Paisleys and plaids, florals and stripes, zebra print and French toile, all are lovely on their own. But all together? Yes! Leave it to Madcap Cottage owners Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke to pull it off. The proof lies in page after colorful page of their new book “Prints Charming,” (Abrams Books, $35).
A review copy recently landed on my desk. Charmed by the book’s name – and soon by its authors -- I cracked it and quickly saw that Nixon and Loecke, of High Point, NC, know how to have a good time. Every page explodes with their zany colorful spirit.
“People are scared of pattern,” Nixon is saying over the phone this week, when I called to talk with him about the driving motivation behind the book. “I hope this book gives people permission to have some fun.”
Count me in the scaredy-cat group. Like many DIY decorators, I love mixed pattern when I see it, but I often turn into the Cowardly Lion when choosing between a solid or a print for my own home, or, even more terrifying, a combination of patterns and prints. But, as “Prints Charming: Create Absolutely Beautiful Interiors with Prints & Patterns” illustrates, a curated collection of courageous prints rather than a patchwork of tame solids can turn a plain pumpkin house into a carriage coach with brocade interior.
“Life is short. Why be boring?” Nixon is saying as we chat. “The color of gravy should only be on potatoes.”
“But aren’t rooms filled with pattern and print sort of…” I search for a diplomatic word because the one coming to mind is “grandmotherly,” but before I say something regrettable, he chimes in.
“Somewhere along the way, we got lost in stacks of beige and grey,” said Nixon.
“Fortunately, the days of beige and grey are behind us. Look at today’s catalogues and you’ll see, gray and beige being replaced by color and pattern -- thankfully. Who wants to live in a soulless room that is Zen and spare and spartan? I wouldn’t last an hour.”
In that respect, the book brings relief like a rainbow.
But perhaps what I liked most about the boisterous, rut-busting book -- beyond the brave if unfathomable combinations and the generous dollops of eye candy -- is how it helps readers find their pattern personality. As you flip through, you find yourself in rooms that range from an over-the-top riot of bold florals to calm teal and charcoal textured surfaces that exude restrained modernism.
“Patterns can be romantic, playful, peaceful, modern, subtle or graphic and everything in between,” said Nixon. “Our goal is to help you find what patterns fit you.”
By visually immersing myself into this range of patterned places, I found my own threshold for color and pattern, a cheerful place between done and overdone, and I stretched my décor boundaries.
While some of the rooms in “Prints Charming” may not be your – or my – cup of English tea next to a bed of cabbage roses, I agree with Nixon on this point: Colorful pattern at home is a must. “Nobody walks in and says: ‘Gee, that beige piece is so pretty’”
Beyond the authors’ first piece of advice, to “banish the beige,” here are some more tips Nixon shared over the phone and in his new book:
Pick a color. The key to successful pattern mixing is to pick one color and carry it through. Select, for instance, a great blue or green or coral, then be sure a shade of it appears in all patterns and pieces across the room. That color will connect the dots, and make the pieces of the room hold hands. “When layering patterns, a single hue can connect the entire story,” said Nixon.
Go beyond fabric. Sure, great patterns go on upholstered furniture, drapery and pillows, but don’t ignore floors, walls, ceilings and accessories. Every surface is an opportunity for color and texture, he said.
Add a stripe. Stripes are the decorating world’s unifying force, along with animal prints, another design-world staple that goes equally well in traditional and contemporary homes. Not every print has to be a huge explosive graphic. If you use a large-scale floral, mix it with a smaller scale pattern and a stripe. “Stripes and florals work swimmingly together.”
Texture is pattern. Pattern is not just about florals and stripes, but also texture. Rooms that feature solid colors that are a mix of gloss, velvet, stone, silk, wood, mirror, tone-on-tone chenille, cut velvet, fur, and embossed silk are full of pattern. The interplay between a chair covered in emerald-green cut velvet on a two-tone gray-on-gray, honeycomb-patterned carpet can be rich in visual interest.
Go bold or don’t go. The biggest mistake home decorators make is they don’t go far enough. “Don’t tiptoe in and stop halfway,” said Nixon. “Go big. Inject print and pattern in at least three places.”
Solid isn’t safe. People lean toward solids for safety, but they show every stain. Prints are far more forgiving, and often a great choice if you want pet-and-child-friendly furnishings.
Let nature inspire. In the garden, every color goes together. “Why should we make a break between the garden and inside the house?”
Have fun. “People worry that they’ll get pattern wrong. I don’t believe in mistakes,” said Nixon. “The only mistake is not to have the spirit of fun.”
Color Connects: Parrot green holds the many disparate patterns in this colorful dining room together, while the geometric check on the floor grounds with loose-lined florals. Photo courtesy of John Bessler.