This Is How Southern Designers Make Clashing Prints Look Chic

Updated 04/24/19

While I've always loved pattern visually, bringing it into my own space is another thing entirely. Fusing prints can be scary. You can love a floral or a stripe in the store, but put them together when you get back home, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Or at least I thought. That was before I visited the gorgeous home of Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, the design duo behind the celebrated firm Madcap Cottage and authors of Prints Charming: Create Absolutely Beautiful Interiors with Prints & Patterns.

 

Based in Brooklyn, New York, for 27 years, the pair eventually moved to North Carolina where they are now based, and their signature prints are right at home. But theirs is no ordinary print clash; it's a pattern-packed mashup from floor to wall and quite often the ceiling too. (Here's a photo of me in their home that will help paint a picture of the extent they go to.)

Their penchant for pattern is now a huge trend in fashion. "From the pattern-packed runways at Gucci to prints-covered T-shirts at H&M to patterns appearing prominently on the cover of Pottery Barn and the recent Instagram campaign for CB2—pattern is back," Nixon tells me. "Join the train before it passes you by."

Ahead Nixon gives us the lowdown on perfecting the patterned look at home.

HOW TO FIND PATTERN INSPIRATION

small space tips
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

Use Your Wardrobe as Inspiration

"Shop your wardrobe to see what patterns you are comfortable with, and bring those touch points to life. If you find a lot of florals in your wardrobe, for example, why not add those patterns to a living room armchair or bedding? You obviously like that pattern style."

Bring Your Vacation Home

"Think about travel, and what it was about a particular hotel that especially appealed to you. How can you capture that sensibility (that was probably anything but beige) and bring it home? Prints and pattern really bring a storyline to life and can transform a white box of an apartment into a slice of the tropics or a city slicker aerie."

how to design with pattern
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

Give Your Collections a New Lease on Life

"Look to your collections for pattern prompts. If you collect blue-and-white china, for example, that’s a great stepping-off point to carry these colors and patterns throughout your home. Dig deep into the artwork, books, and other collections for inspiration too."

Create a Mood Board

"Great design books are wonderful for pattern inspiration. What did you love about a particular interior (maybe it was featured in our book Prints Charming or How They Decorated by P. Gaye Tapp.) Clip tear sheets, pull Instagram posts, and create Pinterest boards that really speak to your style. You can drill down on the patterns you're drawn to and see what you love when you have a selection of favorite images in front of you."

how to use prints
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

HOW TO BRING YOUR PATTERN STORY TO LIFE

Madcap starts the process through a series of baby steps to give breathing room for clients to embrace pattern, making them feel comfortable first before they "move up the pattern food chain." How? The first rule of thumb, says Nixon, is to "choose one particular color in a room, say blue, and layer in pattern that pulls various shades of blue across the room—from turquoise and navy to pale blue." 

He adds, "The eye will connect the dots between the various blue shades among the various patterns—from florals to botanicals, graphics, and stripes—and read the whole pattern story as cohesive. Do the same with green or any other hue." 

Here are a few more of Nixon's tips:

Southern interior design
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

Start Small With the Window Treatments

"Freshen up a room by switching out window treatments with prints and pattern to bring new oomph to a space that is looking tired. If you purchase window treatments on the shelf, turn to a tailor or seamstress to create the length that you need. Equally, embellish your existing window treatments with trim to give them an extra dimension."

small dining room ideas
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

Add Pattern With Throw Pillows

"Throw pillows are the jewelry of the home, so switching them out seasonally will give new life to a neutral sofa and make it feel fresh and new. Try this with a bed or a bench to give that geography in your home a new lease on life, too."

Diversify Your Tablescape

"Take a tablescape from nice to a knockout by mixing in a pattern. Turn to your cabinets for raw materials—from grandmother's china to mismatched table linens and flatware that you can mix and match to create a look that is utterly unique."

coffee table design
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

Break Up the Boredom in the Bedroom

"Mix the linens on your bed to create a bespoke look. Pair a white fitted sheet with a patterned flat sheet and floral or striped pillowcases, for example. Easy, fun, affordable."

Introduce Patterned Wallpaper

"There are great new wallpapers—such as the Madcap Cottage line for York Wallcoverings—that go up easily and come down in one piece and without a lot of fuss or mess. Wallpaper is great for small spaces or rental properties as these new papers won’t damage the walls."

THE PATTERN RULES TO LIVE BY

how to design with dark colors
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

1. Animal prints and stripes work with every pattern, those are the only rules that we believe in.

2. Look at design books from 40 or 50 years ago: There was barely a whiff of beige in those pages, and you can glean such great inspiration.

3. Go to museums, visit great houses, and take photos of moments that inspire you.

4. Florals send us reeling and can be as contemporary and modern or bohemian as they can be traditional. Florals are truly timeless, so embrace a little flower power and watch your home blossom.

5. Bring the great outdoors within. If it works in your garden, it will work in your living room or bedroom. 

WHAT NOT TO DO WITH PATTERN

how to use pattern
John Bessler ; DESIGN: Madcap Cottage

"To quote style icon Iris Apfel, 'More of more is more. And less of more is a bore,'" says Nixon. "Why dip your toe when you can swan dive into an Esther Williams–worthy technicolor swimming pool packed with panache? We find that clients are often too timid with pattern and add one throw pillow into a room. That's just not enough pattern. You want to keep the eye engaged so layer pattern across a room, and not just in one spot." Amen. 

Related Stories