Open an interior decoration magazine, peruse a sartorial blog, or catch-up with the latest fashion on television, and you’ll know mixing prints has been the trend for the last few seasons. Endorsed as a risky and intimidating choice, it is often accompanied by a number of rules and guidelines. English-born industrial designer George J. Sowden (b. 1942) is renowned for his use of patterns and prints. He rendered a densely patterned interior in this print from 1985, while part of Memphis, the Italian-based design collective at the forefront of Postmodernism in the 1980s. Let’s see if Sowden’s design breaks or abides by today’s guidelines of mixing prints:
1. Start with one bold piece to build the ensemble around.
o BROKEN: Sowden treats all pieces of furniture and the interior itself equally, illustrated by the two-dimensionality of the room and the furniture.
2. Choose a color family to help blend prints.
o SOMETIMES: We don’t know how or if this black-and-white print materialized in color, but examples of Sowden’s other work demonstrate that he often did not share colors across prints.
3. Mix big prints with smaller less dominant prints.
o BROKEN: Sowden renders all patterns – small or big – alike, none more or less dominant than the other.
4. Restrict the number of prints to be mixed, limiting it to two or three.
o BROKEN: Sowden mixes a mélange of nine patterns in this drawing.
5. Accessorize with solid items.
o BROKEN: Sowden predominantly avoids clean or solid surfaces choosing instead to adorn all walls and surfaces with patterns and prints.
As illustrated in this print by Sowden, breaking the rules and getting away with it was the premise of the Memphis group. Designers broke the conventions of Modernism and experimented with wild patterns, bright colors, and plastic laminates to create “flashy and faddish” objects and interiors. They visually animated rooms and furniture with fantastical prints and patterns that embodied movement and created illusions. Today, as fashion’s finest continue to mix prints in clothing and interiors, perhaps we can consider the current trend a reference to Postmodernism, transmitted to consumers by way of popular culture and mass media – two sources that inspired Memphis designers.