Pattern As A Design Element
We tend to think of pattern as part of something in an interior space. For example, the pattern in a fabric or wall covering or the pattern within a piece of lighting, like the one in the image below.
However, pattern can also refer to arranging furniture, finishes, equipment, or accessories in way that creates a pattern. A great example is the honeycomb pattern created by hexagonal tiles in the backsplash below.
When people see this backsplash I also hear that it looks like a mermaid’s tail, which is the look I was going for!
Another great way to use pattern in your interior design is in your flooring. You can create pattern with wood or tile flooring. A popular and timeless flooring pattern is herringbone. Herringbone can extend wall-to-wall, as in the image below, or you can create a border around the herringbone pattern. The latter is a great option for long hallways.
Speaking of long hallways, you can also use design features, such as art or lighting, and architectural elements, doors to create a pattern down a long corridor. You can see this example in the rendering below.
The advantage of creating this type of pattern is giving an otherwise boring area some visual interest. Compare the above image to the one below. The corridor is much more appealing with the sconces and art than without it.
No matter how or where you use them, patterns inherently give your home visual interest.
Though there are many ways to create visual interest using pattern, but the easiest and least invasive is by using patterned textiles. There are innumerable patterns available on fabrics, but most of these can be broken down into just a few categories:
Oy, my textiles teacher would scold me if she saw this part of the post because damask, brocade, and jacquard ARE NOT patterns. They are actually very elaborate centuries-old weaving techniques. However, a certain style of pattern has become synonymous with these terms. And… many textile makers use transfer printing to simulate this style onto a plain woven fabric or onto wallpaper.
This type of fabric is associated with the Baroque period and the ruling class of the day. We saw a big resurgence of damask in the 1990’s (hello! beige sofa on friends) because of the shabby chic interior style. We also tend to see this “pattern” in Simply Classic design style and in other European influenced styles.
Technically, ogee is not a pattern either. It is a shape.
All of these really fall into one category, which is “medallion”. That is exactly as it sounds a medallion printed or woven into the fabric and repeated in a pattern. Medallions can be small, medium, or large scale; and they can be traditional or contemporary.
Stripes really need no explanation. What they do need is a little more love and understanding. Stripes can range from simple, wide, alternating solid colors to more complex alternating patterns.
One of the most popular stripes right now is “ticking” which originated on mattresses and pillows.
Plaid, checks, and ginghams are a series of alternating horizontal and vertical stripes. They can be all the same color or in the same color family. Typically when we think of plaids we think of the tartans of the Scottish clans, but there are other types of plaids.
There are also various types of checks. Right now Buffalo check and window pane checks are very popular because of the farmhouse style. Nothing quite says “Americana” like a Buffalo check or gingham. Buffalo plaids or Buffalo checks are large scale patterns that use a similar color on the vertical stripe and horizontal stripe. One will usually be slightly darker creating a check effect. It is basically a large scale gingham.
Window pane check is created by alternating thin horizontal stripes that can be the same or differ in color from the horizontal stripe. They are usually spaced apart about 2″ in each direction. Window pane checks are a soft and gentle check/plaid and can be used in many different styles.
Geometric and graphics are patterns built on the use of shape and line. They usually have simple color schemes and can be small, medium or large scale. Geometrics will include trellis, lattice, chevron, herringbone, and other repeated shapes.
Ikat and flame stitch are closely related and, like damask and brocade, they aren’t specifically patterns, but a weaving technique that has a result of creating an image.
Ikats and flame sitches have been popular for a few years. They give a global feel to your design. Ikats are particularly beautiful when used in a larger scale. They can be monochromatic or multi-colored.
As with damask, ikats and flame stitches can be part of the weave of the textile or they can be printed onto a plain woven, solid colored background.
Animal prints and hides (or faux hides) can bring a lot of fun to the party! I love faux animal prints in non-traditional colors. Animal prints go with every single interior design style and something about them always give the idea of adventure. But don’t go overboard! You don’t want your house to start looking like a zoo!
Two of my favorite animal prints are the antelope hide style textiles and rugs and leopard prints in non-traditional, but muted colors. They are animal prints for an understated look!
The difference in this floral category and the Jacobean category is that these have a more naturalistic look and are less stylized. I really love botanical and Audubon prints as art. They are such a classic look. Transferring that look to fabric can be a refreshing and understated way to bring floral patterns into your home.
Toile and Chinoiserie both date back to the Baroque period when trade from China and other Asian countries was at its peak. Although they share a category here and are used in similar interior styles – like Simply Classic and Classic Eclectic – they are distinct patterns.
Toile typically has pastoral scenes of daily life. Toile is also usually limited to one or two colors within the pattern. Chinoiserie patterns can vary widely in its subject matter, but often you will find pagodas, geishas, oriental birds, monkeys, and ginger jars. Chinoiserie patterns usually use multiple colors within the pattern and are often bright and bold.
The scale of a pattern on a textile is also called the repeat. Repeat refers to how often the pattern is repeated over a specific dimension of fabric and it is given in inches. Most patterned fabrics are transfer dyed, which means that the pattern is applied by a large roller. So, that means that the pattern repeat size is limited by the size of the roller.
How does that translate into laymen’s terms? It means that the largest pattern repeats you will see are probably around 24-27″.
So, a large scale pattern will usually have a repeat of about 18″ to about 27″. Medium scale will be about 6″ to about 18″ and small scale will be less than 6″. Where this rule does not apply is with stripes! A 6″ or larger repeat is a pretty large repeat… think about typical beach blanket stripe.
I have three rules for mixing patterns. You can read more about them in depth here, but put simply they are:
- Choose a minimum of 3 patterns and up to a maximum of 5 patterns per room/space.
- Use only one large scale pattern and only one medium scale pattern. All other patterns should be small scale if using 3 or more .
- Make sure that there is a common color between the patterns you are using. This means if the pattern with the most colors has blue, pink, green, and orange, then the rest of your patterned fabrics should have at least one of those colors, like in the collection of pillows on the board below.
With a world of patterns out there to choose from, you can make an amazing custom look for your home! There are so many more options than I have even named here!
If you want to create a classic and cohesive style in your home, download a FREE copy of my Cohesive Style Guide. You will receive the mini-magazine and a series of emails that will help you take a deeper dive into your personal style and teach you how to create a cohesive concept using that style!