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Using Pattern in Interior Design

I was always taught that colour sets the mood and pattern sets the style (Jill Blake).  I don’t disagree but neither do I think it’s the only way of thinking about pattern in interior design.


Change in Design

Design has changed substantially in the last 150 years. Many of us live in houses that are old, perhaps not 150 years old, but the interior architecture may dominate, dictate or leave us with a blank canvass, depending on when it was built.


Existing Items

We have personal tastes and ideas and today you can use period items but that does not mean you have to stick religiously to a specific ‘style’.  

In some ways, this is when it gets difficult because you have to be extra creative. 

If you have a healthy budget you can choose whatever you want and possibly get professional interior design help, however, most of us will be limited and have some inherited items to work with. 


Pattern is ‘BIG NEWSin the Interior Design Business

The re-ignited wallpaper business has embraced this revolution which is exciting, but how do you use it?

Storm blotch by Timorous Beasties wide width 1380mm sold by the metre with matching cotton velvet fabric, cushion and unique items of furniture see here.

Pattern in Interior Design


A 1970’s Classic

When wood chip wallpaper came in and the lovely magnolia paint colour (a warm pink white) in the late 60’s, it became a universal style, simple and easy to use.

Wood chip wallpaper

However, pattern wallpaper has been fighting back ever since. 

Laura Ashley did very well and transferred her original ‘country look’ still much beloved by some, by bringing ‘pattern back’, albeit in a rather dainty form with small motifs. But, it was a start emanating from the fashion industry and then into the interior design world. 

Close on its heels was a generation of ‘mix and match’ with retail professionals presenting you with ready-made schemes based on their own products giving some flexibility and making choice easy. 

Next were brilliant at putting together soft furnishings, lampshades, cushions and throws that all ‘co-ordinate’ together easing decision making. The professional world looked back to big curtain treatments with all the trimmings.


Goodbye Scandinavia, Hello Decoration

For many years the simplicity of the white Scandinavian look, has taken charge making life easy, painting everywhere a shade of white and pattern comes in the form of accessories on the odd duvet, sofa and cushion. It’s a great foil for contemporary art.

We have swept that aside, and you are now expected to automatically understand how to be ‘different’ and produce unique and up to the minute designs throughout your house using pattern in a very different way.    

original pattern in interior

Today, if you want an original designer family home, the trend for colour and pattern are hitting you from all four corners. 

Using a ‘feature wall’ in a room with a solid paint colour is one thing, but adding retrospective patterns and designs and still being practical and within budget, is severely testing.

Even interior design professionals scurry to one idea and stick to it for safety, however, a ‘house style can emerge’ instead of working to a client’s brief.



So let’s dissect some of the problems of working with pattern and find solutions.

Project checking and discussing with the manager on the computer

Patterns do influence an overall style however, you don’t need to keep with one pattern, such as roses, throughout your whole house (although the botanical and floral wallpapers of today would have you thinking this is the case).

Without doubt, anything floral has become a dominant motif and as the wallpaper industry has risen to dizzy heights with technological advancements and magazines showing small room sets or photoshoot of a temporary, unrealistic nature, with impractical solutions, it leaves you wondering how this can link to your technological kitchen.

Pattern in interior design


Solution: Develop a Concept

concept for using patter in interior

The concept will:

  • Allow you to embrace a trend
  • Include your existing items
  • Take the natural architecture of your property on the same journey – or not. 

concept in interior design

A concept in the style of the 1960’s

You can abandon a 70’s non-style interior using pattern and colour to lift you out of the doldrums. 


Solution: Use Pattern

Use ‘Pattern’ as your Starting Point for your Interior Design

  • Use the colours from the pattern to develop in different ways
  • Pattern gives you a lead on your colours, shapes and form, pattern, texture and is obviously dynamic – your concept is halfway there!
  • Choose to keep only important items within the new scheme
  • Choose your wallpaper pattern with care – no flamingos in conservative living rooms
  • The Pattern could come from your fabrics not just wallpaper

using pattern in interior design

A simple damask wallpaper design with three colours to work with.  

Use the lightest for the woodwork and ceiling, the pale fawn for a wood floor and furniture and then the deeper pink and even deeper tones for the upholstery with a silver chandelier or pink gold in the accessories to make use of the metallic edge in the paper.


Botanical Fanatical Wallpaper Pattern in Interior

Take a botanical wallpaper and identify the colours with a paint chart.  In particular, look at the base colour and even if it’s white – colour match accurately – there are many ‘whites’.  Quite a few paper companies now have their own range of paints that directly relate to their papers.

botanical pattern in interior

feature wall in interior design

Neo Mint from the Bloomsbury Collection, Graham and Brown


You can wallpaper a whole room entirely with one paper. Bedrooms that overlook gardens look especially pretty and it is quite a feminine look. 

