This post it the third in a series of three articles covering the topic Using Pattern in Interior Decorating.
Mixing and matching patterns, as well as working with color are two important factors that you will probably be addressing when interior decorating a room. The number one thing you must understand about pattern mixing is that It’s All about Descending Order.
When working with pattern, or color in a room, you want to have One Predominant Pattern or Color. That pattern or color is what you see first when entering that space. It will most likely be the main inspiration piece in the room, to which other patterns will be added. It could be a sofa done in a solid salmon pink damask, or a fabric with a creamy-beige background, but it has large salmon pink roses on it the size of cabbages. (Look at the sofa in the cover illustration for this post).
Along with the predominant pattern or color, you want to add One Subordinate Pattern or Color. The subordinate pattern or color is the second most noticed and used in that room. It is not as strong as the predominate, but is made up of some of the colors pulled from the predominant pattern. The subordinate pattern, most times is a different design motif from the predominate. An example of a subordinate pattern is shown in the illustration. It is the pattern on the chairs by the sofa. The stripe is predominately cream-beige and blue-green. The cream-beige comes from the background of the predominate fabric, just mentioned. The blue-green is pulled from the leaves that surround the salmon pink roses.
To the predominate and subordinate patterns or colors, you want to add one or two accent patterns. Accent patterns are the least bold and most neutral patterns. Accent patterns can be used on the sofa, chairs, upholstered bench, pillows, curtains, carpeting, or wallpaper. Any surface that you don’t want done in a fabric, wallpaper or carpeting that is loud. Two examples of accent patterns to go with what has been listed, and are shown in the illustration, are the Dot Pattern of beige on cream used on the wallpaper, and the beige Diamond Pattern used on the rug.
A predominant pattern, which is large of scale and could be bold of color is easy to identify. But a subordinate or even an accent pattern can switch places with each other, according to the colors used. If I introduces another accent pattern into the room just mentioned, with a creamy-beige background and small blue-green dots forming the pattern, that fabric being mostly cream-beige would look soft and not visually strong. If I flipped the colors to a predominately blue-green background with small creamy-beige dots on it, the background color would make the pattern strong, and it might even push the Stripe, that was first considered a subordinate into the accent realm, and take its place as the subordinate.
Sometimes a predominate pattern is pre-picked for you. If you have an oriental carpet, or Chinese screen, both of those elements are large of size and pattern covered. All of your color and fabric choices should go with / be pulled from them.
Architectural Details also have a way of effecting pattern choices. If you have a room with vertical wainscoting paneling in it, the wainscoting, even if painted white is considered a white tone-on-tone stripe. You would not want to add other stripes, or at least stripes the same width as the wainscoting, because they might fight. I would suggest a stripe 3 to 5 inches wide, paired with the 1 1/2 to 2 inch wide wainscot. Better yet, introduce a round, diamond/square, plaids, or dot and medallion pattern.
If you have furniture with lots of heavy carving on it, like roses, leaves, scrolls, etc., those round shapes would look best paired with fabrics that have stripes, diamonds/squares, plaids, or dot and medallion motifs on them.
A room that as many French doors, or is filled with cabinets (all square motifs) would look best paired with fabrics or wallpapers that have rounds on them to counterbalance the straight lines and square shapes in the space.
Pattern Mixing in a way is like the theater. You have One Star (Predominate Pattern), One Co-Star (Subordinate Pattern). and A Supporting Cast (Accent Patterns). There are never two Star Divas on the stage at the same time. They would fight.
In this post I have suggested using one predominate, one subordinate, and one or two accent patterns, when decorating a room. I have seen rooms, where they’ve had the one predominate, and one subordinate, but they might have 4 to 6 accent patterns. This is done in large rooms, and most of the accent patterns are tone-on-tone patterns, and other small patterns used throughout the space. They are all variations of the 3 or 4 core colors that are used in that room.
Before I go over some samples of patterns on fabric, that I’ve put together for you to look at, I ask have you read the first two articles in this series? The first one…Looking at Patterns used in Interior Decorating on Fabric, Drapes, Wallpaper and Carpeting 3-10-2012 goes over the six classic design motifs and variations on the designs. The second…Interior Decorating..Looking at different Sizes of Patterns used on Wallpaper and Fabric 3-20-2012, gets you looking and thinking about the different scales of patterns you will be using when mixing patterns. Now Let’s look at the samples..
