Start the Year with Bold Color and Pattern

After years of touting grays, beiges and greiges, design pundits are encouraging homeowners to embrace vibrant hues and lively patterns. The trick is doing it right.

Key Takeaways:

  • Homeowners are craving change and individuality, which means patterns and colors are making a bold comeback.
  • Keep things simple, with one pattern as the “star” and other patterns and colors as supporting “actors.”
  • Don’t be afraid to go bold. After all, that’s what patterns and colors were made for.

Neutral, solid colors have dominated interiors for years. Countertops, backsplashes, floors, walls, ceilings and upholstery boasted blocks of beige and myriad gray hues. Things are changing though. Many homeowners are eager to punch up their surroundings and go bold.

In addition to the now-tired, spa-inspired palettes of recent years, other reasons explain the current move toward exuberance. For starters, homeowners crave a change after the past two years. “Pattern adds excitement, personality and energy, and keeps a room from looking flat,” says designer Rebecca Pogonitz of GoGo Design Group. The same can be said for the effect of vibrant color. Also, homeowners nowadays have less concern for what future buyers will think. “I tell my clients to design for yourself and enjoy your space rather than for the person who may live there next,” says designer Dane Austin of Dane Austin Design (@daneaustindesign). And just like less concern, there are also fewer rules about mixing motifs like stripes and plaid and colors on a room’s surfaces.

Finally, technological breakthroughs combine visual appeal and minimal maintenance. For instance, “performance” wallpapers and fabrics are easier to clean, says designer Marina Case of The Red Shutters. Larger digital printers allow bigger-scale designs to be manufactured, says Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design.

Synthetic quartz has bolder “veining” that conceals stains and scratches, says designer Jacob Laws of Jacob Laws Interior Design. And wallpaper thickness has increased, which reduces tearing when hung and removed, says DeAnna Hain, executive vice president, marketing, of York Wallcoverings.

In using patterns and bold patterns today, the biggest decisions are how to choose from a vast array of options and mix them deftly. The finished look should appear fresh rather than dated. Design experts offer these tips to share with clients.

Be Bold, But Don’t Overdo It

While more than one pattern and a few bold colors can visually work well in the same space, designer Jodi Swartz of KitchenVisions recommends keeping the mix to one bold pattern. Consider which pattern will operate as the star of the show, and use other patterns and colors as supporting characters, says Austin and Laws.

Hain suggests limiting the number of patterns to three. For those who may be timid, Swartz recommends starting with a classic herringbone or another subtle pattern in a single room such as a bedroom or dining room rather than covering a wide swath of shared space.

Balance the Scale

Homeowners who like the look of mixing different patterns might consider one oversized design and others on a smaller scale, says Laws. He now favors paisley patterns with a large 2½-inch repeat, rather than the tiny paisleys of prior generations. Designer Tineke Triggs of Tineke Triggs Interiors likes to mix florals with geometrics, which she says is like pairing a plaid shirt with a floral skirt. Pogonitz combines large-scale trellis or chevron patterns with smaller circular designs. Designer Suzan Wemlinger of Suzan J Designs, Decorating Den Interiors, offers a similar strategy: “If you like using florals, add in some curves or other geometrical patterns.”

The key is not to repeat too many similar patterns. “Too much of one thing can be just too much,” Hain says. The same or related colors can act as a common denominator to tie together the variety, Pogonitz says.

Contrast with Color

While some rooms might be unified by the same color in different areas, at other times some “clash is your friend,” says James Greenwood, brand and interior expert at wallpaper manufacturer Graham & Brown. As an example, he points to his company’s Jardin Magenta design, which contrasts monotone floral etchings and a magenta ground or field.

Kati Baker, partner and luxury home staging specialist at Downtown Realty Company, says, “A great place to go bold is your powder room bathroom. This is a small space where you can show off using bold paint color or a fun wallpaper. It’s not a huge commitment.”

Offset Patterns with Solids and Classics

Solids aren’t totally passé. They offer a way to rest the eye and play up contrast. Baker likes to accent big solid-colored furnishings with patterned rugs, decorative pillows, and blankets. She adds, “Striped patterns are always classic and can balance out another pattern (i.e., a floral).” Another way to help avoid dating a room, Triggs says, is to pepper in some classic furnishings such as a mid-century Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair or Vladimir Kagan sofa.

Don’t Forget Texture and Novel Shapes

Texture—in wallcoverings, rugs, pillows and backsplash tiles—adds another dimension to a well-designed space, says Hain. Laws likes to use ombre-dyed hand-knotted silk. Segal uses backsplash tiles with metal inserts. Baker loves grasscloth wallpaper, which, she says, is “classic, versatile, comes in many colors and adds depth to a room.”

Consider the Exterior

The outside of a house offers added surfaces where color, texture and pattern can be introduced. Jackie Mosher, COO and partner at Dzinly, an online design resource, recommends three to five complementary colors or materials in large cladding areas.

Blue house exterior

© Amy Wax

Photo courtesy of Amy Wax, Color911

Color expert Amy Wax, founder of the Color911 app, doesn’t like to limit the number of colors but instead makes decisions based on a homeowner’s goal—whether they want an understated, elegant exterior or one that’s bold and outgoing. Overall, she finds more homeowners comfortable using color to make a statement and give their house a personal identity or say something visually about who lives inside.

Dip a toe in or jump in head-first?

Experts vary on which strategy to follow. Some recommend trying out bolder patterns or colors in a limited way. Options include wallpapering a ceiling or installing patterned tiles behind a kitchen, says Jodi Swartz of KitchenVisions.

Designer Summer Thornton of Summer Thornton Design thinks otherwise. “I believe that there’s a greater risk in dipping your toe into the pattern pond than there is to jump in head-first. When people are afraid, it shows—an accent wall, a colorful pillow on an otherwise beige sofa. These are amateur attempts that do more harm than good to the aesthetics of the room,” says Thornton, author of the design book, Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating (Rizzoli). She adds, “Fortune favors the bold. When I design rooms, I tell a story through the design and … that whisks guests off their feet onto a magical carpet ride.”

She also believes that a real estate salesperson can help. “A great real estate agent knows that differentiation is a selling point. When something is one-of-a-kind, it isn’t a commodity and cost per square foot goes completely out the window for buyers,” she says.

Remember: Nothing Is Forever

Changing designs may not be inexpensive but it’s not impossible when the next trend appears or homeowners tire of a look. Even removing wallpaper—once a laborious task—has become easier, says Hain. “We studied how to make them release better from a wall and implemented a combination of paste and paper that make removal stress free,” she says. Another option? Skip the wallpaper altogether. Use elements that are easier to switch out such as pillows, lamps and accessories to add pattern and color.