Design Dilemma: Patterns

Learn How to Mix Patterns Like a Pro

Living room with multiple patterns
Greensboro Designer Showhouse. Maria Adams Designs

There’s one design dilemma that continues to elude many. Mixing patterns. Using more than one pattern in a room can seem intimidating to those who are unfamiliar with it, but it can actually be very easy.

There was a time when people would use matching patterns throughout a room – the curtains would match the sofa which would match the lampshades which would match the pillows and so on. But that look is over (and will hopefully never return). Now when it comes to using patterns in a room it’s all about coordinating and complimenting.

Choosing Patterns

When decorating with patterns it’s important to determine what kind of look you want your room to have. Florals will give your room a feminine vibe while animal prints will give it a glamorous and eclectic feel. Think about the overall look and what kinds of patterns will work with it.

Pattern-Mixing Rules

When it comes to mixing patterns it’s important to trust your own instincts about what looks good, however there are a few tips that can help.

  • Use at least three patterns in a room and vary the scale. One large, one medium, and one small; or one large and two different mediums for instance.
  • Try to use colors that are the same intensity. For instance, don’t mix pastels with jewel tones. Different patterns can often work together if they’re of the same hues.
  • Distribute patterns evenly throughout the room. If the majority are all on one side of the room the whole space will look unbalanced.
  • Don’t place too many patterns on top off each other (break them up with solids). The eye needs a place to rest and too many patterns will feel chaotic.
  • Patterns don’t have to be full of different colors. Tone-on-tone patterns can still give a room depth and character while remaining elegant.

These are some of the most common design patterns you will find when decorating a room.

  • 01 of 09


    Damask Pattern


    • Characteristics: Traditional, formal, and glamorous
    • Common Uses: Wallpaper, side chairs
    • Pairs well with: Stripes, solids and subtle florals.
  • 02 of 09


    Floral Pattern.

    Clipart Library

    • Characteristics: Romantic and feminine.
    • Common Uses: Wallpaper, draperies, bedding, pillows and furniture upholstery.
    • Pairs well with: Stripes. Florals can also look good with other geometric patterns such as checks and polka dots if they’re in the same color or hue.
  • 03 of 09

    Polka Dots

    Getty Images 

    • Characteristics: Playful and outgoing.
    • Common Uses: Pillows and accent pieces.
    • Pairs well with: Similarly colored stripes and florals.
  • 04 of 09



    a-r-t-i-s-t / Getty Images

    • Characteristics: Bohemian with a hint of formality.
    • Common Uses: Curtains, throws, pillows and upholstery.
    • Pairs well with: Herringbone and stripes.
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09


    Doodlecraft Blog

    • Characteristics: Very versatile based on size – large can be bold and energetic while small can be formal and traditional
    • Common Uses: Works best in small doses (curtains, throws, pillows). However if you want to use it on a large scale, consider chevron or herringbone floors – very elegant.
    • Pairs Well With: Pretty much anything as long as the colors work together.
  • 06 of 09


    Toile Pattern.

    Wallpaper House

    • Characteristics: Elegant and timeless
    • Common Uses: Drapery, wallpaper, bedding, accent pillows
    • Pairs Well With: Stripes and plaids. Avoid using other small scale busy patterns such as florals.
  • 07 of 09



    discan / Getty Images 

    • Characteristics: Exotic, earthy and global-inspired.
    • Common Uses: Rugs, pillows, curtains and accent chairs.
    • Pairs Well With: Stripes
  • 08 of 09

    Animal Prints

    Zebra Pattern.

    Rugs USA 

    • Characteristics: Wild and eclectic
    • Common Uses: Rugs, ottomans, pillows and specific statement pieces.
    • Pairs Well With: Other graphic prints
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09


    Plaid Pattern.

    Free Creatives 

    • Characteristics: Conservative and classic
    • Common Uses: Curtains and upholstery
    • Pairs Well With: Florals

Don't Forget...

The most important rule to remember when mixing patterns is to show a bit of restraint. A healthy mix is great, but be sure to mix them up with solids. Like everything in decorating, you have to give patterns room to breathe.