I grew up in a house full of patterns. Pattern upon pattern upon pattern. The wallpaper was patterned, the carpet was patterned and the upholstery was patterned. I had to warn friends before they came to visit, so they wouldn’t feel dizzy or disoriented.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of my mom and dad’s decor style. It’s very much them. They love patterns, and why not?

Using patterns adds excitement and movement to a decor scheme. Let’s face it, solid colours on their own are kind of dull. Using one pattern with solids is a little more interesting. But a series of effectively matched patterns can truly change an ordinary room into one that is spectacular.

But combining patterns can be tricky — it’s always a bit of a balancing act. The bottom line when it comes to using several patterns together is to avoid overwhelming with colour, scale, or line.

First of all, use small doses of pattern rather than splashing them across large surfaces like walls, or carpeting or flooring. Instead, think in terms of toss cushions or cushion covers, throws, lampshades and smaller rugs. Or using a boldly patterned wallpaper on one focal wall, rather than on all four of them.

People often choose a “quieter” or less dramatic pattern or a solid for large pieces of upholstered furniture, like a large sofa, for example. A more dramatic print can be a perfect choice for a smaller armchair, for example. It will be a focal point, a “punch” of pattern in your room, but it will not overwhelm.

Patterns come in several different categories, such as florals, botanical patterns such as leaves, vines or trees, stripes, checks or plaids, and abstract patterns of various styles. Also popular nowadays are the reinterpreted “new” traditional patterns, such as fleur-de-lis, toile, or harlequin.

In terms of style, botanical patterns tend to work well in a space with a lot of emphasis on natural elements, like stone, wood and subdued earth tones. Other types of patterns such as florals, stripes or checks can be very flexible depending on the type of rendering it receives, working well in both traditional and contemporary settings. What is important is mixing the patterns effectively, and that means you must carefully consider scale and colour as well as style.

When you combine patterns, one simple rule is to use patterns with different sizes or scales. For example, a small pattern such as a little check will work well with a large floral pattern. Or a large striped pattern will work with a medium-sized floral pattern. Do not use several pieces with similarly-sized patterns — larger patterns will compete and smaller patterns will turn to mush.

In terms of colour, stay within a three-colour palette for your main colours. That means your walls, upholstered furniture and drapery should relate to each other. The main colours in the patterns should repeat in the other patterns, although they may each contain differently-coloured accents. Use fabric swatches to check your combinations.

When you think you’ve got it, congratulations! But keep looking out for the reaction of visitors. If they appear to get dizzy or disoriented when they enter your house, you may have to reconsider your patterns combinations and adjust the mix.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com

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