Tone it down with plain, bed linen from Designers Guild as shown and simple white eggshell paint for the woodwork and a dead flat emulsion to the ceiling.  

This is quite a traditional look but not if you use Cole’s Alliums in 115/12034 below, which brings a very contemporary touch.  

interior design botanical wallpaper

See the whole botanical range and their excellent room set visuals give a host of ideas.


Bringing the Downstairs Closet to Life with a Fun Paper

The Wallpaper is used on the ceiling as well as all the walls with a black mirror, toilet seat and door and white fittings. 

Note – all the colours come from the paper although they have not used every colour in such a small space.

Image: Kingdom Lion Wallpaper by Graham & Brown


  • Sort out the colours you can use and link them between rooms from the paper
  • Use some as plain painted walls, others as an accessory
  • Use a small reference of the motif in an arrangement of flowers or pictures and frames
  • In the kitchen take another lift of colour in the painted/colour of the doors.
  • Use the wallpaper behind a glass splash back, instead of tiles.
  • An adjacent area could use a less dominant colour from the paper but have an arrangement of furniture that uses several colours for each piece.  Long gone are the days of the three-piece suite with everything in one fabric.

How the Colour Wheel Can Help You with Your Ideas

Use colours wisely as they can alter the shape of a room.

We have a whole video on how to use colour wheels in our Members area.   

You can divide the colours from the paper into several categories that relate to interior surfaces and items.




The Wall Above the Dado, above the Picture Rail (Frieze)
The Ceiling Within any Cornice, the Cornice detail or Coving
The Floor The body of the floor/carpet eg rug, the surround, boards
The Joinery Skirting’s, Architrave, Dado Rails, Doors
The Accessories Cushions, throws, picture frames, handles
The Furniture Sofas, Chairs, Hard Surfaces eg units, bookcases. Tables


Notes; The skirting hides the gap between the floorboards and the walls in varying heights… Working upwards you may have the following; A Dado Rail or Chair Rail (originated when the furniture was placed around the walls to prevent damage – usually about 70- 100 cms dependent on the height of the room and period. The Architrave is the wooden moulding that goes around the door.  

The Picture rail is about 50 cms down from the ceiling and the wall areas up to the coving or cornice is called the Frieze.  The Cornice can be highly decorative and run from the wall across the ceiling and made of fibrous plaster with bands all the way around the room.  A centre rose where a chandelier may hang is also made of fibrous plaster.




image of pattern

How to Create a ‘Feature Wall’

Use a wall that’s clear of clutter and shelves etc, perhaps a wall that is a feature in itself and could take artwork and is directly visible as you walk in.

The chimney breast wall and side walls can be used if the detail of the fire surround and style of the fireplace itself blends well with the wallpaper design.

Take another colour from the paper to continue the theme but don’t be tempted to go white if the base of the paper is a deep emerald.

Feature wall in pattern in interior

Go with the flow and use super lighting and contrasting furniture (two sofas and two chairs in differing but colours from the paper) and add plain cushions with trim. Mix up your fabric textures if nervous of using too much pattern for the curtains. Eg Linens with a loose weave for a contemporary look. 

Strong colours go with a strong design and you will weaken the dynamics of your scheme by reverting to playing safe.

wallpaper in interior design

A Graham and Brown paper shouting back with a strong dado panel colour and a sofa with cushions and colours from the paper. The gold detail in the table and candlesticks gives an opulent look.



Floors add to the mix of pattern.  

If you have a wood floor with rugs then the joints in the floor eg herringbone style or wide plank with offset joints, say something about your design. A busy floor with a busy wall can be too much unless following a classical style.

flooring pattern in interior design

Wallpaper by Zoffany, Rhombi, in a vinyl finish

Equally a plain fitted carpet is a bit of a safety net like white walls and will not enhance your scheme.  

If it’s a 1970’s scheme which is fine with a retro paper a fitted carpet is perfect in a twist pile.  

See how the colours of the furniture here are lifted from the wallpaper but there is diversity in the style of the furniture.


Pattern and Colour in Flooring

Remember wood has a colour too which should be very carefully ‘colour matched’ and used in other finishes eg bookcases so there is continuity in the palette of colours you use.

pattern and colour in flooring

Woodpecker Goodrich Charred Oak



Rugs on top of an expensive wood floor, double the cost, but can be very luxurious and soaks up noise.  

The size of the rug should always fit at least 30 cms underneath the legs of the furniture arrangements and should not be a token in the centre of the floor. You can measure out exactly what you need and these days we try not to put free-standing sofas and chairs, around the wall facing the TV.  

