Elements of Design: Pattern and Texture
PATTERN AND TEXTURE
As we have seen, the effects of colours are radically changed by differences in texture and pattern, so that a nearly or totally monochromatic room can be as lively and memorable through its subtleties of texture as a room with vividly contrasting colours. The thicker or stronger the texture, the softer or more diminished a colour seems. Flat, smooth glossy surfaces project a much brighter image than soft ones: a painted surface in a particular colour will be very much ‘sharper’ than the same colour in carpet or felt or velvet.
The Effects of Soft and Hard Surfaces
Just as rooms need balance in colour to keep them harmonious and comfortable, so they also need a good balance of textures — matt with gloss, soft with hard. Gaining the knowledge of what contrasting textures go best together is really a matter of experience. You must experiment and develop your taste and a good eye for such things.
To get into the habit of thinking in textural terms, it helps to make lists of all kinds of different surfaces and materials and to conjure them up in your mind’s eye, appropriately distributing them around walls, floors, ceilings, windows and furniture. Such a list might be rather like the one shown overleaf.
There are, of course, certain conventions, and there is no doubt that some textures contrast with each other better than others. For example, brick walls or floors look better with quite strong textures such as linen, hessian (burlap) and cotton than with velvet or silk — although there is no reason why, if you like it, you should not contrast brick and silk.
Comfort is, of course, very much connected in one’s mind with softness (even though firmness is often better for the spine), so the softer-looking the covering on a sofa or armchair, the more comfortable and inviting it will seem. Inside the sofa, as we have seen, you can combine both firmness and softness by having a foam core enveloped in down, but if you cover this filling in silk velvet, linen velvet, glove suede or buffalo hide it will look as deeply luxurious as it is harshly expensive. A less expensive cotton, linen or chintz covering, while not so luxurious-looking, can be made to seem softer if you juxtapose it with, say, a wood or tiled floor of some kind and use scatter-rugs rather than a carpet.
Sofas, armchairs and beds can be made to look more deeply inviting if you heap them with throw pillows or cushions, and more interesting by varying the textures of these cushions. For example, a linen sofa could be piled with cushions made of old velvet, gros and petit point and silk. A bed covered in a simple quilted cotton will look luxurious if it is piled with white lace and broderie anglaise pillows. A harder chair — say, a tight-covered or buttoned occasional chair — can have a shawl or throw tossed across its back or an arm.
MATERIALS OF DIFFERENT TEXTURES
Perspex or plexiglass
velvet Wilton carpet
low-pile textured carpet
The contrast of softness and hardness can also be exhibited on floors. Whether you put a rug on a wood floor, a sheepskin on brick or old tiles, or an oriental on coir matting, you are making use of their differing textures. And think of the feeling of comfort you experience when you see large, soft fluffy towels against the tiles of a bathroom, or the sybaritic effect of a soft warm carpet contrasted with bathroom fixtures.
This same juxtaposition of hard and soft can be carried through by the use of contrasting accessories and possessions. You can offset a piece of sculpture with an interesting plant, or you can line a china or glass display cabinet with velvet — or at least paint a background so that the cabinet looks soft and deep.