Embrace the pizzazz: Mix up your home decorating with bold patterns and colors
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A kitchen wallpapered with 1930s-era airplanes. Side chairs upholstered in zebra stripes. Ikat-print fabric on a colonial settee. The most surefire way to transform a ho-hum space, a vanilla piece of furniture or a fuddy-duddy antique is by introducing embellished design. But taking the plunge into the world of patterns can rattle even the most confident home decorator.
For courage, we tapped the talents at design firm Madcap Cottage. Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke are known for their fearless flaunting of botanicals, chinoiserie, chintz, stripes, spots, dots, and paisleys. They’ve decorated Manhattan lofts, suburban colonials and country bungalows in their ebullient style, and they woo consumers coast to coast with their funky-fab collections of fabrics, furnishings, window treatments and wallpapers.
They sat us down for a pep talk about prints and patterns.
What is your overall design philosophy?
Open a design book from 30 years ago, and there wasn’t one speck of grey or beige. All that changed with retailers like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn and their simple, neutral aesthetic. And yet today’s catalogs show the pendulum swinging back again as color and pattern are being used to create vibrant spaces.
Are there basic rules for mixing patterns?
A good rule of thumb is to choose one color and carry it throughout. It doesn’t have to be the same shade repeated endlessly. In a blue and white room, for example, navy, light blue and turquoise all read as blue. Your eye connects the dots, and the room feels cohesive yet one of a kind. Use neutral furniture as a backdrop, and bring in touches of black for impact.
Also play with scale. You don’t want every pattern to be small, and you don’t want everything ginormous. A large pattern on one side of a room can connect with a smaller scale on the other. Engage the eye throughout the space, creating a nice flow and keeping the eye moving. Don’t use just two throw pillows in a tiny-scale print — it looks too petite and dainty. Larger scale invites relaxation and comfort.
What’s a good first step for prints?
Shop your own home. Take those forgotten throw pillows out of the closet. Layering pillows on a sofa is a great way to introduce prints. Open your china cabinet and mix and match grandma’s china with your everyday pieces. Have fun with your bed. Combine white flat sheets with floral pillowcases. It’s a great way to dip your toe into the pattern pool.
Also, use your hallway or stairway not just as a pass-through space but as part of a journey through your home. Put up grass cloth, which is very forgiving, and create a gallery wall with salon-style art groupings. If you make a mistake, the grass cloth allows you to rehang pictures without leaving a mark.
Are there prints that will work in any home?
We’re not big believers in rules. As Dorothy Draper said, “If you like it, it’s right.” But stripes connect any pattern. If two sides of a room don’t connect, add a stripe. Animal prints are a great way to introduce a dynamic pattern that adds zest. They work in any room and can connect florals and graphics. If you need to add an architectural element to a space, paint the ceiling pale blue or green. It’s an instant fix.
What are some classic color combos?
Look to the garden. If it works outdoors, it works indoors. For us, green is a neutral — green and yellow, green and red are great pairings. Blue and white is a classic. Yellow is timeless, as well, not only on the runway but also in home design. Pink makes anyone look good, and black is that great neutral that works in any room.
Is there a design scheme that works in mountain homes?
We suggest borrowing the look of English country houses with their rustic walls, dark woods and mix of floral and outdoor motifs. Think about easy, hardwearing performance fabrics that invite dogs, red wine and putting your feet up. The feeling should be layered with vintage pieces next to a modern sofa. For inspiration, find an English design book from the 1980s and look at the visual conversation between outdoors and in.
How do you choose patterns in a room that boasts splendid views?
Pull colors from your view. Pull the blues and greens from the landscape and the whites of the clouds. Frame the view with window treatments that add theater and drama and that guide the eye outside.
Can retro fabrics work in a modern home?
We love mixing traditional with midcentury and midcentury with industrial. It’s about bringing a comfort and softness to a hard-edged space. Using a great botanical print suddenly makes a room feel inviting as opposed to covering it in the expected beige.
How do you give a traditional home a youthful zest?
Trim a dowdy sofa with contrasting welt, bring in pale florals and pale colors — it’s about de-formalizing a space. If you’re not using the living room, pull in board games or place pillows on the floor. Introduce furniture that isn’t perfect. If a piece is highly polished, who wants to sit there? Layered, accumulated elements create a room that’s easy but sophisticated.
• Don’t be scared.
• Use a bold graphic wallpaper as an accent wall behind your headboard.
• Spruce up your sofa with a few different patterns within the same color palette. This keeps it interesting but still cohesive.
• Add a patterned rug to a room with solid fabrics to add a punch.
• If you’re unsure about adding a pattern, using soft monochromatic colors will make a statement without being overwhelming.
Source: Lindsey Jamison, of Rumor Design
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