Interior Design: Using Patterns as a Feature
Pattern as a Feature
In many modern buildings, rooms tend to be somewhat featureless: they have no fireplace, no strong architectural elements like mouldings, and not much in the way of a view unless you actually stand on tiptoe to peer out of the window. Yet even the most uninspiring box-like room can be enormously cheered by the clever use of pattern. Obviously you can use beautiful additions — for example, paintings and wallhangings — but an interestingly designed or a subtly coloured needlework carpet or an exquisite rug will immediately distract the eye from any architectural mediocrity, as will a well-chosen patterned wallcovering or a stunning upholstery fabric.
Patterned paper, or stencilled border running around a room just below the ceiling and perhaps down corners and above skirting boards (baseboards), makes an excellent and colourful substitute for mouldings and a cornice (crown molding). And dull rooms can be made to look mysterious and beautiful if you resort to comparatively inexpensive ‘disguisers’; for example, you could first paint the walls a strong colour and then shirr them with cheesecloth or a light cotton. You can achieve this effect by stretching a generous amount of fabric between two sets of rods, one fixed just below the ceiling and one just above the skirting boards.
When you have no natural focal point in a room you can create one by hanging a good rug on a wall, or even by framing a beautiful piece of fabric or an old paisley shawl and hanging it up. It does not really matter if your windows have no view and are less than graceful, because you can dress them up with attractively patterned fabrics — particularly, you can contrast framing or dress curtains or draperies with inner curtains or with roller, Roman, festoon or ballroom shades or blinds, and add yet more contrast using edges or fringes, trims and tie-backs. A trick you can use with dull windows is to frame them from just below the ceiling, cornice or moulding to the floor using fabric-covered two-by-fours or pieces of. The windows can then have either contrast curtains or a shade within the frame.
Another way of creating an interesting focal point in a monochromatic room is to have a single piece of seating — a large armchair or a sofa — upholstered in an interesting pattern. Or you could set two contrasting tablecloths — one over and one under — on a round table, with perhaps a fringe trailing to the floor.
Combining and Co-ordinating
A very great deal of the pattern in a room is effected by objects and possessions, furnishings, plants, lights and light itself, with its play of shadows, as well as by the varying textures of so-called ‘plain’ fabrics, carpets and matting and their juxtaposition with each other. There is pattern in the way paintings are hung on the walls. There is pattern in shelved books, with their diverse jacket designs and the gradations and contrasts of their colours — there is even pattern in the arrangement of the shelves. There is pattern in vases of flowers, in the jagged edges of leaves set against a wall or window, and in the way an uplighter can shine through the foliage at night to cast shadows on the walls and ceiling. There is pattern in the arrangement of furniture, and in the display of accessories and collections.
If you think about the way all these things form a pattern in their own right, you can see how you should not worry too much about mixing patterns in fabrics. With all the other things that are going on, one fabric more or less will hardly make a difference so long as the scale, tone, proportion and colour are right. Nevertheless, many people remain very nervous about mixing patterns. To counter this lack of confidence, fabric and wallpaper manufacturers often get together to produce coordinating prints and plains, using perhaps a large floral design together with a small, more open pattern having similar but scaled-down elements; these in turn can be combined with a geometric pattern or basket weave or some similar all-over design in matching colours. In this way one design can be used for curtains, another for shades, and yet others for different pieces of upholstery, combined perhaps with some plains. One of the designs can also be used for wallpaper, or at least for a border. This sort of coordination has proved very popular. Manufacturers have also expended a good deal of effort to find other complementary designs in their ranges. Their catalogues are usually filled with photographs of room settings to show you how well different designs can look together.
However, suppose you have the requisite confidence and want to be a little more idiosyncratic in juxtaposing designs, to do your own mixing and matching. What is the best way to go about it?
As we have seen, scale, tone and proportion are of prime importance, and to this list you might add similarity as well as overall suitability. Always bring home as large a sample as you can get so that you can see what the design will look like in situ, with your sort of light and in the context of your other possessions. Unless you possess a very good sense of scale, larger patterns that you thought eye-catching in the store may look fairly dire once you have brought the materials home and set them up in your own private setting. Likewise, the colours may clash if the room is otherwise gentle. Conversely, very small, detailed patterns can often blur so that they give the impression of a single colour when actually used for curtains. On the other hand, small-scale repeats in upholstery or soft furnishings of a larger pattern on the walls, curtains or shades can give an interesting sense of perspective. It is worth experimenting to see what looks good.
You can often use together materials of the same pattern but in two different colour schemes, or you might opt for the same pattern reversed or in negative —for example, a predominance of terracotta on cream for some items and a predominance of cream on terracotta for others.
Patterns that are fairly but not exactly similar — that is, patterns from the same ‘family’, like a large rose print with a smaller rosebud print, a floral abstract or a single colour on white like a toile de Jouy — will look good together. To the combination suggested here you could alternatively add a damask in one of the deeper colours, or a stripe, check or small geometric in the same colouring as the leaves of one of the flowers. Very often, as we have noted, an old fabric or textile thrown across a sofa, chair or table will add an interesting dimension.
The best thing is always to experiment. Get together all the samples of fabric that you like and look at them simultaneously — and look at them, too, in conjunction with your chosen rugs and/or carpets. It should quickly become obvious as to which fabrics enhance each other and which detract from each other.
Another good way to learn about mixing patterns is to look at a collection of Indian fabrics and dhurrie rugs. The various designs look effortlessly harmonious, their patterns all being of much the same size and in good proportion with each other. Once you have studied the way their colours repeat and intermingle with one another, and the way in which colours are balanced yet subtly contrasted, the whole business of mixing and matching will seem less of a matter of trepidation.
It is reassuring, too, to recall that people have throughout history mixed patterns and textures with, if not abandon, then at least a sense of richness. Look at the intricacies of oriental rugs, the extraordinary linen-fold panelling, rich plasterwork and tapestries used together in the 16th and 17th centuries; the complicated but beautiful ceilings and floors of Robert Adam, with the various damasks, silks, embroideries and plaster-work of the 18th and 19th centuries; the pattern-on-pattern of the Victorian age; the sinuous complications of Art Nouveau; and the jazzy mixtures of the 1920s.