I think we’ve all seen the colorful vignettes containing perfectly karate-chopped pillows in different colors and patterns… but did you know that patterns do more for your space than simply look pretty?
Patterns can add interest, invoke movement, harmonize colors, and even create visual texture. They are one of the most powerful techniques in a designer’s toolkit. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a professionally designed space without them.
“Wait, Janelle… what if I’m not a pattern person?”
If that’s the case, you’re not alone. I’ve heard this concern plenty of times, and I’ve also seen our clients’ delight when they realized, “Yes, I actually LOVE these patterns!” The trick is to find ones that feel authentic to you.
Of course, it will take a bit of courage at the beginning, but you’ll be amazed by the difference even a couple of patterns can make to the look and feel of your home.
So here’s the big question: How do you mix colors and patterns in your space?
Patterned pillows hand-selected and lovingly karate-chopped for our clients’ indoor deck.
Lets Talk Color…
1. Know the 60-30-10 color rule
Before you can select patterns, you should make a plan for your color scheme. You can begin by choosing three different colors: a main color, a secondary color, and an accent color, in a 60-30-10 ratio, respectively. Of course, rules are meant to be broken, but this guideline is a good starting point for you to understand how to incorporate colors that will complement one another.
60% = Your Main Color
Your main color is that one that anchors the whole space, and it’s usually determined by the room’s largest elements, such as walls, flooring, large furniture, and fixed surfaces (such as a fireplace or cabinets). This color is most often a neutral, but of course there are exceptions.
If you’re redesigning your home, you’ll have more control over your main color selection. If you’re adding color to your existing design, the main color is likely already set.
30% = Your Second Color
The second color in your space should be incorporated in a proportion that is about half of your main color. You’ll want this color choice to be different enough from your main color to create interest, but not so different that it creates huge contrast. Instead of competing for attention, they should feel harmonious.
10% = Your Accent Color
Accent colors are typically your accessories, throw pillows, and art. Even though they make up only 10% of the space, an accent color often creates the biggest visual impact. THIS is where you have a beautiful opportunity to create bold contrast.
In this space, 60% is blue, 30% is comprised of light wood tones, and 10% is the pop of yellow in the art.
2. Balance your space’s color temperature
Okay, let’s talk temperature. No, not the temperature outside during our Rhode Island winter, but color temperature.
The colors in any room will either skew warm or cool. Cool colors are your blues, greens, and violets, and warm colors are your oranges, yellows, and reds.
Your goal when choosing color is to create balance by having BOTH warm and cool tones in your space.
If your 3 colors are all cool, the environment itself will feel visually chilly. If all 3 are warm colors, you could end up with a visually stuffy or overwhelming space. A mix of the two will make the space comfortable, fresh, and easy to be in.
Various shades of blue make this master bedroom mostly cool, so we added touches of scarlet in the throw pillows and other decorative objects for balance.
Note: The part that takes some practice is judging the cool or warm undertone of whites and grays. Though pure white and pure gray do exist, I’d say there’s a 95% chance yours have an undertone, whether in the paint color itself or in the cast caused by the direction of natural lighting (north, east, south, west).
Our How Light Affects Color Download can help you with selecting the best colors for your space’s sun exposure.
3. For guidance, use a color wheel
My last tip before we dive into pattern mixing is to use an adjustable color wheel for some extra insight. There are two ways colors wheels are helpful: they can help you judge undertones more accurately, and they can help you create harmonious color combinations.
To judge undertones, simply hold up the white or gray section of the color wheel to the unknown color. When the pure white is placed next to your white, you’ll better be able to judge undertones like yellow, blue or green. Just be sure to check it again throughout the day, as the sun’s position (and artificial lighting) can alter our perception of color.
This rotatable color wheel includes a grayscale (from pure white to black) and can also help you decide whether certain colors are warm or cool.
To create color combinations (ahem, maybe vibrant ones!), a color wheel like this one can also help. The center of the wheel shows you which pairings are most harmonious.
- Complementary colors: good for contrasting an accent color with a main or second color
- Split Complementary colors or a Triad: great for selecting your 3-color palette
- Tetrad: in case you want an additional accent color
You can purchase color wheels online, at a local paint supplier, or try out a digital color wheel.
In case you missed it… we were asked by Redfin to comment on what we thought the biggest trend of 2020 would be, and it should come to no surprise to you what our answer was! Many designers, including Blakely, predict that all-white interiors are on the outs, and colorful interiors are here to stay. Read the article here.
Lets Talk Patterns…
4. Understand the rule of patterns’ scale
Now that you have a plan for your space’s color palette, we can look at incorporating those colors through patterns. Like color, patterns also follow a rule of threes. But instead of proportion of use, we want to look at proportion of scale.
All patterns have a scale that is small, medium or large. When selecting patterns for your space, you’ll want to use 2-3 patterns and 1 solid color. For example:
- One large scale pattern, one small scale pattern + one solid color
- One large, one medium, and one small scale pattern + one solid color
5. Use multi-colored patterns to create color harmony
A fabric with multiple colors is easy to play off of and can also be used to create color harmony in a room. This print could be window treatment fabric, an area rug, or even smaller items like pillows.
Once you have your multi-colored pattern, choose 2-3 of the colors within it (ideally the 3 colors you selected in part 1) and incorporate those colors into the room through books, decorative objects, and florals.
We used a multi-colored pattern for the Roman shades and brought in our 3 colors with pillows: one patterned, two solids.
In my living room, the pattern on these upholstered chairs helps unify pink, violet and green in the space.
6. Balance the patterns’ shapes
The last step in mixing patterns is balancing their shape. Every pattern can fall into the category of geometric (sharp angles) or organic (sinuous or circular). Having too many from the same category will cause the patterns to compete with each other.
Pair organic patterns with geometric, and sinuous lines with angular. Variety and balance will help all your patterns and colors play nicely in the sandbox.
The throw pillows in this family room provide a great balance of geometric (the stripe and basket weave patterns) and organic (the sunburst print) lines. Beyond the pillows, can you spot even more patterns? We installed a rug with a geometric diamond pattern and striped draperies.
7. Get bold, creative & experiment
Now, it’s your turn. Give your space an honest assessment. Use a color wheel to make a plan. Then either browse for your patterned items online or go get some fabric swatches to play with. Once you can see these items in your space, your eyes will know what works best for you.
If you’re a little nervous, start small and remember that it’s okay if your choices don’t work out the first time. Learning what doesn’t work is just as insightful as seeing what does. Think of it as a color journey, with your most vibrant life waiting for you at the end. 😉
Before you rush to grab a color wheel, don’t forget to download our handy cheat sheet, Blakely’s Guide to Mixing Color & Pattern, to refer to when making your selections!