Two of the biggest decorating hang ups are choosing colors and picking patterns. We are so afraid to get it wrong. It feels like such a big decision every time. Think about all the hours you’ve spent staring at paint chips or wandering the fabric store aisles.
It doesn’t have to be so hard. There are pre-decisions you can make now that will make choosing colors and patterns easier every time in the future. By figuring out these preferences upfront, you eliminate a whole bunch of options automatically and you can narrow in on what you really want faster.
Here’s five questions and detailed explanations to help you refine your color and pattern preferences:
Psst. To go along with this post, I made you a free Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet. You can download it now and follow along.
1. How do you want to feel?
Whether we’re talking color or pattern, the feeling you want to create for your room is the most important thing. How do you want your room to feel most of the time? Choose three guiding feeling words to describe how you want your room to make you feel. For example, your guiding feeling words for a playroom might be happy, fun, and bright. Contrast that with guiding feeling words for an office which might be quiet, focused, and successful.
I bet when you just think of the guiding feeling words in those examples that certain colors and patterns come to mind. Or maybe you think of other places that made you feel the same way and you remember the colors and patterns you were surrounded by. The point is, the feeling of a room is directly impacted by your color and pattern choices.
Don’t choose colors and patterns that contradict your guiding feeling words. To keep it simple, throughout the rest of this post I am going to refer to different options as energetic or calm. Choosing color and patterns is never that black or white, but I want to give you a frame of reference to think about. Do you want your room to have energy or be calming?
2. Do you like it hot or cold? Or Maybe a little bit of both?
I’m talking color temperature here. The color palette you choose can make or break a room. The best starting point for choosing a color palette is to figure out where you’re comfortable on the color wheel. Once you know a starting color you like, you can choose a palette of 2-3 colors to work with.
Pssst. We’re going to focus on finding your starting color here. Download the free Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet to turn your starting color into a color palette.
So, where are you most comfortable on the color wheel? Do you prefer warm colors like yellow, orange, and red? Those colors tend to add more energy to a space, especially the more intense or bright shades. Or do you prefer cool colors like green, blue, and purple? Those colors tend to calm a space and even really saturated shades are still calming. Or do you like the best of both worlds? If so, you might like a complementary color palette which uses two colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel. This type of palette will always have a cool color with a warm complementary color. A complementary palette has the most energy, because of the tension between the color opposites.
Now before you finalize your choice, revisit your guiding feeling words. Do you think warm, cool, or a mix would bring out those feelings best? With that in mind, choose your favorite color to start with, then grab the Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet to see how to use that color as a jumping off point for a color palette.
3. What’s your color style?
Colors come in four basic flavors; hues, shades, tints, and tones. You probably already gravitate toward one of these with your color choices. Although you can mix color flavors, it can get a bit tricky. To avoid color clashes, it’s easiest to stick with one flavor.
Hues are the pure primary, secondary, or tertiary colors. In style terms, hues are very popular in contemporary style. Outside of that style or a kindergarten class room, straight up hues can look a bit childish or brash. Hues are a very energetic color choice.
Shades are a hue with black added to it to make the color darker. In style terms, shades are fairly common in traditional style. Shades can be rich and saturated or dark and brooding depending how much black is added to the base color. Shades are a more masculine color choice.
Tints are a hue with white added to it to make the color lighter. Think pastels. In style terms, tints are popular in shabby chic style. Tints tend to be sweet and calming, even if the starting hues are on the warm side of the color wheel. Tints are a more feminine color choice.
Tones are a hue with white and black (gray) added to it. Tones might be lighter or darker than the original color depending on the mix of white and black added to the base color. Tones are said to be the most livable colors, because they are “toned down.” So, you’ll see tones used in every decorating style. You can spot a tone, because it looks like a grayed out version of it’s base hue. Tones make all colors, energetic or calming, easier to look at.
What’s your flavor? Do you love the energy of pure hues, the richness of shades, the sweetness of tints, or the livability of tones? Pick one and try to keep most of your main color choices in the room within the same flavor.
4. What patterns draw you in?
I group patterns into three main categories; geometric, organic, and neutral. You can always create a great pattern mix by choosing one pattern from each category. (Check out my video here for a no-fail pattern mixing recipe.)
Geometric patterns are structured, predictable, repeating patterns. They are based off of repeating geometric shapes. Some examples include chevron, polkadot, and stripe. Because of their bold, graphic nature geometric patterns tend to be more energetic.
Organic patterns are natural, free-flowing, sometimes curvy patterns. They are based off of natural motifs and although the patterns are printed in a repeat, where the repeat begins and ends isn’t as easy to spot. Some examples include damask, floral, and animal prints. Because of their natural motifs organic patterns tend to be more calming, but some have more vibrant colors making them more energetic.
Neutral patterns are pattern-less or barely there patterns. Examples include solid colors, subtle textures, and tone-on-tone prints. These are the “go with everything” type of patterns. From a pattern perspective, neutral patterns are more calming and a great way to break up more energetic patterns.
What’s your main pattern preference; geometric, organic, or neutral? What do you gravitate towards? This is probably the category you want to pick most of your patterns from, but in the next section I’ll make some suggestions for mixing in patterns from the other categories.
5. How much pattern can you handle?
There is no right answer for how much pattern to include in a room. There are gorgeous rooms that don’t have any pattern. On the other end of the spectrum, there are stunning rooms just dripping with pattern. It’s a personal preference, but I’ve got a few tips to help you pick the right amount of pattern for you.
A good rule of thumb is to use three patterns in a room. The mix of three different patterns creates interest without being overbearing. If you choose one pattern from each of the three main categories, you can create a nice balanced mix whether your room is energetic or calm. Get the Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet to see some examples.
Now, if you want to take it down a notch, you can use only 1-2 patterns and lean on organic and neutral patterns. This will keep your space more calm. With less pattern, your key to creating a lovely room will be to use a variety of textures to create subtle visual interest.
If you want to amp it up, use 4-5 patterns and create a lively mix of geometric and organic prints, using neutrals to give the eye a place to rest. You’ll need some advanced pattern mixing strategies to pull this one off. Start with the tips on the free Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet.
Let’s do a quick recap:
- You chose three guiding feeling words for your room. Overall is the feeling you’re after energetic or calm?
- You found your comfort zone on the color wheel; warm, cool, or a little bit of both.
- You chose a color flavor; hues, shades, tints, or tones.
- You picked a favorite pattern category; geometric, organic, or neutral.
- You discovered your ideal pattern mix; keep it simple (1-2 patterns), a balanced mix (three patterns), or bring it on (4-5 patterns).
With these preferences locked in, every future color and pattern decision will be easier. Start with your preferences and work out from there. For more helpful tips and a visual guide to picking patterns and choosing colors download the free Color and Pattern Cheat Sheet.