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Using Pattern and Texture in Interior Design




Can you guess the biggest mistake made by the do-it-yourself designer?


It’s making choices out of FEAR!


Who knows where the terror started. Perhaps it dug in during our early school years, when we were taught that the “good artist” always colors very neatly, and always inside the lines.  Our instincts and youthful exuberance inspired a different approach - we wanted to cover the page in our favorite crayon colors, ignoring someone else’s idea of what the picture should look like.  But that freedom was coaxed out of us, and we learned to be afraid of our natural sense of freedom and abandon.  Somewhere along the line, most of us were taught to toe the narrow line of acceptability, and were told that by doing so, we could never go wrong. 




Later in life, as adults, many of us walk around in creative strait-jackets, terrified to have an opinion for fear we might be wrong.  When choosing furniture, we tend to feel safe by always matching wood finishes and fabric colors.  Our walls very often end up painted white, the ‘default color’ chosen by those who are in fear of making the wrong color choice.  White walls can be quite beautiful; but never when they are there as an “omit”.


Once the elements of the room have been carefully (and nervously) chosen, we exhale, relieved that this very stressful process is over; only to discover on delivery day, that our new room is no better looking than the one it replaced.


This is because it is the room that FEAR designed.  And this is why so many people turn to professional designers for help.


Every good designer shares the same basic goals when embarking on the design of a room.  The results, from one designer to another, will vary, of course.

There is never just one way to design a room.  Each designer, each client, has a personal viewpoint.  There will be, however, this in common: the striving for  balance, proportion, scale, and a variety of patterns and/or textures, which will bring the room to life.


If you have decided to go it alone and try your hand at achieving the “WOW Factor” on your own, just remember: you are less likely to make a fatal error by taking a chance than by playing it safe.  Loosen up by looking at some shelter magazines, as well as some fashion magazines.  Note the combinations of fabrics and textures used in the clothing and the rooms.  Even a room that at first seems starkly simple, executed in various whites, will, upon closer observation show a wide variety of fabrics and surfaces, and perhaps several wood finishes.  Other rooms are even more complex in their composition of patterns, textures and colors.  Scrutinize these rooms, and learn from them.  Choose two that resonate with you, and see if you can “pull them apart”; visualize a swatch of each of the those fabrics in front of you.  Sometimes even I cannot believe that these individual fabrics can come together so successfully, and yet they do.  This is proof positive that you needn’t be so timid in making your own choices.  Check out the following guide to raise your awareness of just a few of the many textures you can incorporate in the design of your room:



Shiny                                 Matte                                Rough


Glass                               Leather                               Bark

Mirror                               Wood                                 Tweeds

Nickel                               Silk                                     Sisal

Satin                                Velvet                                 Baskets

Granite                            Mohair                                Matelasse

Brass                               Cashmere                          Hand-knits



Here’s a tip to consider when you are faced with making choices:



Reach for a variety of textures and surfaces. For example, let’s say you have chosen a black leather sofa. You have decided that your walls are going to be    a medium tobacco shade.  There are now two matte surfaces established in your room, just begging for some variety.  So you add two gorgeous, glistening, Mercury glass lamps (Shiny), and set them on two medium-tone wood end tables (Matte).  You now choose a Sisal area rug (Rough), and you fall in love with some huge accent pillows in mushroom satin (Shiny), which provide a rich contrast to the matte black leather of the sofa.  There are no rules here. 

It’s all “feel”, you see?  You now choose a coffee table which is glass set on a pewter (Shiny and Rough) base. Did the table have to be metal and glass? 

Of course not.  It just “felt” right.  We have achieved a variety of textures in this room.  The finishing touch is a hand-knitted throw in a tweedy charcoal grey cable knit (Rough).


Get the idea?  No fear here!


As for pattern, it will help to follow this guide:


When mixing patterns, generally think in terms of small, medium and large- scale patterns used together.  Most likely you won’t be using more than three, perhaps fewer, patterns in one room.  If you wanted to combine as many as twelve, that would be fine, but it will be far trickier and better left to a professional.  Choose a small-scale pattern, one that seems more like a texture against the other two. The medium-scale pattern could be a stripe or a plaid, which would add structure. The large-scale pattern might be a floral or a geometric, or a free-form abstract, depending on the room.  Trust your eye (and your gut) to guide you.


Be sure that there is a common color that appears in each pattern.  It does not have to be an exact match.  Let’s say that you are mad for golden yellows, and you find three patterns which fit the above criteria, and all three have yellow in them of a similar shade.  Stand back and let your eye determine if the three yellows are “communicating” with each other.   Many companies do this for you in compiling their collections, but you are not limited to the pre-coordinated fabrics. 


Trust Your Eye!



Remember: Variety is what gives your room energy and excitement.

You may or may not be a “pattern person”.  Printed fabrics went away for awhile, and solid colors dominated the Fashion and Interior Design scene.  Now prints are back again, in full force. Your preferences are very personal, and there are plenty of choices out there to satisfy every taste.  Work with solids if that is your thing, but be sure to energize the room with interesting textures.


Banish fear and the terrible rooms it produces, and have confidence in the

“right-ness” of mixing patterns and textures!






K Saloomey

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