Design 101: How to Mix Your Fave Pattern Types
Guidelines for mixing stripe, geometric, floral and organic patterns.
Introducing a new pattern to a space adds a lot of life, energy and personality in a way a solid colour rarely can. But why restrict yourself to playing with just one pattern? Combining two or more may seem daunting, but if you follow some of these formulas, you’ll be mixing and matching like a pro in no time.
First, to make it easier to understand how different patterns relate, let’s identify four major categories of patterns. In reality, patterns are endless in number, but when it comes to mixing different types, we’ll start by looking at the main ones.
Stripes, especially in a two-colour, one-to-one ratio are probably the easiest pattern to work with, so much so that you can treat them as a “neutral.” That means they can mix easily with any other pattern, almost as if they weren’t a pattern at all.
Classic navy-and-white or black-and-white stripes are the most classic and timeless, but you can use stripes to add bright colours as well. Either way, stripes work beautifully with other stripes or with completely different patterns.
Some designers also consider polka dots to be in the category of neutral patterns, with a repeating shape so simple that it reads as more of a texture. The round lines add an extra sense of softness, which can feel a bit feminine or romantic and make a space welcoming.
Master Mix: Dots and Stripes
Mix a few different sizes of stripes, and maybe a polka dot too, and you’ve got a hard-to-go-wrong scheme with plenty of personality and energy.
A geometric pattern is made of repeating forms that are usually very simple and linear, often using basic shapes like triangles, squares and circles. Technically, stripes are a geometric pattern, but in interior design a true geometric is one notch more complex than that, such as this wallpaper with its repeating hexagons.
Geometrics can be much more complex than a simple repeating shape, however. Using just angular geometrics, with no curves, is one of the easiest ways to mix multiple patterns without worry.
Master Mix: Same-Scale Geometrics
An easy way to mix multiple geometric patterns is to choose patterns with a similar thickness to the lines. These pillows use very different patterns, but they all contain thin lines at approximately the same scale. A single pillow in a chunky pattern might look out of place, but since they all share a similar line weight they look coordinated.
Florals are essentially the complete opposite of stripes: they feature complex, curving lines in patterns that feel natural and wild.
Botanical prints also include leafy patterns that don’t feature blossoms but have a similar organic nature, and, just as in nature, these differing prints tend to mesh together easily (as long as their lush colour palettes coordinate).
Master Mix: Sharp Angles with Bold Florals
Opposites attract. Combine a neutral, angular geometric featuring triangles (or basic stripes) and let a pop of colourful floral with gentle curves play against the sharp lines.
There are lots of other organic patterns that take inspiration from nature or feature motifs or images that are non-geometric. Animal prints fall under this category, as well as natural textures like marbling or strié (which looks a bit like wood grain, but in fabric or paper).
A zebra stripe, being essentially just a variation on a basic black-and-white stripe, is a great element to toss into any design (in a small dose) to add a little organic drama.
But wild patterns to start start to get a bit complicated, since there are many patterns that can sit in a grey area between geometric and organic, such as ikat patterns or tribal-inspired prints, which feature somewhat geometric-looking repeating lines but with an organic rawness.
Luckily, there are other aspects of a pattern (e.g. colour and scale) we can look at to guide us in how to mix and match.