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Design Tricks on Mixing Fabric Patterns

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Novice home decorators often suffer from fear-of-decorating, but they especially tend to shy away from mixing patterns. Worried about how much is too much, they tend toward solid textures in their purchases or perhaps just a single print—and then end up with rather plain vanilla interiors.

"Marrying patterns is the hallmark of a confident designer," observes Jan Jessup, director of communications for the Calico Corners – Calico Home stores.  "But even amateur home decorators can learn to combine prints and textures like a pro, with just a little knowledge, practice and trial."

What pattern adds to a space

While patterns in home furnishings certainly add visual interest (and hide a multitude of sins), they also give the eye a place to focus.  "We tend to think that an absence of pattern is restful," observes designer Lyn Peterson, author of Real Life Decorating.  "Quite the contrary.  Our eyes need something on which to focus.  A blank wall causes the eye to overwork in search of a focal point," she explains.  In addition to giving our eyes a rest, pattern hides a multitude of sins.  A boxy chair that's seen better days can be softened with a great paisley print.  A not-so-great view can be minimized by a pretty print on custom draperies made to fit the windows.

Pattern adds personality to a room.  "It can tell stories about your interests—from flower gardening to modern art, to literature, travel or sports," states Jessup.  A floral print or allover toile can create a charming attic bedroom with angled walls—or transform a modern space of no architectural distinction.  Pattern diverts the eye from what is missing.

Patterns that play well together. 
There are certain pattern combinations that work beautifully together: a graphic print and a bold geometric jacquard; a paisley and a tartan plaid; a great floral print and a wide stripe; a toile and a check; a jacquard tapestry and a cut velvet.  When putting patterns together, keep a few unifying principles in mind. 

The first design tip is to use a multi-color pattern and then pull out colors from that for the rest of the room.  If prints are not your style, go for multi-color stripes instead.  You'll find a variety of colors to build on without the busy pattern of a print.  Find a fabric that you love and it will suggest design options for paint, carpet and other fabrics.
Another principle is to vary the scale—allow one pattern to be the hero and then let everything else play second fiddle.  "When too many patterns of the same size are competing for attention, your eye doesn't know where to look," says Jessup.  If decorating with a floral pattern, you can complement it with both plaids and checks—as long as one of them is small in scale.  Pinstripes and small checks will be perceived as a solid color from a distance.
The third guiding principle is to mix up the textures—a room of all informal, casual fabrics is too one-note—as is a room filled only with formal, lustrous textures and silks.  "Too much of a good thing is just that—too much!" states Jessup.  "Mixing textures keeps things interesting."  So use silk with linen, cotton prints with velvet—and use color to marry them.  Prints at the window generally relax a room, while silk stripes or damasks dress it up.
Repeat patterns for harmony—if using a bold ikat on an ottoman, repeat it on a sofa pillow.  A print drapery can be repeated on a bed coverlet or in shams.  Layer in other designs until you've reached the right mix.  For some that's more, for others less.
Finally, add a graphic pattern, geometrics or bold stripes to make the room feel more contemporary.  Use them on upholstered chairs for greatest impact, or on pillows for colorful accents.  These can be the surprise element that makes a room unique.

Where the pattern will be used is important.  If choosing a pattern for a sofa or chair, that design will make a clear statement in the room.  And the larger the piece, the bigger the statement.  "Perhaps you won't want to see 22 yards of a bold floral on a sofa," Jessup notes, " but it would look fabulous on a big chair and really showcase the design."

On the other hand, pattern used on window treatments tends to soften among the folds and pleats of curtains and shades—and becomes much less prominent.  A great pattern that is showcased on top of a bed can also be used at the window where it will recede in the fullness of a drapery.

Color makes a difference too.  Large-scale patterns have less impact in tones of color, such as damasks or tone-on-tone stripes.  They can be used more lavishly without hitting you over the head.

Sometimes customers come into the Calico stores, notes Jessup, with a swatch of fabric or carpet or wallpaper—and they want that exact color, no substitutes.  "Then we go crazy searching for a color that can't be found," she says.  "However, this is a very 'matchy-matchy' approach to designing interiors, and the end result is too formulaic. The color you see eyeballing your swatch up close is not the same color you see from 10 or 20 feet away in a room," explains Jessup.  Step back from your swatches, samples and paint colors, she adds—and focus on whether they appear harmonious together.

About Calico Corners:  Calico Home stores provide expert decorating advice and free in-home design consultation in more than 90 stores across the country. Consumers will find thousands of designer fabrics for the home at value prices; custom window treatments, blinds and shades; custom upholstered furniture, slipcovers, bedding and more. Thousands of fabrics are available online. For more information or to find the nearest store, visit www.CalicoCorners.com or call (800) 213-6366.

Calico Home has a Fabric Approval Plan so that customers can take fabrics home and live with them for a day or two before making a decorating decision.  It's the best way to see how those fabrics will work with the other décor in the room and in the actual lighting of the home.

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