The first group, Fabric Samples #1 shows a Predominate Pattern that is the Paisley (round), and a Subordinate Pattern that is the Stripe. The First Accent is the Large Plaid, the Second Accent is the Tone-on-Tone kind of check to the right of the paisley. All of these fabrics are united by the colors: russet red, gold, a sage green, and a taupe (gray beige).
In Fabric Sample #2 the Predominate Pattern is the floral (round) showing the Pansies. The Subordinate Pattern is the Diamond Pattern. The First Accent is the Tone-on-Tone small check to the right of the floral. The Second Accent is the Tone-on-Tone Stripe below the floral. All of these patterns are tied together with the colors: coral pink, gold, pale blue-green and light green.
In Fabric Sample # 3 the Predominate Pattern is the leaf pattern on the light coffee/golden beige background. The Subordinate, even though it is kind of subtle is the large plaid. The First Accent is the small check at the top right. The Second Accent is the tone-on-tone light blue stripe. The Third Accent is the fabric at the bottom right. All of these patterns are tied together by the colors: golden beige, moss-green, different shades of rust, pale blue, and rusty-brown.
In Fabric Sample # 4 the Predominate Pattern is the large kind of tapestry (round). The Subordinate Pattern is the stripe. The First Accent is the dot pattern, bottom left. The Second Accent is the large plaid. All of these patterns are tied together by the colors: deep rusty-red, gold, rust, tan and shades of moss-green.
The Predominate Pattern in Fabric Sample # 5 is the large damask pattern. The Subordinate Pattern is the diamonds. The First Accent is the blue tone-on-tone stripe, the Second Accent is small check, and the Third Accent is the textural fabric below it. All of these fabrics are tied together by the colors: grayed pale blue-green, light golden moss, and light tan.
At the beginning of this post I talked about how, just by changing a color, an accent pattern could become a subordinate pattern. Look at Fabric Sample # 6. It is Fabric Sample # 5, but I added a colorful floral fabric to it. All of a sudden, the predominate pattern of fabric sample #5, became the subordinate pattern. The floral is now stronger. By adding the new floral, more colors can now be added to the mix, as part of the colorways, when looking for companion fabrics. Those colors are coral, gold, green, burgundy and rust.
What makes the new added floral and large damask pattern work together, is that first of all the floral is darker and richer of color than the damask. Secondly, there are large areas of solid color around the flowers and twisting leaves on the floral. The solid areas make that pattern more relaxed, in a way. The damask is a much busier, over all kind of pattern. If both patterns were equally busy, and had the same color intensity, they would probably fight. Remember at the beginning of this post, when I said Pattern mixing was all about descending order.
Now look at the background color around the floral. Notice that it has a decorated diamond pattern. That diamond pattern is less intense than the large diamond pattern seen below the damask. That is why the two diamond patterns don’t fight each other.
When working with different patterns, or colors in a room, you don’t want to isolate them. By isolate, I mean, use them one time on one item. If you do this, the eye goes right toward that colored or patterned object, and stays there. In interior decorating, an ideal is to have each pattern or color that you introduce into the room, used on a few things, so the eye keeps moving along from one object / surface to another.
A sofa upholstered in a floral pattern should have a companion chair in the same fabric on the other side of the room. A striped fabric put on a chair or two, would look great used on pillows on the floral sofa. A dot pattern on an upholstered bench could also be used on a pillow or two, that are put on the striped chairs Solid colored fabrics should also be moved around the room. A solid color can also be used on the walls, as carpeting, a throw on a sofa, vases on the fireplace mantel, knickknacks, and as part of a silk flower arrangement.
When going shopping for fabrics, wallpaper, carpeting, or paint ALWAYS bring along samples of what you already have. Take a pillow from a sofa, arm cover, or cushion from a chair, a piece of wallpaper and paint sample strips with you. They are all part of your interior decorating puzzle. When you are looking for paint, companion fabrics, carpeting or wallpaper, to go with what you already have, pass all of your samples slowly by what you are looking at to see if any of it works, with what you already have. When you find a few things that you like, lay all the different elements together on a table, or other flat surface to see how they all work together.
