In praise of black and white floors

I’m a big fan of black and white tile floors in kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways. Black and white floors are elegant and timeless. I've explored decorating with black and white over on my Pinterest board entitled Black and White Stripes Go With Everything. Here’s an interesting little essay on the history of black and white floors over on Apartment Therapy.

I first acquired a liking for black and white floors at the tender age of fourteen, when I visited the Château de Chenonceau during a school trip to France. I immediately fell in love with the black and white floor of the Galerie du rez-de-chaussé on the main level. In fact, that floor is almost my only memory of the place, that and some huge swans swimming in a canal somewhere on the grounds. The black squares are of slate, the white ones of chalk.


The Chenonceau estate dates from at least the eleventh century, the present château to the sixteenth. Many Renaissance architects, including those who designed Chenonceau, favored a checkerboard floor oriented at a 45-degree angle to the walls, which is, in my opinion, much more visually harmonious than a floor with lines perpendicular to the walls. Here's a close-up of the fireplace at the end of the gallery.


I can’t resist including this photo of my junior-high self outside the château, complete with thumbtack hole.


The black and white checkerboard pattern will never go out of style because it complements every color scheme and won’t clash with any pattern. It is bold and graphic, but not excessively so; for reasons I can’t quite describe, the very starkness of the contrast between the black and the white squares satisfies the eye. I wonder if Piet Mondriaan had the same idea when he resolved a tree into a black grid on white with squares of primary colors.

I came to love black and white floors all the more during the three-plus years I lived with one. When my husband and I lived in Durham, North Carolina, we had a black and white checkerboard floor made from vinyl tiles in our kitchen. Not the most luxurious of materials, but we loved the pattern. In the unlikely event that I’m ever able to design my own kitchen from the ground up, its floor would certainly consist of black and white marble tiles.

The seventeenth-century Dutch had fabulous taste, and not surprisingly, black and white floors show up in all kinds of Dutch paintings from that period, such as this one by Vermeer.


Here’s a lovely variation on the theme from a painting by Pieter Janssens.


Black and white floors visually anchor the furniture resting atop them, and make colors and patterns pop, as this painting demonstrates. No wonder the pattern has been a design staple since the dawn of recorded history. Patterns, like ideas, don't last unless they work.