How to Live with Pattern

How to Live with Pattern

By Bert & May

Jan 30, 2017

Of all the interior and design choices you make in your home, your choice of pattern is probably the most personal. That’s because pattern has the uncanny ability to evoke a host of memories and emotions – most of which are impossible to articulate.

Whilst most colour choices you make will be for logical reasons (you want to create drama, bounce light around a dark space etc), your pattern choices are probably completely intuitive. And following your intuition is not always as easy as it sounds  – particularly when it comes to making decisions about your home.

Words by Nell Card

Photography (left) Anna & Tam

Thankfully, there are some loose guidelines you can follow that make living with pattern that much easier. The advice you need depends on how confident you already are with pattern …

Advice for Novices

More so than colour, pattern is the strongest element in any room, which is why it’s easy to shy away from. But pattern can be subtle too …

Artist Residence, Cornwall | Photography by Paul Massey

It helps to think of texture as another form of pattern. Justin Salisbury, the co-founder of Artist Residence (a collection of boutique hotels), and Salisbury & Co interior design studio explains: “We’re all about creating rustic yet homely spaces that people feel comfortable in. Texture plays a big part in this. Initially, we look at the backdrop like the walls, floors and ceilings. Look for natural finishes such as a beautiful brick wall or a fireplace.” If your room is architecturally uninteresting, you can introduce texture through your accessories: a simple jute rug or chunky knit throw will have the same effect.

If you’re ready to go one step further and introduce colour, look for patterns that are tonally not dissimilar: shades or off-white and grey, or darker shades of black and navy are both good entry points.

Photography (left) Rhiannon Taylor | (right) Anna & Tam

The objects you introduce to your home will enable you to experiment with pattern and figure out what your pattern limits are. Even the most pattern-averse has probably (unwittingly) introduced pattern into their home in the form of a bookshelf. Those coloured spines are a Missoni-esque mural in the making. Lay the books both horizontally and vertically to create a patchwork effect. If the colour’s too much, reverse the spines to create a neutral, textured finish.

Ceramics, artwork and cushions are also obvious ways of introducing pattern to your interiors. You can afford to be intuitive with these choices: buy only what you love and you’ll live with it for years.

Photography (left) Jemma Watts | Styling: Laura Sawyer | 91 Magazine S/S 2016
Advice for Intermediates

If you know what you like, then you’ve probably already invested in a few patterned pieces. Throws allow you to experiment with pattern. Textile designer and author of Living With Pattern, Rebecca Atwood, offers some great styling tips for throws on her blog, The Fold. Rather than leave it in a heap at one end of your sofa, she suggests “folding it over the back of your sofa the long way. This works great with patterned sofas as well as plain – just keep the scale of the patterns different.” Alternatively, “drape it down the centre of your sofa for all-over pattern. It’s a nice way to test out a patterned upholstery look without the commitment.”

If you’re thinking about introducing permanent pattern to your home in the form of tiles or wallpaper, look first to your utilitarian spaces: recessed oven splashbacks, hallways, front door steps, your downstairs loo … all of these high-usage spaces are surprisingly receptive to permanent pattern. “The size of the room plays a big part in how much pattern to use,” says Justin. “Smaller rooms tend to be able to take more pattern. We use geometric tiles in our bathrooms, for example. Larger spaces respond better to a plainer backdrop dressed with rugs, furniture and soft furnishings.”

Photography (left) @styleandspace |  (right) @susannacotsinteriordesign

Rugs are a scary purchase because they have an important role to play. The best advice is to try and identify what it is that unifies your pattern choices be it shape, colour or scale. Search for something that marries these preferences and you can’t go wrong. Remember you can switch your rugs around seasonally, too.

Advice for Experts

There are some who believe that if you are confident about what you love, it will work. But pattern still requires you to exercise some caution. If you have found yourself living with a combination of patterns, you need to observe a few rules …

Firstly, you want your patterns to have something in common, so try and keep the colour palette relatively narrow. This will help to unify the various styles you’ve acquired.

Photography (left) Chris Snook | Photography (right) @finelittleday

Second, be mindful of scale. You want your eyes to travel across the surfaces and shapes in your home, so make sure you introduce a combination of small, medium and large scale prints. If your patterns are all the same size, your (crossed) eyes won’t know where to settle.

Lastly, remember to keep looking at the whole picture. The power of pattern is such that we can easily be inexplicably drawn to a pattern that simply won’t settle with the rest of your scheme. By all means be playful, but know your pattern limits.

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