If you are looking for fabrics to match an oriental carpet, first go to a paint store and pick every paint chip that you think will match the colors in your rug. Secondly lay the paint chips on the carpet, and isolate the best color matches. Take the best paint matches with you when looking for fabric. Put them up against fabrics that interest you so you can see if the fabrics and rug possess the same colors. After finding your fabrics, ask the store if you can take samples home for a day or two, to try them against your rug. Don’t skip the steps of trying patterns next to each other. Even the most seasoned professional interior decorator tries colors and patterns next to each other to see if they really work. What the mind’s eye thinks, and what really works are two different stories.
Finally, start going through better interior decorating magazines. Look at the patterns and colors used in the rooms. Think about which one is the predominate pattern, which is the subordinate pattern, and which are the accents. Look at how patterns and colors are moved / worked around the rooms.
Now that you know what you are looking at, study what the so-called / most famous have done. Take ideas from them, and apply them to your own home.
Companion Posts …
The first post in this series Looking at Patterns used in Interior Decorating on Fabrics, Drapes, Wallpaper and Carpeting 3-10-2012,
The second post in this series Interior Decorating..Looking at the Different SIZES of Patterns used on Wallpaper and Fabrics 3-20-2012,
How to Pick the Perfect GRAY PAINT..A Popular Color Choice of the Moment 2-15-2014,
It’s EASY to Paint Horizontal Stripes on a Wall, step-by-step instructions 11-8-2013,
Pick (Use) four colors when decorating a room 3-7-2011,
Paint a Room a Dark Color, then add Light Accents 4-2-2011,
When Decorating a Beige Room, think Tones, Texture and Sculptural Interest 3-16-2011,
The Right Way to Hang Curtains and Drapes 5-3-2011,
Arranging Furniture, so Sofas Talk to Chairs, Like the Pros do 9-7-2012
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I have a small family room (13′ X 13′) I have an overall floral patterned wallpaper above a chair rail, and coordinating wallpaper in a stripe below the chair rail. The wallpaper has a cream background and a medium size floral pattern (rose and blue flowers) with green/turquoise leaves intertwined with the flowers. There is a goId/tan small bud on the flowers. I also have one large blue leather recliner with wing back style, that needs to stay in the room. I have cream drapes that were custom made for the 2 Colonial style windows on one of the walls. I have a cream colored, flat textured berber carpet. When we first built our home, this room was to be a small “sitting area” but it has turned into the main family room. I have had difficulty making this space comfortable when we have several guests visiting, because of limited seating. I just purchased 2 Ethan Allen wing back (2 cushion) loveseats, and they need to be recovered.
My question is; What color should I recover the love seats and what type of fabric would you suggest? I will be putting the same fabric on both of the love seats, but am having difficulty finding a fabric that will match the dark navy blue leather recliner. I really like damask fabric that has a “quilted” look, but wondering if that would be practical in a family room that will get also of use. I am also having a hard time finding a nice damask fabric because several of the websites I have visited have limited examples. I have several samples from a local upholstery shop and have gotten some good ideas, but wondering if there is a website that allows the viewer to see a wide variety of damask and cotton/polyester fabrics. I keep hitting “dead ends” as I search the web.
I am avoiding a stripe due to the stripe on the wallpaper, and am also avoiding plaid, since that is what we had on a previous sofa. I have done some research and have found that a cotton/polyester blend would be best for wear and not fade as quickly…is that correct information?
I am guessing that my dominant color is blue, and the loveseats will need to coordinate with the blue in the leather chair. But, as mentioned previously, I am having a difficult time deciding on the fabric for the loveseats.
Thank you for any help you can provide.
Hi there Pam, After reading your note, I want you to look at my post titled Looking at patterns used in interior decorating (click) on the colored letters I just posted and it will bring you to the article). Look at Diamonds and checkerboards, tone on tone and solids and dot and medallion motifs. I, not really seeing the room think you should pick a fabric with a gold background, that has a blue color in it that matches the recliner. A plain (not too busy) diamond pattern with a gold background, and just a bit of the dark blue to form the diamond shapes and the center motif would be fine, or a dot and medallion print that has a lot of space between the motifs, and a small dot pattern as the decoration. I think the gold background of the fabric would give light to the room, that has a lot of pattern already going on, and the small pattern would give visual interest.
