Master the art of combining color, pattern

: I want to add more excitement to my home interior, but I'm completely intimidated by picking out bright colors and bold patterns. Any pointers to help me get started?

A: Relax, because it's not nearly as hard as you think to come up with killer color-and-pattern combinations. All you need are a few practical pointers, some creative inspiration and a bit of self-confidence, and you'll be pulling together rooms that are riveting.

Here are a few tips to get you started mixing it up like the pros.

Land on a look you love

Some people are completely energized by rooms full of electric colors in strong stripes, gigantic florals and geometric shapes. Others would blow a circuit in such a high-voltage space and instead yearn for a palette of whisper-soft hues and muted patterns. Since picking pattern and color is such an intensely personal decision, you've got to follow your heart and only embrace a look that will make you smile for years to come.

If you're not sure about what level of color and pattern floats your boat, thumb through decorating magazines and books, earmarking the pictures that make you weak in the knees. Chances are, the rooms you're drawn to share a common look, with color tones and pattern designs that are just right for you.

Get inspired

Once you know the look you're going for, you need an inspiration piece. Hunt for something that jazzes you up and gets your creative juices flowing. It could be a treasured object, like a painting, vase or rug. Maybe you've discovered a look on your travels you want to replicate in your home, like a Tuscan villa or an English country cottage.

Or take your cue from designers' new looks this season. At the High Point furniture market this spring, vendors wowed me with their use of citrus-colored solids, like magenta pillows piped in tangerine. Another hot look was shining up classic fabrics, like tweed and damask, with undertones of metallic threads.

Bold graphic prints are as big as ever, and lots of designers are working with nubby silks and linens. And the move toward subtle grays that I spotted at the Paris market last year is now hitting the United States.

Tackle the toughest decision first

In every home-decorating project, there is at least one agonizing decision you must make. For me, it's picking out a new sofa. So much hinges on this one choice that it can be paralyzing. So tackle this tough decision first and the room will flow easily from there.

Finish the room

Friends and customers often share with me that even though they've filled a room with the patterns and colors they love, they still aren't happy with the results. Nine times out of 10 it's simply because they haven't added the finishing touches that bring a room together.

To finish a room, create continuity by carrying out your look throughout the space. Repeat a key color or two, or carry on a central theme like botanicals or birds in your fabrics and accents. Or use a texture, style of furnishing or favorite accent in several places.

I'm sold on the power of great artwork to take a room from blah to fabulous. So when your big pieces are in place, cover your walls with art. You'll be amazed by how it transforms the space. The right lamps also will give your room a polished look. And don't forget awesome accessories, like urns, trays and pedestals.

Remember that a great room doesn't happen overnight. It evolves through the years as you edit and tweak and introduce new treasures. So be patient and enjoy the process as you create a new space filled with the color and pattern you love.

Mary Carol Garrity owns three home furnishings stores in Atchison, Kan., and wrote several books on home decorating. Write to Mary Carol at Her column is syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service.