Home Tips How to Mix Patterns: Decorative Pillows & Throws Edition

How to Mix Patterns: Decorative Pillows & Throws Edition

Interior designers often have an innate skill for mixing patterns in a room. They can’t always explain why certain patterns work together—they just do, and when they do, the results are spectacular. Today Annie’s giving us a glimpse into the mind of a designer with a new series on pairing patterns, starting with decorative pillows and throws.

Learning how to mix patterns in a room is pretty easy if you follow Annie’s tried-and-true rules:
1. Aim for three to four patterns maximum, at least to start. Though some designers, like Kathryn Ireland and Bunny Williams,  are masters at mixing multiple patterns, this can be really difficult to accomplish if you haven’t done it before. Instead, start with three patterns, then add a fourth if you’re confident with your look.

2. Size matters. While there’s nothing wrong with a sofa, love seat, or armchair piled with a bunch of decorative pillows in the same size and shape (but different patterns), mixing those sizes and shapes will instantly elevate your design by helping the eye to move from element to element. Squares are a classic choice for sofas and chairs, but don’t be afraid to mix in circular, neckroll, boudoir, and double boudoir pillows.

3. Almost anything goes in a single-color or two-color palette. This is because a main color can quickly tie together a variety of patterns in a range of decorative pillow styles. For this room, Annie created several pillows from vintage fabrics in her archive. Despite the fabrics being from different eras, they all have that rich, rosy pink in common, so they work with, rather than against, each other.


In this example, Annie started with a palette of indigo and ivory. She chose pillows in three different patterns and sizes, all in the same indigo-ivory palette, and made with funky Indian block-style or resist-dyed fabrics. Since the sofa is a solid neutral, she added a throw in a matching print for extra flair.


4. In a mixed-color palette, make sure that that the dominant color of every throw pillow and throw is represented in your focal element. In this example, the focal element is a vintage quilt in a riot of different hues. Because each pillow in this mix bears a color from quilt, from gold to burgundy and fox brown, and each pillow has a boho-eclectic feel, what could be a cuckoo-crazy mix actually looks beautifully put-together. Warning: while a multicolor focal element can make it easier to find a variety of pillows that will go with it, it’s easy to tip over the top. Annie suggests trying two patterned pillows first, then adding to the mix one by one until you get just the right balance of originality and sophistication.


5. Pay attention to scale. This is incredibly important; multiple patterns of the same size and intensity are fatiguing on the eyes. If your primary pattern is a large-scale floral, for example, choose a smaller chevron-print pillow and a skinny-stripe pillow to go with it. Add in a solid throw or a throw with a tone-on-tone patterned or textured weave that picks up one of the colors in the palette.

6. Think about contrast. This is easiest in a neutral room palette—any non-neutral color, from turquoise to fuchsia and lavender, will automatically become the contrast hue, and have tons of visual pop. Still, the same rule applies to a multicolor palette. First, determine the dominant color in your design. Then choose its opposite (or near-opposite) on the color wheel. So if your sofa is teal and your throw pillows are a mix of complementary blues and greens, add a hot orange throw or decorative pillow in an eye-catching tangerine geometric to the mix.


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