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How to Mix Patterns by Barbara Jennings

Has anyone ever told you not to mix plaids with stripes? Or floral prints with polka dots?

Combining different patterns can be stunning and dramatic in your home if you do it right. But if you blow it, it will look like one giant chaotic mess.

fabric patterns, mixing patterns There's a trick to mixing and matching patterns and colors. You need a healthy dose of creative imagination, some courage to use variety. With a little guidance from a professional, you'll be on your way in no time.

Common fabric patterns include swirls, stripes, dots, florals and so forth. The key is to think of them as a family. In a family you typically have two parents and some children. In fabrics, you'll have your dominant patterns (the parents) and smaller patterns (the children). Usually you will use the dominant pattern less in the decor scheme. The subordinate patterns will complement the dominant one.

Where most people err is in using more than one dominant pattern in the same room. If you do that, they will compete for attention. If you decide you want a floral pattern as your attention getter, pick a large pattern. Then pair it with, say a thin, narrow pattern of stripes with similar colors as the large floral. Make the large pattern your "signature" pattern, the one that grabs the atention in the room. Be sure that the other patterns are smaller and more subdued.

Color remains an extremely important aspect, particularly how you use it. Fabric patterns usually have a myriad of colors to choose from. Pick one color from your dominant fabric and use it as your main choice for the room. Use the other colors from the fabric as your accent colors.

Since you want the colors to "flow" in the room, you'll want to use them more than once to achieve harmony. Change up the texture for variety while keep the colors the same.

Decide in advance what feeling you want in the room. When people visit you, they should get a good impression of who you are and what you like. Also decide what part of the room you really want to focus attention on. If not the windows, be sure and use a subordinate print there. I've seen a lot of homes where so much drama was put into the draperies on meaningless windows, the attention was placed on the absolute wrong element in the room. Choose wisely where the attention should go.

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How to Mix Patterns
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A Fire's Best Friend
Cautions About Your Pillows
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The "Must-Have" Ugly Accessory
List of Free Decorating Tips

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(2004-05 Copyright Barbara Jennings)

Barbara Jennings
is the West Coast Pioneer in Redesign, author of 7 decorating books, a published artist, corporate art consultant, and furniture arrangement consultant. For training in professional furniture and accessory arrangement, or to start your own redesign or art consulting business, please visit: