned, and picking up the colors of the bold one. Look at the two stripes on the cover illustration for this post (bottom right). You have the bold one at the bottom, and the softer not as aggressive one above it. They are both made up in the same colors.
Always bring ALL of your fabric samples with you when adding extra fabrics to the mix. Take the fabrics and slowly pass them by what you are thinking of adding, to see if they work. Each fabric, paint color, and carpeting sample is part of the decorating puzzle.
Look in the Archive that is on the right side of this post. Look in March 2011 for..Pick (Use) four colors when interior decorating a room. It was written on 3-7-2011. Then look in February 2011 for Interior Decorating is all about equal balance. It was written on 2-7-2011. I think both of those articles will help you understand interior decorating more. Good luck with your project, and thank you for commenting.
This is great stuff, Fred. Have you ever thought of publishing a book on this?
Hi Grey Fox, glad to see you at my site;-} Getting a book published is harder than you think, especially if you are not a FAMOUS person, and don’t have connections.
Though, if anyone is out there in the book publishing business and reads my blog and likes my style of writing on the subject, type me a line. Let’s talk!
Now that I got the pitch over, I am glad you liked the article. I know your are into clothing, and pattern really plays an important part in that subject. I hope my next two articles on design will be inspiring to you, and my readers. Come back again, You know I will be looking at your site ;-}
I have a turkish rug in my home and i need to get another area rug for the same room. My home is a small condo so the turkish rug won’t fit in another room unless i put it in the bedroom where it will be half way under the bed .
I’m not sure what colour or style of rug to put in the room under the dark brown sofa . Light grey wall with an accented med. green wall. the turkish rug is burgundy, cobalt blue, and beige with some spots of green and orange..
I was thinking a beige shag to add some texture and to match the beige in the other rug which will be placed behind the sofa in the dining / sitting area ( haven’t decided what to put there yet )
I can send you a pic of the turkish rug if you like.