Layering Pattern on Pattern for a Vibrant Interior

Combining colorful patterns in a single room isn’t one of the most manageable tasks in


Combining colorful patterns in a single room isn’t one of the most manageable tasks in decorating. 

Some designers intentionally stick with solids and textures for a cleaner look, but also because layering a potpourri of stripes, florals and animal prints can encourage a space that’s too busy. Nevertheless, others are naturally drawn toward pattern play, marrying flame stitch with Chinoiserie and tossing in a polka dot without thinking twice.

“If you love a lot of visual stimulation, like me, successful pattern play often happens naturally,” said Liz Caan of Liz Caan Interiors in Newton, Massachusetts. “For those not intimidated by pattern, sometimes I think the best approach is simply to throw caution to the wind and let it happen organically. It’s kind of like that adage about if you trust what you love, it’ll always be in style.”

We asked a group of design pros for their advice on layering pattern on pattern to create a vibrant interior. 

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Use Classic, Enduring Patterns

“Balance is hugely important and the key to any room full of pattern. If nothing in the room shouts louder than anything else, then your eye will not be drawn to any one particular feature and the space will not feel busy.

“If you want the scheme to be timeless, look to more classic enduring patterns like ikats, florals, suzanis and so on, rather than very graphic, more contemporary prints. We also adore using paisleys, as this is such a familiar pattern and therefore feels comfortable to the eye.”

Classic, enduring patterns complete this striking living space by design firm Salvesen Graham.


Alex James

— Nicole Salvesen and Mary Graham of Salvesen Graham in London

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Vary the Scale of Patterns

“We love mixing stripes of varying scale with simple yet bold geometric companions. We are also fans of mixing conservative- and traditional-leaning patterns with bolder, more contemporary complements. 

“We try to ensure that the scale of each pattern displayed is different. In the case of stripes, this means significant changes in spacing, width, etc. Additionally, we find success in substantially different color stories, while ensuring cohesion and consistency across materials. 

“It’s best to create a rhythm whereby certain patterns are adjacent to one another (as in the case of upholstered seating and accent pillows), while others are broken up by solid features such as flooring or walls to give them space to breathe.”

— Andrew Bowen, partner and head of staging for ASH NYC, a design, development and luxury staging firm in New York

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Dress up the Ceiling

“Blending patterns and colors can add rich texture to a room, but there needs to be harmony between them. Use colors that have the same hue and intensity. For instance, don’t mix pastel patterns with jewel-tone patterns. Choose tone-on-tone patterns which give a room depth, texture and character.“Create visual balance. Keep your patterns flowing around the entire room––you want your eye to travel around the space. Think of the room in layers, each layer should complement the next, pulling the overall concept together. 

“Try anchoring your space with an oversized patterned or textural rug. Use solid-color furnishings and add accent pillows in a mixture of styles. Last but not least, don’t forget about the ceiling. Dress it up with grass cloth or a bold pattern. You want the room to feel equally weighted at top and bottom.”

In this bedroom by designer Andrea Schumacher, the patterns travel from the ceiling to the drapery, through the embroidered edge of the duvet, and to the bench at the foot of the bed.


Durston Saylor

— Andrea Schumacher of Andrea Schumacher Interiors in Denverand Santa Barbara, California

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Create Moments With Lighting

“If you’re worried about your pattern mixing getting out of hand or just don’t know where to begin, I always suggest selecting patterns that don’t directly compete with each other. For example, it would be really hard for a Southwestern stripe to feel at home with a romantic toile. You want balance and variety, but you also want the patterns to feel like they would hang out in the same crowd.

“Spaces that are heavy on patterns usually evoke an intentional moodiness so I like to create additional moments with lighting as well to support that intimate vibe—fewer overheads and more floor lamps and table lamps that break up the room by casting their own glow in different corners and nooks. Sconces are also a great way to call attention to a really beautiful wallcovering.

“I love pairing an organic pattern with a structured one. It’s the perfect amount of tension but each pattern still supports the other. I love hanging art over a textured or patterned wall, regardless of whether the art matches the wallcovering. Sometimes, and oftentimes, opposition is more interesting.”

Designer Liz Caan recommends choosing patterns that feel like they would hang out in the same crowd, as she did in this colorful living room.


Eric Roth

— Liz Caan, interior designer in Newton, Massachusetts

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