How to Use Color and Pattern to Design a Calmer Bedroom

Photography by Christopher Testani / Styling by Sara Smart / Flowers by Livia Cetti

If there’s one feeling most of us wish our bedrooms evoked—especially now—it’s calm. “We want our bedrooms to be a retreat, a place to relax,” explains designer and artist Rebecca Atwood. So how do you design your way to a bedroom that helps you stop the stressing (and the scrolling) and actually get a restful night’s sleep? Rebecca Atwood and interior designer Kate Hamilton Gray showed us how it’s done by designing the main bedroom in the 2020 Real Simple Home. The end result: a soothing sleep oasis full of pattern, texture, and a borrowed-from-nature color palette. In need of our own sleep sanctuaries, we reached out to the design duo for their tips on creating a calmer bedroom. Here’s how to design your way to better sleep.

Let the Natural Landscape Be Your Guide

“I like to think about decorating a home as building your best natural habitat,” says Atwood. “Someone might feel calm by the beach, or in a forest, or by the mountains.” Think about the natural landscape where you feel most at peace, and let it be your design guide.

“Go back and look at photos of that space, or close your eyes and visualize it,” suggests Atwood. “Write down the colors you see, the textures, the materials, the way the place makes you feel. Is it cool or warm? Is it open and spacious or cozy and dense?” Write down these colors, textures, and visual cues so you can refer back to them.

Build a Mood Board

The designer secret to a room that feels cohesive: always start with a mood board. “Pull images and ideas that go along with this place. They can be pictures of nature, textures, fashion, interiors, colors. It can be abstract, but let yourself play and have fun,” says Atwood.

As the mood board comes together, you’ll quickly start to realize which colors, shapes, and patterns you find most soothing.

Create a Color Palette

Once you have a mood board, use it as a starting point for your color palette. “Pull out the individual colors as physical color chips (papers, paint chips, fabric swatches, magazine tears, etc). Don’t limit yourself to start. Pull more than you need,” recommends Atwood. “Neutrals are really important for grounding the space,” so be sure to consider the neutral hues in the landscape you’ve chosen.

Once you have a bunch of colors you like, play with them. “Try arranging them in different groups of five. Say two neutrals, two shades of the same color (green and a softer version for example) and one accent color.”

Pick Some Patterns

Go back to your mood board and see which patterns might be found in the landscape you selected. Elements like water, sand, and stone can all be interpreted as patterns. “To keep things feeling soft and relaxing, I tend toward organic, abstract, or floral prints and stay away from geometrics when decorating a bedroom,” says Hamilton Gray.

With a color palette and patterns in mind, let them guide your choices for decor, paint, wallpaper, and textiles. For those who aren’t redecorating any time soon, even incorporating these elements through throw pillows, blankets, or a new duvet cover can help turn your bedroom into your dream landscape.