Use of large-scale patterns should be limited

Sometimes I feel foolish to be giving advice on the basis of what used to be considered firm principles of interior design. Those standards have been repeatedly — and effectively — challenged in recent years, to the point where there’s now little consensus on essential elements of good design. In fact, it’s gotten harder to say with certainty whether a particular design is good or bad.

The new paradigm holds that everyone is a potential artist and should be allowed, even encouraged, to express his or her individual creativity. OK, but what if a personal expression fails to please anyone other than the statement-maker? Isn’t a setting supposed to have broad appeal?

The answers are, I hope, self-evident — and proof, perhaps, that some design principles will always be worth following.

Q: I’ve come across a floral wallpaper that I’d like to use in my traditionally styled, 15-foot-by-18-foot living room, which includes four tall windows and a fireplace. The wallpaper comes with fabrics in the same colors and pattern. Large-scale, repeating images of roses, leaves and birds are set against a cream background.

Would it look all right to accompany the wallpaper with coordinated draperies and upholstery? Or is that too much of one pattern and one color scheme?

A: The do-your-own-thing school of interior design would simply tell you to take whatever approach you personally prefer. But that’s not very helpful, is it?

My answer is that before deciding what to do, you should take account of factors such as the style and placement of furniture in your living room. Let me refer to the accompanying photo to explain the underlying principles — and, yes, I did say principles.

The wall covering seen here, which is from Thibaut’s Fairfax collection, may be similar to what you’ve come across. As you can see, the same pattern and coloring appears on the sofa’s upholstery. And partly because of its placement, the sofa seems to be disappearing into the covered wall behind it.

This effect does nothing to enhance the room’s design. So instead I recommend that you cover all large upholstered pieces with either a plain fabric or one in colors compatible with the wallpaper. And I would restrict repeats of the wallpaper pattern to small items such as decorative pillows or the covering of occasional chairs grouped around your fireplace.

The designer of this space did make the right choice with the draperies. You should choose cream-colored window coverings, which would complement the background of the wallpaper, and perhaps trim them with braid or fringe in one of the other colors used on the wallpaper.

It’s important in a room the size of yours that a large-scale pattern be confined to a single major surface. Otherwise, the setting will look cluttered and confused.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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