Gray is over and pattern is the new black

by Patricia M. Cove
Posted 8/25/22

A few weeks ago, I read an article that reviewed the New York Drawing Center exhibition entitled “The Clamor of Ornament.” It got me thinking about the appearance of interiors and their associated hallmarks.

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Gray is over and pattern is the new black


A few weeks ago, I read an article that reviewed the New York Drawing Center exhibition entitled “The Clamor of Ornament.” The exhibition covers ornamentation and pattern from various eras and cultures, and how motif combined with symbolism has always been a part of our design lexicon.

It got me thinking….once again……about the appearance of interiors and their associated hallmarks throughout history, but especially right now.

It is so fascinating how the appearance of a room can almost immediately identify a particular time period. Right now, for example, upholstery is rectilinear, window coverings are minimal, and wallcoverings are almost invisible. An inviting room, therefore, relies heavily on texture and the color of fabrics, paints and accessories to make it interesting and welcoming to the eye. 

I predict that when we see photos of gray rooms with gray walls we will immediately be reminded of the 2000s, just like a pink bathroom and a green kitchen will take us back to the 1960s.

As I continue to repeat that gray is over, and it appears that many are still having a very hard time saying goodbye, I am heartened to relay that I have seen more and more pattern emerging from within the images of current interiors. Clients are beginning to miss the warmth of pattern. Motifs from geometrics to florals are beginning to pop up. 

Somewhere around 1990, Ralph Lauren introduced a fabulous line of fabrics and wall coverings in his most iconic patterns. Using 100 percent natural fibers in linens, silks, and wools, the designs included his signature paisleys, plaids, damasks, stripes, and florals that could be incorporated within a strictly classic space, or just added to a more modern room, giving it just a touch of “Ralph.” 

I recently learned the collection is going through a revamping, which is a bit disappointing because there are few lines that carry such high quality, natural fibers in those iconic patterns and colorways.

I have been fascinated by a relatively new line called Suzanne Tucker Home. The line includes those traditional patterns in stripes and florals, with a distinctive Lauren flavor, but also more modern motifs for a more contemporary feel. 

And if you are into more relaxed, traditional but eclectic rooms, I recommend a web site called Madcap Cottage. Their designs are a more broad-based mixture of colors and patterns that end up creating fun and unexpected surroundings. They often remind me of using up every inch of leftover fabric from every design project you ever worked on, and having the room look terrific! 

There are few projects these days that call for historically-accurate motifs. But if you are creating a traditional room in the Regency, Empire or Federal periods, Scalamandre, one of the oldest fabric houses, still creates rich fabrics that depict such signature motifs such as the laurel wreath, the Napoleonic bee, and a classic Regency stripe. 

And if you are lucky enough to own a Craftsman-style home, and want to furnish it using genuine Morris patterns, Sanderson and Company has recreated authentic William Morris designs in original colorways incorporated in both wall coverings and fabrics. These very specific motifs also work extraordinarily well as accents in clean-lined modern interiors - an easy way to introduce pattern slowly, without fear of overdoing it.

And if you absolutely cannot live without florals, I would suggest you look up a designer and author, by the name of Kaffe Fassett, and his book “Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Interiors.” He can provide the best methods of introducing florals within a space, using everything from ceramics to needlepoints, carpets to tapestries, wallpapers to textiles, and even furniture, all covered in flowers.

So as we transition from those dull gray surroundings, open your mind to pattern, and see what develops!

Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached through her website;