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How to Use Pattern and Texture to Enhance Interiors

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How to Use Pattern and Texture to Enhance Interiors

Interior design firm Mary Cook Associates finds that pattern and texture can improve the aesthetics and performance of interior spaces and the well-being of their occupants

Novid Parsi, Utopia Contributing Editor
May 9, 2023
CANVAS at Arizona State University Lounge
CANVAS at Arizona State University Lounge. Photo courtesy Mary Cook Associates

You’re sitting in a room and feeling delightfully at ease, or you’re walking across a room and feeling strangely anxious. Why? The space’s use of patterns and textures could be a big reason.

Builders and designers should consider pattern and texture as a cost-effective way to improve the aesthetics and performance of interior spaces and the well-being of their occupants, according to “The Great Match: Enhancing Design with Pattern and Texture,” a white paper recently published by interior design firm Mary Cook Associates (MCA). The report is the latest installment in MCA’s seven-part series on the fundamentals of design.

“You can use pattern and texture as the seasonings in a fine recipe,” says Mary Cook, founder and president, MCA. Like food seasonings, pattern and texture can help elevate one’s entire experience.

Patterns and Textures: Aesthetics and Performance

Pattern, which is simply an element or group of elements that’s repeated, can make a bold visual statement, or it can more subtly enhance mood. For example, the lobby of a multifamily development geared toward young professionals could have a striking pattern on one wall that adds vibe and impact. Patterns also serve function: The bold accent wall in that multifamily development could help draw visitors into the space.

CANVAS at ADU interior design
CANVAS at Arizona State University sitting area. Photo courtesy Mary Cook Associates

“Patterns are a wonderful tool to add interest, create impact and fine-tune a design,” Cook says. “The pattern in itself can be an artform.”

Likewise, texture, which is a pattern produced at scale, can create varying effects on occupants. Smooth textures can read as cool, while rough surfaces like woods convey warmth. 

Think of the texture on a cobblestone walkway, which can make someone feel they need to take more care and time while crossing it. A smooth, glossy surface can make someone feel nervous, like they’re about to slip. And just the right texture on a swimming pool’s deck can give people a sense of solid footing, so they feel secure. 

Like pattern, texture both creates atmosphere and informs function. Consider the durability of different textures, how they’ll perform and stand up to repeated use. Consider if they’ll make cleaning a breeze, or if they’ll easily gather dust and dirt. 

Texture also determines a surface’s ability to reflect or absorb light, so think about how the texture and lighting will work together. Direct light on texture enhances it, diffused light softens it, and directional light creates shadows and contrasts.

Dey & Bergen modern white hallway interior
Like pattern, texture both creates atmosphere and informs function. Photo courtesy Mary Cook Associates

With recent trends, Cook says, patterns such as florals and botanicals are taking a back seat to a more modern aesthetic, with geometric, cleaner lines. But whenever using pattern or texture, consider longevity, Cook advises. “If you want it to last seven to 10 years, use fewer patterns and consider using them in areas that can be easily changed and updated.” A wall covering in a powder room, for example, is easier to swap out than the room’s floor tiles.

Boosting Well-Being

People inherently want to look for and find patterns—it’s how the brain works, the report posits. Identifying them has a calming, soothing effect on us. That’s especially true of designs that take cues from the natural world, such as fractals that repeat at varying scales or biophilic textures of wood or stone.

“We find fractal patterns have almost a medicinal value in that they reduce stress and mental fatigue,” Cook says. For that reason, some healthcare and senior living facilities use patterned broadloom carpets.

For a retirement community that MCA designed, the firm used pattern and color as wayfinding tools. Each floor of the property had a different color palette, and each wing of the property had a different pattern: One side had a lace pattern, while the other had a branch pattern. This helped residents more easily determine where they were and find their way to their own units.

Dey & Bergen sitting area interior modern
Dey & Bergen sitting area. Photo courtesy Mary Cook Associates

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