Designer Michelle Nussbaumer travels the globe in search of inspiration—and the one-of-a-kind finds she stocks in her Dallas shop, Ceylon et Cie. Along the way, Michelle indulges in one of her biggest passions: patterned textiles. “Ikat is a favorite, suzanis, Kashmiri crewelwork, damask, toile… I don’t think I’ve ever met a textile I didn’t like!” says the designer, whose own fabric line incorporates far-flung motifs from Africa, Central Asia, and beyond.
Her first book, Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring the World Home, showcases rooms brimming with her beloved fabrics, including client projects alongside Michelle’s own homes in Dallas and Gstaad, Switzerland. It’s an undeniably lush, layered, and complex aesthetic—one that takes a seriously trained eye to pull off. To help decode the often-daunting world of print mixing, we tapped the designer for a few lessons in decorating with patterns. A preview: More is more, color cures all, and when in doubt, a little drama can be just what a room needs.
Bring It Together with Color
Michelle is an unabashed color fanatic, and it’s often where she starts with clients when beginning a project. “I do a whole questionnaire and really try to understand what they love and what colors they respond to,” she says.
But when it comes to mixing prints, she recommends paring back your palette. “I get so much joy from mixing unconventional patterns that might not seem to go together but that in the end create an overall harmony that is rich and many layered,” she writes in Wanderlust. “The way to do that is by keeping the colors similar—whether with my beloved blues or with the exuberant colors that bring me so much joy or even with the paler shades that speak of subtlety and nuance.”
Go for Variety
Combining patterns of various types results in a more compelling mix—and keeps a layered look feeling balanced instead of overwhelming. “Think of diversity,” Michelle says. “Try mixing an embroidery and a stripe, or a floral and a paisley.” And don’t forget to inject a little breathing room. “You do need some solids in there to break it up.”
Choose Complementary Pieces
One foolproof way to ensure a mix of patterns feels harmonious? Look for motifs with a common history. The pairing can be authentic, as in the case of two vintage finds, or a newer mix that simply draws on antique inspiration. As Michelle writes, “When items share a cultural lineage, related visual motifs, and complementary palettes—such as an 18th-century blue-and-white Chinese gourd vase standing proudly in front of 18th-century Chinese painted wallpaper—an arranged marriage feels like a match made in heaven.”
Think of diversity. Try mixing an embroidery and a stripe, or a floral and a paisley. And you do need some solids in there to break it up.
For the pattern-shy, just a touch of print—a vibrant throw pillow on a solid sofa, a patterned headboard in a neutral bedroom—can go a long way toward refreshing a space. Michelle suggests starting with one standout piece of fabric, such as a vintage suzani, which can be simply draped over a table or a desk for a low-commitment touch of pattern anywhere.
Add an Element of Surprise
Michelle is a master at using patterns in unexpected ways. Case in point? She’s not afraid to wallpaper a ceiling. “I like to think of every room as having five walls,” she says. “I think people very often forget about the ceiling—it’s an opportunity to add another element.” On a smaller scale, a hint of bold print on the back of a chair can be just the zing needed to enliven a room.
Lesson 6: Think Beyond Textiles
“Sometimes I will use the lighting to create pattern,” Michelle writes. “I may select furniture for the same purpose, because the carving on the legs, back, and arms or the silhouette itself can establish pattern or contribute to the language of pattern that is already in place.” Even on the table—in a set of patterned plates or intricately adorned silverware, for instance—pattern has a role to play, she adds. “There are so many different ways to incorporate some pattern into your life, and I like to try to help people find that.”
I like to think of every room as having five walls. I think people very often forget about the ceiling—it’s an opportunity to add another element.