Use Modular furniture if your room is very small as you will get better use of space and it will look in keeping. Eg. sofas that have corner seats and you can choose the number of units you need.

Make a decision about the focal point as its either a fireplace or the TV – in true design ideals.

rug pattern in interior design

These are often Statements in themselves but the Victorians were masters at combing pattern and colour, not that I would go quite that far. Using a rug with a design that should be seen, means paring back the thematic motifs, with the wallpaper.  

The scale can be different and the colours should have some link but not absolute. 

In a contemporary scheme, use glass coffee tables in the centre to allow the rug design to show through. Go less wild with patterned fabrics for the sofas and curtains although it’s not taboo, just pick with care.  

Damasks, velvets and small self pattern that look like one colour from a distance, give a very practical finish and adds more depth than a plain fabric.




Ceilings are a forgotten dimension but critical to a scheme for a room.  

A white ceiling can give height but also look like a white slab. If there is a picture rail, frieze or cornice take whatever colour up and across the ceiling with a matt finish.  

The same goes for the floor. A tall skirting painted the same as the floor will make the floor look larger.

ceilings patterns

Ceilings can be used as a feature just as much as a wall. 

Murals are also big in the design field. If the walls need to be kept clear for shelving or art then adding a ceiling mural is a great talking point especially if up-lit and down-lit with coving lighting.

Check out our Lighting Blog for more information on lighting.

ceiling mural

A mural suitable for a ceiling or a wall 


ceiling pattern

Designing a ceiling with mouldings as a pattern 



Large scale living rooms with a good ceiling height can take larger designs of pattern. Adding or using the existing Dado Rail can break up the design using a traditional Lincrusta or Anaglypta below. It is a traditional product but can still look very contemporary.

textural pattern in interior

Edwardian Lincrusta Panel by Lincrusta, Heritage Wallcoverings Ltd.

Lincrusta is the original textured below dado panel which is still available from Heritage Wallcoverings. 

See Elle Deco article Dec 18 for an unusual use of the owners of House of Hackney which take Lincrusta up to the egg and dart cornice. 

An Anaglypta with a bold textural design would sit beautifully within a ceiling or on a wall, especially if you add a moulding with LED lighting within it to frame it.

 Acanthus Lincrusta by Heritage

Image: Acanthus Lincrusta by Heritage  

Original Rollers used to make Lincrusta

Image 2: Original Rollers used to make Lincrusta

There are also some excellent ‘Anaglypta’s’, that are cheaper, but still add that textural content. 

This contemporary pattern is so useful and can be left as it is or painted. Its roots are from the original Lincrusta idea, however, that does not mean it can only go below the Dado Line.   

This is a very contemporary pattern which would work very well set into panels adhered to a wall and painted, or up a staircase that has glass balustrades. It’s a lot cheaper to use than traditional Lincrusta. 

Anaglypta by Heritage

Image: Anaglypta by Heritage 

Oracdecor uses texture for walls in tile format mixed with plain surfaces and moulded detail to cut the geometric design.   

Textural Pattern is at its best painted with today’s colours without a flower in sight, yet very much a trend of today.

Oracdecor Zigzag W108

Image: Oracdecor Zigzag W108



  • Check out the instructions on the manufacturer’s labels for hanging wallpaper – some want cross lining and some do not. Cross lining means using a ‘lining paper’ horizontally across the wall width before hanging your chosen paper. There are different grades – thicknesses. Coles for example, do not like you to cross line and expect the wall preparation to be perfect. It’s all in the preparation
  • Paste the paper with the recommended adhesive rather than ready pasted paper
  • ‘Sizing’ the wall means paste the wall with a thinner solution of recommended paste first
  • Check the pattern repeat – particularly before ordering as you can lose a lot of paper in the drop with large pattern repeats, popular today’s designs.
  • Work from the centre of the wall outwards – not from the corner inwards and across the wall
  • If using a dark based paper paint the wall first in the same dark colour as it hides any imperfections in your joints
  • Wallpaper hanging is quite specialised and if you are using expensive paper it could be beneficial to employ an expert.  Not all ‘painting’ decorators know how to hang wallpaper properly. Check our their credentials.  A mistake should not cost you money
  • Use the best quality wallpaper and paint you can afford. It’s easier to use. It lasts longer and looks more professional and spectacular. There is plenty of information available on hanging paper and paper but always refer to the company’s product guide to safe guard making a mistake and also to qualify for their guarantees 


References to Companies:

Graham and Brown

Timorous Beasties

Cole & Son

Heritage Wallcoverings



Laura Ashley




Woodpecker Flooring

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