It might seem hard to rejuvenate a dull room, but you would be surprised to see what can be done easily with new cushions. Mix and match, and learn the basic ‘Rule of Three’ of colour mixing, and you can confidently use your new knowledge - or confidently break the rules!

Adding new cushions is one of the easiest ways to inject style or colour into your room. And since there are many places available where you can get affordable cushions, it's a shame to play it safe with just two or three solid-coloured ones—or to limit yourself to the ones you already have or the ones that came with your couch.

The first thing to remember is that your cushions don't have to match in design, size or shape. In fact, you can achieve a more professional, stylish look if they don't. If you're not comfortable with your ability to choose cushions, the following tips will help you mix and match fresh patterns and/or colours, allowing you to quickly refresh or even change entirely the look of your room with a look that is coordinated - where not one cushion matches another in colour, pattern, size or style.

Pick Three Colours

First, pick a ‘colour story’ to follow for your cushion selection. It's best to use three different colours pulled from other sources in the room, such as the wall colour, the rug, your bedding or the curtains. If you choose a variety of cushions in different patterns, the look will still be cohesive if they at least share the same colours. There are many different colour combinations that look good together – deep red + orange + dark green, or a bright magenta + violet + mustard yellow, or even three shades of the lead pattern, for instance, a floral or leafy jungle print will probably contain several shades of green you can play with.

Pick Three Patterns

You can also mix patterns with plain, or mix three different patterns, as long as each one incorporates at least one of the colours in the three-colour story you have chosen. It's often simpler to choose your ‘lead’ pattern first, which is generally the largest pattern and the one that contains all three colours in your colour story. Then, the secondary patterns you select can contain just one or two of the colours. Try one floral, one geometric and one plain, or one check, one twill and one ticking stripe, or one chevron striped, one spotted and experiment with texture - one knitted maybe. Your lead pattern should be the largest pattern of the bunch, followed by a medium-sized print, such as a stripe or small houndstooth. The third pattern, then, should be the most subtle, such as a solid colour in an interesting texture, or one with a faint tone-on-tone pattern, such as a damask stripe.

It's super important to choose patterns in three different scales, allowing one pattern to dominate. In general, when layering patterns, it is best to combine prints in different styles and scales.

It all sounds a bit intimidating, and you might find yourself lugging your duvet cover (or whatever has your lead pattern) around the stores to see which different patterns or colours work best into your decorating scheme, or buying cushions then finding the colours you thought were right aren’t right at all. But with a little insider knowledge, you can mix and layer patterned décor successfully like a pro. The trick to learning how to get it right is understanding the basic rules.

Rules are made to be broken!

Especially in design - you might start mixing and matching your selection following the formula outlined here but find that four colours work best for you, or that you like two large patterns instead of only one. Ultimately, it's only important that you like what you see, so use this Rule of Three only as a starting point for guidance. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the combination that suits you. Add in a throw as well, and you will have cracked a whole new look!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan