7 Guidelines for Choosing Patterns

People often find using patterns intimidating. Often it’s not the patterns themselves, but simply not knowing how to choose the right pattern or combination of patterns to look right in a space. If that sounds like you, you might gravitate toward the safety of solid colors. While we love neutrals and solid tones, there’s nothing like a pattern to boldly assert your design confidence and make a statement. Patterns can enhance a theme, create a focal point, or add dimension to an otherwise flat design. While some designers are able to make pattern mixing look effortless, it can be difficult to make patterns look great without a plan. Follow these important design rules to create an ambitious, put-together look, rather than a design disaster.

Get Inspired


DUN-4 by Momeni    &    Jadyn Trellis by NuLOOM

Your inspiration can come from anywhere: a single fabric swatch, a favorite item of clothing, an individual furniture piece, or nature. With pattern, you can certainly capture the amazing color palette in a sunset or the fine, geometric details of an intricate leaf.

Follow the Rule of Three

from Amber Interiors
from Amber Interiors

Designers say that odd numbers seem to always work when picking patterns – particularly the number three. By starting with a foundation pattern, gorgeous interiors take shape by layering two additional patterns of varying scale around the room. Don’t be matchy-matchy – sometimes when patterns don’t initially seem to compliment each other, in the right space and in correct proportion to one another, the results are tremendous. Here is a recommended process for selecting patterns:

  • The first pattern you pick should be large and make the boldest statement. Choose wisely, because this layer will be the focal point and the foundation for the entire look. A bolder area rug would be a great choice to start.
  • Pattern number two should be totally different from the first and half the size. For example, if your first pattern is large stripes, choose a tiny floral design to complement it.
  • Number three should be similar to both of the prior patterns and in the same color family. A smaller stripe would work well with the small floral and larger stripe as mentioned above. Or start with a bold striped area rug, then layer ginghams and plaids in neutral tones for a pulled-together and calming beach-house look. 

Think Intensity

from B Gallerie
from B Gallerie

Intense color, specifically. While varying the design, shape, and scale of the print, it’s important to keep the color consistent. Don’t mix color families. For example, avoid mixing pastels and primary colors, or more muted tones with jewel tones. Designer Jayne Pelosi of Renaissance told HGTV that “a large floral, a smaller floral, a stripe, and a check will work together if they are made from the same set of dyes in the same hue.”

And if you aren’t positive that the colors match well enough, choose various patterns from the same collection so you’ll be sure the dye lots are the same.

Watch Your Weight

from NY Magazine
from NY Magazine

Watching the weight of the room means carefully accessing the feeling of balance you get when scanning the entirety of the space. When arranging patterns, never place all of the busy, bold prints together in only one area of the room. Grouping patterns together give the viewer an uncomfortable feeling of disproportion and odd concentration. Patterns achieve aesthetically pleasing results when they’re evenly distributed through various fabrics, objects, and treatments throughout the room. This means arranging accessories on all sides east to west, but also on all levels up and down. We especially recommend attending to wallpaper and stenciling, ceiling statements with lighting and molding, and floor focus with an area rug to get a balanced, all-over patterned effect.

Feel The Fabric

from Amber Interiors
from Amber Interiors

There is more to fabric than just the color or pattern. Each type of fabric also has its own textural and tonal personality. For example, damask would be considered a more formal look, while ginghams or plaids are casual and cozy. Polka dots are fun and youthful, but checkers remind us of picnics and country flair. Acknowledging the moods and associations we have to each pattern offer additional levels of play.

When it comes to area rugs, consider how you will use the room. Will it be a family area for young children playing on the floor? In this case, softer plush applications would be fitting. If it’s a formal dining area that isn’t used daily, then you’re safe to pick wool that shouldn’t be cleaned as often. In these two examples, the look of soft, frothy plush is so different from stiff, dense wool that the materials themselves help to add layers of variety and dimension to pattern work.

Be Careful With Whites

from Pop Sugar
from Pop Sugar

Just as with bold colors, there are also families of whites such as cream, off-white, and bright white. Make sure you carefully access the exact tone of your white in order to create a seamless, clean look.

Make It Functional

from Scott Group
from Scott Group

Ask yourself how you want your room to feel. Picking the right pattern can really make or break a space. For example:

  • Larger patterns create more harmony
  • Smaller patterns can draw the eye to a certain part of the room

In addition, if you want a room that will re-energize you, amp it up with a busier area rug. Conversely, try a neutral paler pattern for a bedroom to promote calm.

Bottom line: don’t be afraid of picking patterns. Area rugs, in particular, are a great key piece to try out various colors and pattern. They can be the focal point of your room or a subtle, underlying notion to make the room pop.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the selection process. Looking at a bunch of small swatches of fabric all at once can feel overly stimulating and impossible to imagine coming together in the larger space of your home. However, don’t forget that solids (especially in furniture) will be interspersed to break things up and complete the room’s design. These guidelines will help you get started reinvigorating your dwelling with pops of intrigue from lively patterns, turning your space into a conversation piece to display your bold style.

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