Q: I love vintage looks and antique furniture decorated with all kinds of mixed patterns because it looks so fun and carefree. Sometimes, I see lots of horribly clashing plaids or even really mismatched pillows on beds and couches. What is the secret to successfully mixing patterns?

A: For any look, vintage or modern, new or antique, the secret to mixing patterns in fabric — for fashion or especially decorating — is unbelievably simple. If it looks good to you and makes you feel happy, it's perfect! With that being said, there are some tricks and guidelines to make it easier.

First, try to find similarities in looks you do love. Collect magazines and tear out photos you like that show mixed fabric patterns. Attach them to a board or spread them out on a table. What is similar within each photo, and what is similar within the group of photos? Is it a particular color or type of pattern you're drawn to?

Chances are good that the most successful fabric combinations in your images include:

  • One big, bold pattern, the size of your hand or bigger
  • A coordinating solid or almost-solid color or textural fabric
  • One or two medium scale patterns
  • One or two small-scale patterns like what you might see on a sheet set or about the size of a fingernail

Next, find a real-life patterned fabric you adore as your main inspiration. Maybe it's on a piece of furniture or a bedspread or a throw pillow. If this pattern is two colors, it'll be easy: Just find more patterns in the same colors with different scales. Take photos of fabrics you find and mix and match these images at home to get it right before you buy. Use each color or pattern at least three times to complete the look, and try to include at least one geometric pattern such as a stripe.

If the fabric has three or more colors, your design will be a little harder but will have a richer look. Choose at least three patterned fabrics; the fourth (or fifth!) can be a solid or a texture for instant effect. For more of my hands-on decorating tips, watch for my upcoming book Love Coming Home.

Have a design dilemma? Jennifer Adams is an award-winning designer, author of the upcoming book "Love Coming Home" and TV personality. Send your questions to AskJennifer@JenniferAdams.com or for more design ideas, visit Jennifer's blog on her website at www.jenniferadams.com.