Q: I plan to reupholster some of my living room furniture. Since my tastes are rather conservative, this is the first time I've even considered using patterns on the upholstery. How do I go about choosing the covering? My aim is to create a somewhat elegant look.
A: The simplest way to start is by choosing a fabric that you like, and then decide which pieces of furniture you want to cover with it. As you weigh the options, keep in mind that the scale of the fabric design can be as important as the color itself.
It's possible to produce an elegant look with either small- or large-scale prints. The choice depends on the scale of the furniture.
Scale, incidentally, is not necessarily the same as size. As used by interior designers, this term refers to the relationship of a particular piece to others in the same room. It can also mean the proportion of the arm of a chair in comparison to the other parts of the same seating piece.
If a sofa has a large-scaled arm, like the one in the photo, it usually makes sense to cover it with a large-scaled pattern. And a fabric need not be flamboyantly colored to fit this description.
In the case of this ample sofa with its deep seating and differently sized cushions, the covering is a printed silk by Jack Lenor Larsen. Its motif consists of a classic damask pattern simplified for contemporary usage. This fabric, known as "Etude," is done in shades of red, but other colorings are also available.
Such a selection would be quite appropriate for someone with basically conservative tastes who wishes to update a traditional room.
Smaller patterns might be a better choice for more lightly scaled pieces. Stripes, florals, diamond shapes and lattice-like geometric patterns are all safe bets in such circumstances.
Since you seem bored with plain fabrics, don't be shy about trying something different. Patterns can be applied to more than just a couple of pieces of furniture, so why not really brighten up your room by using them on the curtains and pillows as well as on a bench or an ottoman?
And go ahead and scatter the patterns throughout the room, making them look like an integral feature of the overall design and not like a cautious, tacked-on afterthought. No matter how bold its coloring or its motif may be, a pattern that's used only on a single piece of furniture will appear disruptive or intrusive. It's better to go all the way than to make a half-hearted statement.