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Making Multiple Colors & Patterns Work

I’ve often maintained that a one or two-color palette with a single-color accent creates the strongest design. Such an approach reflects focus and intention. But I’ve also maintained that there is a style that isn’t so disciplined. That style is cottage and, over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a client who favors this very aesthetic. The pleasure does not just come from the person that Meg is, but also from the sense of color adventure that she has.

When Meg contacted me about her latest project, I correctly anticipated that we’d be using several colors and patterns. This included reupholstering a sofa, chair, ottoman, throw pillows, and six reversible kitchen niche cushions as well as replacing draperies. The spaces involved the living room, family room, and breakfast niche where we had previously added a table and built-in seating. The niche walls would remain magenta pink and the others sage-green. These are two of Meg’s favorite colors along with accents of black.

For this new project, she wanted to introduce aqua-blue. So, at our next meeting, I came prepared with fabric samples in all the colors you might expect, and in many patterns, except striped. Meg hates stripes. She does love checks so I made sure to include them in all sizes and colors.

Even though cottage style is more relaxed than others, it did not give us a free pass to decorate without thought. In fact, it took a lot of thought. How could each fabric make sense with the overall whole? This was especially important since all three rooms could be seen, one into the other. We would have to balance the distribution of color and scale of pattern and also maintain a consistency in texture.

Because the following description might get complicated, I’m including a link with photos at the end of this column.

We ultimately chose six different fabrics starting with a large-scale aqua floral for the living room sofa. We then moved on to a medium-scale aqua leaf for the family room chair and a small-scale aqua polka dot for the chair’s ottoman.

The niche’s seat, back and side cushions would be a pink and white abstract on one side, a black, white and green floral on the other, and a black and white check on the four-inch banding (the thickness of the cushion.) We added two throw pillows in the same black and white check and two in the same aqua polka dot. Meg would only use two of these four pillows at a time depending on which side of the reversible cushions was showing. The other two, no matter what they were, would always work in the family room and, therefore, would never have to be stored in a closet while waiting their turn.

Because Meg appreciates detail, we added brass nail heads to the sofa, fringe to its pillows, cording to the ottoman and throw pillows, and used the same pink fabric as a contrasting welt on the check pillows. This same check was used for the draperies and valance. A solid black fabric accented the valance and was used as a big button on the ottoman.

To sum it up, we balanced and tied together these three rooms with aqua fabrics in each. We then united the family room and niche with the same polka dot fabric and black cord. We further united them with the black and white check. (I should mention that we had previously dressed the living room windows in a black and white vine fabric.) The pink fabric was a small but important link to the pink niche walls.

The scale of the fabric patterns was just as important as their colors. So that any one pattern did not get lost or compete with another, we used only one large-scaled pattern and complimented it with a mix of medium and small.

More photos of this project.


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