Tips for Mixing Multiple Patterned Fabrics

Solids. Tweeds.  Toiles.  Botanicals.  Plaids.  Ikats.  Stripes.  Paisleys.  Geometrics.

The color combinations and patterns available in upholstery and other decorating fabrics is almost endless.   And, depending on the room or space being decorated, there can be multiple opportunities to deploy different fabrics, including on the sofa and/or loveseat, ottoman, accent chairs, throw pillows, bed coverings, headboard, upholstered benches and seat cushions.

If drapery panels, valances or other “soft window treatments” are used nearby, then those fabric choices need to be evaluated alongside the upholstery fabric selections.  Throw in an area rug, or a wall covering, and the array of design motifs quickly gets complex.

How many different patterns can be combined in one space without overwhelming the look?    A living room, family room or great room, because of the large number of furniture pieces and multiple windows, is often the space with the greatest opportunity to use different fabrics, and hence the greatest challenge.

A few tips:

  • Start with a fabric you love, and build the subsequent fabric choices around it.

Some designers advocate starting with an area rug, allowing it to dictate the upholstery choices. The converse also works: pick the area rug last, after all the fabrics choices are solidified.IMG_6443 (2)  In this example, the client asked me to work with her existing floral dining chairs.  I succeeded in finding an area rug that closely emulated that fabric in both colors and pattern.  A lucky find!

  • Let one pattern dominate, and use the other patterns more sparingly.
  • Vary the categories of patterns used across a room. In other words, avoid mixing multiple floral patterns or different plaids together.
  • Maintain consistency in the colors or hues used.
  • Accessories matter. Try to color coordinate them as much as possible.
  • Overall, the number of different patterns in a room should be limited to three or at most, four.

For sofas, most furniture manufacturers recommend using a solid fabric, a subtle tweed-like fabric or a quiet stripe instead of a busier upholstery pattern.  These larger furniture pieces dominate in visual real estate, so a vibrant sofa pattern risks overpowering the room.   Instead, deploy the vivid paisley or botanical print you adore on one or more upholstered chairs, and then use that same fabric or a coordinating solid color for the throw pillows on the sofa or loveseat.  A solid color sofa can easily be dressed up with patterned pillows, a colorful throw and a vibrant area rug.  Besides, the eye needs a resting place.

With bedrooms, the number of fabric choices are generally more limited, with the bed covering and headboard dominating what should be the bedroom’s focal point.  If the bed covering chosen is a flamboyant print, then combine it with solid colored shams, bed skirt and decorative throw pillows that coordinate with the bedspread hues.  If the headboard is upholstered, keep that fabric simple when pairing with a vivid bed covering.  It will ease the search for a replacement bedspread later.

Consider using a stripe.   A simple stripe combining 2 or 3 different colors is less ostentatious than many patterned fabrics, allowing it to be coordinated readily with both patterned fabrics and coordinating solids.  Many geometric prints offer the same flexibility.

In the example shown here,  stripes were chosen to lend a nautical look to this waterfront  condo. IMG_6307The challenge was deciding which direction the stripes should flow across an L-shaped window bench cushion.  The edges all have vertical stripes, but on the longest cushion, the fabric was railroaded, meaning it was upholstered in the opposite direction (horizontally).  That decision eliminated the need for several seams across the 12-foot-long cushion top while allowing the stripes to align in the corner.

The goal: Combining patterns you love into a cohesive look, not visual chaos.