Natural fabrics like cotton, with a bit of man made fabric (blends) wear better than solids. When buying fabric look/ask if the fabric you are choosing is recommended for heavy wear.
Also, to move the heaviness of the blue chair around the room, buy a throw, some pillows, etc in that blue to move the color around the space. If you can, buy a small area reg 4×6 feet with the gold, blue and maybe some of the rose in it and lay it on top of the area rug. That might give extra visual interest if needed.
If you can, bring home samples of fabrics from stores to see how, what you are thinking about purchasing works with what you already have. Or bring paint, carpet, wallpaper and fabric samples from home with you to see if what you are thinking of purchasing goes with what you already have. Remember all the different things you have are parts of a decorating puzzle, and you want them to easily fit together. Pam good luck with your project;-}
Dear Fred. I ADORE!!!! your fantastic design filled ‘how to’ blog. I have learnt so much about finishing off a room through your illustrations and your easy to understand descriptions. Thank you kindly for sharing your design knowledge. Please start a Utube channel so I can watch you chat about all things design related. I’ll be your first subscriber 🙂
Hi there Kim, You are soo kind with your You Tube comment. I don’t know if that will ever happen, as I really don’t have the time or a staff to help me do such a project. My life for some reason, at this time, has become filled with projects that takes me away from even writing a lot of frequent posts for this blog. I have a million topics still to cover, and I’m going to cover them, to the best of my ability as time allows. Would you believe, I bought a new camera to take photos for the blog four months ago, and have not yet had time to get it going. That is how busy I am.
…if you need any help Fred I’m happy to volunteer my time (I’m serious!)…I’m renovating my Queenslander (Toowong, Australia) and your interior/exterior design tips have been soooooo helpful…Thank you Fred!!!!
Found your site by doing a decoration search and do I need help! I’m redoing my kitchen on my own (no decorator, no contractor, etc.). I’ve hired or am hiring all the workers myself. I’ve already done this with 2 bathrooms and am thrilled with the results.
I have a 10×12 (wall to wall) country kitchen (dining room immediately outside the large entry of the kitchen). The area is “elegantly casual”. I’m installing lower cabs in a mushroom green and uppers in a cream. They will be glazed and distressed with some wormholes. I’ve chosen simple “window sash” style hardware in antique copper with matching faucet and cream farmhouse sink. The room has a cathedral ceiling with a “French country” style antique copper chandelier and the 2 windows have checked valances in dark muted tones of copper, deep red, deep sage with a simple hanging trim. I’ve chosen a green/copper/cream granite counter with lots of movement and a simple cream subway tile backsplash. The room has light hardwood floors. I’d gladly send you pics if you would like. Now, here’s my question: above the new cabs and on the higher walls with the high ceilings should I do wallpaper or paint? Either way, do I go lighter or darker? I’m fond of French style papers like toile and French style medallions but think it may look too “fancy” with the distressed cabs. Any advice you could offer is welcome. Thank you for your time.
Hi there Marilyn, I read your comment twice, and like the way your are going with your color choices, and the repeating of the colors throughout your room. I wonder is there is a toile out there that is either sage on cream, or a golden beige on cream that could work with your room. If the color story of the toile is not too high contrast, I think it would really be nice looking. Now let’s think about the dining room. I think you have to have the same color story in the dining area as the kitchen, as they open one into the other, and are really the same room. If you did the toile in the kitchen, could you also do one wall in the dining room, and paint the other walls the background color of the toile. As I always say here at FGGH when going shopping for companion pieces to go with what you already have, you must bring along what you have and put it up next to what you are thinking of adding to see if they really look good together. I want you to also read my post about Picking four colors when interior decorating a room, that post will also get you thinking.
I’ve had people who are computer savvy and they could post a click on that would show a photo of what they wanted me and the rest of my readership to see. Can you do that, as I really don’t want people constantly filling my personnel inbox with photos of their interior decorating problems.
