Decorating Trend: How to Pair Prints Like a Pro

Experts share the secrets behind unexpected combos that work—beautifully.

Pairing prints—one of the fashion world’s latest (and potentially trickiest) trends—is now a Thing in home design too. The good news is you don’t need to be a style maven to come up with combos that work. Pro-caliber mixing and matching simply comes down to a few trade secrets.


Start Small 
If diving headfirst into a pool of patterns seems daunting, begin by dipping your toe—say, three or four bright pillows plus a subtle rug. 


Find a Theme
First, put some thought into the overall vibe you’re going for. Floral and stripe patterns are a good fit in a country cottage–type space, while bold pillows and wood details create a hip, bohemian feel. Once you have a handle on your theme, collect images and ideas on Pinterest or on paper. Then narrow them down to your true favorites. Be a tough editor, says Los Angeles–based celebrity interior designer LM Pagano. Using only your ultimate picks is what will give your space a strong sense of direction.


Color Counts 
According to Sarah Fishburne, director of Trend and Design at The Home Depot, repeating colors is the key to success. She recommends making the busiest, most colorful pattern the dominant one, then playing it up by matching with other textiles in a similar shade. For example, this coral-striped ceiling pairs with the orangey throw and vanity chair, while the emerald green is repeated in the window treatment, pillows, bookshelves and lamp. Repeated patterns, as in these matching pillows, headboard and window treatment, also make a room look unified.


Take a Break
Adding a few large-scale solids—think sofa and chairs—gives eyes natural resting places and lets bold prints truly shine. “Patterned pillows and rugs are easy to swap in and out, but furniture generally stays for the long-term,” says Fishburne. Choose wisely.


Test Drive
Typically, you try on a dress before buying. Similar principle: Bring home swatches to make sure each pattern is a good fit. Live with them in plain sight for a week, suggests Fishburne. “If you still like the fabrics, you’re on the right track.”

Clever Combos
There’s no hard-and-fast number of patterns that’s too many, but Pagano says three is a great rule of thumb. For an end result that’s classy, not chaotic, try the 60/30/10 approach: 60% of one favorite pattern, 30% of a second and 10% of a third for a finishing touch. Pagano’s go-to picks:

Stripes + florals + polka dots
Zebra print + leather + polka dots
Florals + brocades + stripes
Paisley + stripes + florals 
Cheetah print + cowhide + stripes

Photos, from top: Adam Albright, Michael Partenio, John Bessler (2), Dana Gallagher.