Author’s Note: For the Chicago Tribune’s HOME section, I caught up with Tricia Guild of the UK’s Designers Guild. The mere thought of mixing patterns can make some design aspirants weak at the knees with fear. So I asked Guild, who’s staked her whole enterprise on that eclectic look, to break it down for us.
Tricia Guild, founder and creative director of London-based Designers Guild, says there’s no reason to be afraid of mixing fabrics in the home. Clearly, she wasn’t there the time our window treatment of paisley jacquard and checked sateen made those small children cry. Not to mention the adults. So it’s probably more accurate to say that there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’re Tricia Guild.
At Designers Guild, the creative director designs and wholesales feast-for-the-eyes fabrics, wallcoverings, upholstery and much more, which become still “feastier” when Guild combines them in her trend-setting way. Her favorite rule: Break them all. And in most cases, we agree with the sentiment. But some of us can barely master the rules of pancake mix, to say nothing of mixing chiffon with velour.
We asked Guild to present several best practices to help us achieve that eclectic but pulled-together look. Keep them in mind and soon, you’ll be throwing together diverse fabrics (Ikat! Toile! Leather! Lace!) to arrive at design’s answer to perfect pitch.
1 DIP YOUR TOES
Find one or two patterns you love, patterns that make you happy. Then, introduce them into your space in a commitment-free way. Interchangeable accessories, like cushions, blankets or rugs, give you freedom to experiment before signing away your curtains and soft furnishings. In her own home, Guild keeps on hand piles of colored and patterned cushions (not to mention rugs and blankets for colder months). “I can never have enough of these accessories,” she says. “They can change the feel of a space in an instant.”
2 THREE’S A CHARM (AND TWO MIGHT BE BETTER)
Design pandemonium is far less likely if you limit yourself to three patterns in a room. In fact, if you’re allergic to the time-intensive process of creative trial and error, stick to just two. Guild loves to upholster the back of a chair in one pattern, the chair seat in another. By repeating those two fabrics elsewhere in the room (pillows, window treatment, a bed skirt), you’ll provide the feeling of cohesion. Caveat emptor: Whether or not your heart is set on a third fabric, don’t buy so much as a yard without reading the tip directly below.
3 COMMON LAW
The most effective way to keep clashes at bay: Ensure that each of your two or three patterns share in common at least one color. Virtually any two patterns in the always-classic combination of black and white will relate visually. “But the common color doesn’t have to be neutral or subdued,” she says. It can be a vivid green in your silk organza sofa that carries over to your plaid pillows.
4 REST STOPS
In a color-saturated room full of intricate detail, the eye needs a place of quiet and calm. Guild suggests large swaths of white or soft neutrals. Think white voile at the bay windows or a coat of eggshell paint on an uncluttered wall. Meanwhile, this is not the time to paint fleur de lis motifs on your hardwood. Let floors and ceilings be their neutral selves.
5 TRY IT ON FOR SIZE
Large rooms can handle patterns of every scale (and tend to want some big ones). But it can be tough to arrive at the right balance in a smaller space. For Guild, doing nothing is not an option. “A small room with no color, pattern or personality is a very sad space,” says Guild, with whom we agree. Kryptonite is to Superman as a colorless room is to us.
Guild suggests trying just one mid-sized pattern in a teeny room, or two small-scale patterns linked by way of color. We’re also drawn to Guild’s idea for safely infusing buckets of color in a small room: Wrap numerous throw pillows or cushions in one, smaller-scale pattern. Maybe it’s a houndstooth wool. There’s your sense of order. But buy that houndstooth in several different colors from the same family, like three jewel tones, for instance. There’s your sense of vitality.
6 BECOME AMBI-TEXTUROUS
Variance and/or repetition of texture provide a heightened depth and dimension in any room. At times, Guild applies texture for contrast: The sheen of silk dupioni, for instance, appears even more luminous when set against linen. Conversely, Guild’s been known to take the same texture and go for broke. For the sake of opulence, create layers upon layers of velvet, as with a damask velvet couch, coupled with striped velvet seat cushions and crushed velvet pillows.
If you still feel nervous when “texture” and “pattern” appear in the same sentence, let alone the same room, consider this: Sensitivity to pattern is part of our collective unconscious. No, really. “From our most ancient beginnings,” says Guild, “looking for patterns in our natural surroundings seems to have been an innate part of human nature. Even then, we observed and gathered information from the arrangements of petals on a flower, the scales on a fish and the stars in the sky.”
In other words, trust your instincts. They’ve been doing this a few millennia longer than you.
In the U.S., interior designers source Designers Guild’s to-the-trade wall coverings and fabrics via Osborne and Little. But in 2009, the brand’s full collection of bed linens, cushions, rugs and more became available to U.S. consumers at: www.designersguild.com/usa-shop-online.