Look closely at the black-and-white marble floor in a seventeenth-century Dutch-master painting, and you'll recognize the forebears of the checkered linoleum of the American corner store. Patterned floors have prevailed through the ages and across cultures. Some are as understated as the neutral stripes suggested by wide wooden planks, others as pronounced as the geometric weave of a Spanish ceramic-tile courtyard. They all introduce rhythm and movement to a space.
The floor (along with the ceiling) is usually the largest expanse of a room. Not only does it literally form the ground beneath us, it is the grounding visual element of the space. The inherent geometry of a floor pattern, its repeated motifs, can invoke a sense of order, even repose. It gives a room depth and vitality. How you create that pattern can profoundly influence the character of the room.
Look to architecture, textiles, even quilts for inspiration for a flooring pattern. Whether the design you choose is random or perfectly symmetrical, keep in mind the scale of the room. A tightly focused pattern and a lighter palette will make a small room seem larger. Strong, large patterns and vivid colors may take your mind off the boxiness of a room, but they can also make it look smaller. A dark floor tends to make a low ceiling appear higher than it really is. If a space contains an excess of architectural elements, keep the pattern simple. Use colors of the same family to create tonal harmonies. Or consider introducing one tile from the opposite side of the color wheel into a unified range of tones to provide an accent and add contrast to the mix. And when choosing your palette, take into account more than the colors of existing furniture and architectural elements. Make sure the transition from one room to the next flows smoothly, too.
Did You Know?
That the name for linoleum is a combination of the Latin words for its primary components, flax (linum) and oil (oleum).
Designing Your Floor
You can use any kind of tiles for these flooring patterns; the examples at left were designed with linoleum.
Pick Your Colors
Choose a handful of tile samples in the colors you like best.
Color-Copy Tile Samples
To make a true-to-life design, color-photocopy your tile samples. (If you don't have access to a color photocopier, you can use colored pencils on graph paper.) If your samples have a distinctive speckling pattern or other grain, keep the copies large enough to distinguish these characteristics—they're an important detail of the final design. Cut the copies into uniformly sized squares, using a scale of about one inch to one foot. Make enough copies so you can experiment with different patterns and color combinations.
Lay Out Your Patterns
Paste photocopied squares into grids with a glue stick, repeating each possible pattern at least twice. The same three colors can create a very different rhythm depending on where the darkest and lightest tiles are used, as can introducing different neutrals, like white or gray. In this example, gray darkens the palette, so the yellow corners don't pop out as they do when paired with white and cream.
Finalize The Floor Plan
Make a final plan of the entire floor, laying it out on a grid. This will help you figure out where the center of your design will actually fall; how to treat its borders, which may not be completely symmetrical; and how many tiles to order. A plastic sleeve protects the grid; this grid can also serve as a guide for the installer.
Checkerboards and Beyond
When choosing your color combination, play off existing colors in the room, and then simplify. The patterns we present here have no more than three different shades each, including white or gray, and use a combination of full-size squares, half-squares (cut from point to point), or triangles. With these three shapes, the possibilities are endless: Checkerboard, gingham, basket weave, and herringbone are just a few examples.
Half Squares Plus Squares