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DECOR : Preventing Mix-Ups in Pattern Matches


New fabric is one of the best ways to give a room new life, but money will be ill spent if you simply reintroduce a similar pattern and color.


But how do you find the right look?

Tina Lee, director of the Sheffield School of Interior Design in New York, offered some shopping tips:

* Look at each fabric and ask: Will it go well with the other fabrics selected? How will it be distributed around the room? Will it stand up to its projected use?

* Rely on an experienced retailer if you aren't sure about the wearability.

* Limit your search to fabrics in your price range.

* Give yourself enough time to do the job right.

"It is time-consuming to look at fabrics and select patterns that work well together, but it becomes easier with practice," Lee said. "I am a big believer in comparison shopping. I normally will go through the swatches from three to six sources."

Of course, there comes a time when you have to make a decision.

"If you've gone through more than six manufacturers' offerings, you may be trying to choose among similar fabrics," she said. "Or perhaps you just aren't ready to make a choice yet."

Thomas Burak, vice president of design at Schumacher fabrics in New York, said it's best to know what type of room you like. Anyone can be seduced by a terrific print, but it's not for the person who prefers a quiet room, he said.

Soft rooms have longer staying power; those where tone-on-tone and textural contrasts are dominant are easier to put together. But sometimes only a splashy print will do.

Use a little too much of a lively print, and you may be sorry. But take heart. You might just need to balance it with something equally strong elsewhere in the room. If you choose a floral for chairs or a sofa in one area, you need a strong pattern to balance it in another part of the room.

There is no simple rule on how many prints are too many. In fact, you can use a different pattern on each upholstered piece and at the windows. But that's the advanced course.

As a rule, Burak said, if the major fabric is a floral, look for a plaid or a stripe in the same color family as a complement.

It is easier to visualize fabrics with samples of up to two feet square instead of swatches. In the trade, the former are known as memo samples because, when a decorator borrows one, he or she usually receives a memo stating that there will be a charge unless it is returned within a specified time. If you don't have a decorator, your retailer often can borrow them once you've narrowed the choices down to a few.

If you're unsure of your ability to mix and match patterns, head for the coordinated fabric sample books. A number of fabric companies issue collections several times a year in which the same basic color values are used in a fairly wide range of fabrics that encompass solids, florals, geometrics, plaids, stripes, textures and wovens. Leaf through the fabric swatches and look at sample book photos of room settings to see how professionals mix and match.

"The fabrics in our collections are designed to go together, and if you find a print you like, there also will be stripes, plaids and solids," Burak said. "We look at the collections from the point of view of the decorator who needs to put together a complete room."


"Decorating With Fabrics," a 20-page booklet with tips on working with patterned fabric, is available for $3 from the Sheffield School of Interior Design, 211 E. 43rd St., New York, N.Y. 10017.

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