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Kelly Wearstler’s 6 Tips for Working With Patterns

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 2, 2020 • 5 min read

“Pattern is one of my favorite design vehicles,” says world-class interior designer Kelly Wearstler. “Pattern crosses over so many mediums. The veining of marble. The movement of … wood. Even in tile, you’re creating a geometric pattern.” From geometric shapes on throw pillows to patterned wallpaper in the dining room, pattern brings visual interest to any room and can serve as a focal point for careful designs. “It adds so much energy to a room,” Kelly says, “and you can use it in so many different ways.”

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Kelly Wearstler Teaches Interior DesignKelly Wearstler Teaches Interior Design

Award-winning designer Kelly Wearstler teaches you interior design techniques to make any space more beautiful, creative, and inspiring.

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Who Is Kelly Wearstler?

Kelly Wearstler is one of the world’s top interior designers, and her design work has been featured in publications the world over, from Architectural Digest and Elle Decor to Vogue and The New Yorker. Born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties and rose to fame redefining the look of West Coast design. She has designed everything from Hollywood homes to boutique hotels (like the Viceroy in Malibu and the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills); has created collections of everything from home accessories to fine china to wall coverings; and also runs her own firm, Kelly Wearstler Interior Design (KWID), and eponymous luxury lifestyle brand.

Kelly Wearstler’s 6 Tips for Working With Patterns

Pattern is a great way to liven up your living spaces—whether you want to go with a large-scale pattern or keep it small and delicate. Here are a few of Kelly's tips to help you get started and make the most of it:

  1. Play with the scale. “A pattern can change instantly by the scale,” Kelly says. A small pattern will often feel refined and delicate, while that same pattern made larger will be more dramatic and feel like more of a statement. There’s not a right or wrong here—rather, it’s up to personal preference which scale is going to feel best to you. Kelly’s advice is this: “When I use a pattern, it's very important that you stand back, pin it on the wall, and look,” she explains. “It feels very different looking at it up close as it does seeing it actually installed.” If you scale patterns before you commit to them, you’ll have a much better feel for how different sizes work in the room.
  2. Change up the color. From monochromatic to triadic, color is one of the key design elements, and it has a big influence on pattern. “A pattern can look so different in two different colorways,” Kelly says. For example, a pattern that includes black and white (or a similar light color) will have more contrast and feel harder to the eye than a pattern with colors closer together on the color wheel. “The pattern reacts with each color story,” Kelly explains. It’s up to you to experiment with different color schemes and color palettes and find the one that feels best in your design—whether it’s a bold pattern in muted colors or a floral pattern in bold colors.
  3. Use pattern to change a silhouette. Patterns in your clothing may change the way you look to others (for instance, wearing clothes with horizontal lines might make you look different than if you were to wear vertical lines). Those pattern principles apply to interior design as well. If you take the same chair and change only the upholstery, it will “have its own individual voice,” Kelly says. If you go with a smaller, refined pattern, the chair can look smaller. “Whereas the solid white chair,” Kelly explains, “this chair actually looks in scale bigger.” Jacquard, stripes, herringbone, gingham, animal prints, solid colors—each of these different pattern decisions will change the way the piece of furniture’s silhouette feels in the room, so play around and see what you like.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make your own pattern. If you feel like you’ve been searching endlessly for the perfect pattern for a particular room design idea, it might be time to start making your own patterns. Designing patterns isn’t something reserved for professional interior designers—and, in fact, it can be a fun DIY project that can make your design feel unique and personal. Kelly describes her experience making the perfect striped pattern for a client’s wall: “We went and we bought about ten yards [of striped fabric]. And we took the fabric and we actually pinned it on the wall. We moved some of the pieces so it felt multidimensional, and then we took a photo of this and then we put it in Photoshop.” In Photoshop, they played with the elevations in the pattern as well as the scale—and the final result is a gorgeous and expansive patterned wall, a 2-D pattern created from a 3-D study with fabric.
  5. Collect inspiration. When it comes to selecting materials for her projects, one of Kelly’s most important processes is creating vibe trays, or physical manifestations of mood boards. She’ll add materials, fabrics, and other objects that inspire her vision for the space. When working with one client for a cabinet project, Kelly looked over at her vibe tray: “I saw this ribbed walnut in these different scales. And immediately it came to mind—that actually could be a really cool cabinet door.” They created a diagonal layout of ribbed woods for the doors, and the final result is a tactile feast for the eyes—as well as being unique and personal to that client. Keeping vibe trays is also a great way to start mixing patterns—if you love the way things are layering together in your vibe tray, try to mix and match patterns that same way in your room design.
  6. Test things out. Since pattern influences and is influenced by so many different aspects of design—including color and scale—a good rule of thumb is to try many different things before you dive in. “If you decide that you want to have a really beautiful, bold print that you wanna put on a sofa, or you’re looking at putting a dynamic rug on the floor, memo something out,” says Kelly. “Buy a yard of the fabric and test things out and see what works for you or the client.” Try out that houndstooth drapery or experiment with mixing prints like a floral pattern with a geometric print—it’s the number-one way to visualize how the pattern will react to every other part of your design, and a great way to make your design project pop.
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Learn interior design from award-winning designer Kelly Wearstler. Make any space feel larger, cultivate your own distinct style, and create spaces that tell a story with the MasterClass All-Access Pass.

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