How To Mix Patterns Without Making A Mess

Bedroom mixed patterning

Patterns add visual dynamic pizazz to an interior design. How do you combine patterns without making a busy mess? Here are some tips.


In interior design, patterns create the illusion of texture, draw the eye to focal points, and create a sense of movement in the space. A heavy-handed approach often results in busy, cluttered designs that inspire anxiety rather than tranquility, but follow these pattern protocol tips to create elegant, thoughtful spaces.

Adopt an accent

Not a verbal one, of course—you don’t need a Scottish brogue to take the plunge into patterns—but a design accent. Think pillows, rugs, throws, curtains, table runners, or lampshades. Small accent pieces make excellent starter objects for patterns because they require less commitment than, say, a sofa or a set of dining chairs.

Mix soft and subtle with bright and bold

brightly patterned and colored living room

(image: Christopher Barson)

Patterns work best together when they vary in scale and intensity. A subtle, tone-on-tone polka-dot pattern, for example, pairs well with a bright and vivid ikat print. To unite the patterns visually, choose similar or complementary colors. Avoid juxtaposing two similar patterns right next to each other because they’ll compete visually for attention.

Terminate tedium

These days, single rooms often do double (or triple) duty. A great room, for example, might serve as both the living area and the dining nook, and perhaps even a home office. To visually break up those distinct task areas and to eliminate monotony, layer patterns throughout the space.

Try a large-print pattern for the rug under a conversation area, then go with a smaller print on the chair or sofa upholstery. Add pillows, throws, and other accents in patterns of various sizes and complexities, but stick to the underlying color palette for visual harmony.

Never neglect neutrals

neutral mixed patterns living room

(image: jinkazamah)

Negative space allows patterns to “breathe.” Neutrals accomplish this beautifully: cream, beige, white, tan, gray, and off-white offer just a few possibilities. Consider offsetting a pattern-heavy room with white walls or pale gray furniture upholstery. Even wood furniture adds neutral negative space to the room.

Solid colors can behave like neutrals when used correctly. For example, you might layer pillows along the back of the sofa so that patterned fabrics sit next to solid ones. Not only does this prevent the patterns from overwhelming the senses, but it also allows them to create a bigger impact.

Uncover the unexpected

When most people think of patterns, they picture cheerful chevrons or dainty damasks. However, you can find patterns in far less obvious places, such as the offset grid of a subway tile backsplash, the herringbone of a brick fireplace, or the indentations of a tufted headboard.

black and white bedroom mixed patterns

(image: … love Maegan)

Take inspiration from patterns in the materials and fabrics that make up your space. Layer fresh patterns on top of the pre-existing ones to create visually pleasing vignettes. This strategy makes every pattern in the space seem intentional and creative.

Many people run away from patterns, worried their rooms will seem too busy or cluttered. However, patterns breathe life into a space and contribute to its energy. Mix and layer patterns to fill an otherwise blank or neutral canvas and to make the design your own.


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