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DIY design tips for decorating with a rug

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

A common dilemma of do-it-yourself designers (which is most of us!) is we know what we like but we don’t know how to achieve it or where to start. This dilemma is particularly true if you like the maximalism look and want to mix different patterns and colors. Here are five tips to help get you going with confidence :

Start with the Foundation

Similar to makeup artists who advise foundation as the place to begin a makeover, so too with a room. Begin at the base. Choose a rug as your foundation because your rug choice is the key to success. For anyone building their design confidence we recommend a patterned vintage rug with gently faded colors, or if you prefer new, a transitional rug which combines a classic pattern with contemporary colors. These two rug categories will help you to “blend” layers of pattern and color in your room. A generously sized rug that anchors your room’s furniture will also help you to blend and coordinate pattern and colors. A large rug size does not necessarily mean a high rug price. Our vintage rug selection includes many affordable room-sized rugs.

Colors: Mother Nature Knows Best

It’s often said there are no color clashes in nature. Famous English interior designer David Hicks said colors don’t clash, they “vibrate”. What he meant by “vibrate” is colors that club together on the color wheel like pink and orange. Adjacent colors seem to “vibrate” and create a memorable “chromatic afterimage” when used in a room or for example in a orange, red, yellow color block painting by Mark Rothko. Color vibration is probably why so many visitors to India fondly remember the country’s vivid color juxtapositions. But regardless of Mother Nature, David Hicks, and the joys of Indian design, colors can clash for those who aren’t experts at interior design, which leads us to our next tip.

Color Intensity

Pink and orange or the explosion of colors and patterns in Sasha Bikoff’s on-trend room designs require superb skills and knowledge of color theory to pull off. So what do the rest of us do if we want a mix of colors and patterns? The answer is color intensity and pattern-on-pattern rhythm (see tip 5). Color intensity borrows the “rules” used in color analysis for clothing. Choose any colors you like as long as they are grouped in one of six “intensity” categories: light, deep, bright, soft, warm, cool. We’ve seen a design scheme on the cover of an international magazine where the designer combined ten patterns and colors, yet the room was a calm oasis because the colors were in a single intensity group, the patterns followed rhythm and scale rules, and one large block of solid color (the drapery of the bedroom’s four poster bed) to provide a resting point for the eyes.

Pattern – Opposites Attract

Now that you’ve got your color intensity guide, it’s time to think about patterns. It’s true – opposites do attract. Florals look great with stripes and geometrics, but it can still be a minefield to mix patterns without scale and rhythm. There are two pattern scales, major and minor or if you prefer, big and small. A big pattern is easily viewable from across a room. A major pattern with a minor pattern will harmonize and they don’t have to be opposites, for example you could choose two different florals, just ensure the scales are distinctly different if these patterns are used large-scale for upholstery. If you’re using them as scatter cushions then the rule can be relaxed.

If you want to use just small scale patterns (remembering of course that your anchor rug is a major scale pattern) it’s easy on the eye to use several small to mid-scale patterns when they are grouped by color intensity. Just remember to vary pattern types, for example a small floral or paisley with a small-scale stripe or an ikat Try to borrow pattern motifs from your rug to help you choose. For example does your rug have a classic Tree of Life pattern? If so, then a small scale geometric pattern plus a landscape-inspired mid-scale pattern will create interesting, compatible contrasts. Don’t forget invisible patterns, i.e. solid color upholstery for example with a tone-on-tone woven pattern will help transition the eye across the room and create a resting point and visual boundary to avoid the possibility of pattern-on-pattern confusion.

Pattern-on-pattern: Rhythm

Rhythm in a room means repetition of a pattern three to four times across multiple objects to create a cohesive design. For example a geometric border in your rug can be picked up in a fabric for sofa cushions, and repeated across the room in a similarly patterned lampshade. Patterns don’t have to be matchy-matchy (better if they don’t) but simply closely related within the overall pattern category and your chosen color intensity.

Our Final Tip

Our post is about tips more so than rules, but there is a three-part rule we recommend: trust your instincts, buy what you love, and remember that a beautiful artisan rug will anchor your design and provide a foundation for interior design success.

A special thanks to our friends at S&H Rugs for providing this article!

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