Hi Fred, thank you so much for your reply. So u forced me into Photobucket 🙈! Ok here’s a link:
The first pics are the current kitchen. Please don’t mind the rug in there; that was a test gone wrong and it was returned. The green granite is the start of the new items. The faucet is a photo of an incorrect finish. The correct finish is distressed antique copper. The sink (no pic) is a biscuit Blanco farm sink which will have a copper drain (p.s. Any ideas about where to get anything other than a stainless sink grid? Seems not to exist.). There are 2 wallpapers, I like both but could also just do paint. I’m afraid the cream paper may be too dressy. (The green cab with the wallpaper was a sample without glazing, but the color is Sherwin Williams Meadow Trail). I intend to keep the current valances. The photo names are actually a link to the paper sites. Re the subway tiles: one is crackled (not live); not sure which one I’ll go with. Re hardware: finish is correct and using the knob with backplate and handles (love the bin pulls but too small for our hands). Soft close so unfortunately no exterior hinges or latches 😔. You can see a little of the DR; kitchen has big sister chandelier. Another situation is what to do with window trim colors, and the trim around the rooms entry when all my house trim is white. Is that a problem? After this, I have a very ugly fireplace I could use your assistance with. Thank you again so much for your reply. Looking forward to hearing from you again.
Hi there Marilyn, first of all, how about having the upper cabinets in a taller size than shown, so they have more storage with an extra top shelf, and with more height the upper cabinets will provide more vertical tension in the room, making it look higher. Vertical tension brings/directs the eye upward. As you have them now, the top of the room seems to be at the top edge of the upper cabinets, as the color of the wood is the strongest thing in that part of the room/space. Find out what is the next size up for upper cabinets, and cut cardboard and tape it to your cabinets, and then you will be able to see how something taller looks. At that moment you will know if you want to have the height of what you have now, or go taller.
I like the medallion paper with the crown for the kitchen. Being that it has a larger design, but also has a good amount of space around the design, there is a kind of relaxed feeling about the paper. Can you get the landscape toile in the came color story as the medallion and crown paper, and then do the dining room in that. That way you will have the best of both worlds, because you will have both. As for painting, try to match the background color of the papers and paint the ceilings that color, so the ceiling will blend into the wallpaper.
I would love to see the door(s), just the door(s) in the dining room, not the woodwork around them, painted the exact color as the green kitchen cabinets. That way you will be working the green from one room to the other, and it will help to unify both spaces.
Love your granite, but being a bold and busy pattern, it could be overpowering to any kind of kitchen appliance, etc that you place on it. Seeing it on its side is different from seeing it laying flat, but it looks to work really nicely with your cabinets, the golden oak of your floor, and the copper colors. Can you see a sample of it laying down, and possibly taking it home?
As for the subway tiles, I feel that you will have to bring it to the granite store and place it up next to the stone that you like, and also have the two samples of the kitchen cabinets there and even the wallpaper and if you have it a pull from a cabinet, or the faucet from the kitchen sink. Having all of your different decorating puzzle parts together in one place, you will instantaneously see if they really fit together With a busy stone, you might want a subway tile that is not too active looking.
So there you have it, my humble opinion on what I think might help you with your project. From the photos that you have posted, I see that you are going in the right direction, so keep up the good work ;-}
Hi Fred thanks for your reply. The cabs are made; just waiting for stain. I didn’t want them taller because I didn’t like the way they would look with the cathedral ceiling, plus it would not give me room to put up my chatkas (large porcelain rooster, etc.). The cab above the cooktop will be 6″ taller. All will have crown molding. I hope you realize the maple cabs in the pics are the old cabs (the pics loaded out of order). My new ones are with the granite slab: cream uppers, olive/mushroom green lowers, glazed, distressed with some wormholes. The cab above the cooktop will be green as well. The cabs are all full custom (no stock or semi). All Monogram appliances with built in fridge and DW.
I like both papers but want to choose the one with a more casual look because I want to keep my current kitchen valances which were custom made and very expensive. They also match my DR full drapes. So would you still choose the same paper with my current valances?
You mentioned papering my DR however the DR runs into my FR which runs into my LR, etc, etc. you get the idea. I did purchase 8 new DR solid wood chairs that the cab maker has and he is staining them to match the lower cabs. Plus the area I live in frowns upon wallpaper so I only use it in bathrooms and kitchens.
The DR chandelier is an exact duplicate of the kitchen chandelier only a little smaller. The only DR door leads to the basement and is always closed. I’d like to keep it neutral.
So there are a number of elements from the kitchen that flow into the DR.
For backsplash I’ve chosen the simple gloss cream subway tile to match the upper cabs.
I did take the sample cabs I have and put it against the granite (see one of the pics) and it looks great.
Thank you again and hope to hear about the above wallpaper/valance question.
Hi there Marilyn, take your two papers and put them up next to the valance, and see which one works best for color and pattern, then decide. Not seeing your place, I did not know one room just ran into another. I love the idea of having the dining room chairs in the same color as the lower cabinets, that way you will be bringing the green into the next room. I can understand not painting the door now, as you will be having (moving) the green into the room through the chairs. From what you’ve mentioned, I think you are on track with your project. Soon it will hopefully be done, and you can enjoy it for many years to come. The tag line for FGGH is your eyes deserve to view beauty, so whatever you deem beautiful is what you should have, and your possessions, and even house should smile at you daily ;-}
Fred, I just discovered your blog and you are a godsend! You write very relevant, clear, practical blogs. I just bought a new house and I am struggling a bit understanding how does a neutral paint color (eg Ben moore edgecomb gray) fit into your 4 color rule. Is it one of my 4? I have a LR with walls this color and sofa chairs in similar color. I am still buying a rug and window coverings and I am trying to figure how do i choose colors / patterns for the room? I was thinking a neutral rug & drapes (that match/blend with walls) and use colors & patterns in my pillows, throws, art and accessories so i can more easily change those if I get bored. Is this wrong / bad approach ? I have seen rooms by Barbara Barry which seem so beautiful so I am trying for that vibe. Is it possible – or will i just fail? Thanks for any advice!
Hi there Beth, first of all I want you to read an old post of mine named When Decorating a Beige room, think Tones, Texture and Sculptural interest; gray now is the beige of years ago (every time I write the word beige in that post, in you mind just turn it into the word gray). I want you to also read my post Add color to a beige room with Accessories.
From the paint color strip that you chose the Edgecomb Gray, look at all the darker shades of the color on that paint strip. When picking out things for your room, try to have some of those other tones (darker shades ) of gray in the room so the room will be interesting. When shopping for the rug, and all of your other decorative accessories (pillows, drapes, the lamps, a throw, vases, etc), have a sample of the edgecomb gray paint with you, and a samples of the fabric from your sofa and chairs (bring an arm protector, a cushion or pillow that comes with your furniture). That way you will be able to put up the different parts of your decorating puzzle, that you already have, next to what attracts you and you will instantaneously be able to see if the things that attract you really work with what you already have.
I don’t know, but am guessing that the edgecomb gray is a light color. When picking out extra fabrics for your room, try to find things that have it as part of the color story for what you need next. If the edgcomb is really light, it will most-likely be the background color of fabric or carpet. Did you read my post titled Pick (use) four colors when Decorating a Room; from that you will be able to understand how to find the other colors to decorate with.
I’ve also written a a posts about working with the color gray…How to Pick the Perfect GRAY Paint..A Popular Color Choice of the Moment, there might be something in it that can help you.
When thinking about gray colors, there are two different kinds of gray; grays that are yellow bases, and grays that are blue based. If you have a gray that has a green tint, it is a yellow based gray, because yellow and blue which make green are part of the paint color. If you have a mauve or orchid kind of gray it is a blue based gray, as red plus blue makes purple, and that purple is added to gray to make the color. When looking at different grays try to see, and ask yourself if the color is in-part made of blue or yellow.
Finally, when I first read your comment, my mind wanted you to have a dramatic rug in your room as a focal point with bright colors to counterbalance and give life to the room and punch up the neutral gray. The trend now (which will eventually pass) is to have a kind of neutral rug instead. I have been too many show-houses that now are done in tones of gray and they look quite beautiful by day as they are perfectly lit, but I’ve never seen them at night, when they might be dark and depressing. I live in upstate New York, and on cold Wintry days, if a house was decorated with too much gray, I’m wondering if if might be depressing and make you feel cold and think you were up in Siberia. I like the idea of adding color with the accessories, just find things that are bright and happy; you could also think about have a bright and worm look for Fall-Winter, and a cool more neutral look for Spring-Summer when the temperatures are high.
I hope my note has been of some help, Best of Luck Beth with your project.
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Your ensemble is the best I have ever seen!
Hi there Rose, thanks for your complement ;-}