Expert Guide and Design Guide on Checkerboard Floors & Walls

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Expert Guide and Design Guide on Checkerboard Floors & Walls - Architessa

What makes checkerboard tile so appealing and versatile? Is it the combination of tradition and the evolution of materials, or is it the implied story told by a vintage tile floor? There is much to discover, above and beyond trending vintage tile photos and its rich history. This blog will cover installation and specification recommendations, tile manufacturing history, and of course, lots of vintage tile and checkerboard pattern inspiration. You may become a fan if you're on the fence.

Checkerboard staircase Versailles

Questrel Staircase at Versailles


Vintage tile throughout time

You might consider black and white tile in a classic checkerboard pattern to be marketed as a vintage or nostalgic design. Still, the true origins of the checkerboard pattern have been studied extensively. A quick trip around the internet reveals that it wasn't flooring but paint that produced the first checkerboard pattern. Here are a few interesting tidbits.

  • Ancient Egyptian Temples - Who would have thought the checkerboard pattern pre-dates Cleopatra? Check out this  decorated jar from the Predynastic Period.   
  • Masonic Lodges - The black and white checkerboard pattern is present where initiations occur and has been described as symbols of the evil and good of human life.   
  • "Queen's Staircase" in the Palace of Versailles - This famous staircase was decorated by the infamous 17th-century French painter Charles Le Brun. Given its detailed history, it's no surprise that Versailles adorns the pattern in many areas. The famous staircase is just one of many checkered areas that graced the Renaissance Period.
  • Victorian Era - Hallways, foyers, and more presented the checker pattern in exciting ways, using color & careful layouts to create stunning floors in cozy spaces.
Lauren Leiss Checkered tileLauren Leiss Veranda Checkerboard

 The scale of the 10x10 Antiqued marble in our Lauren Liess VERANDA Collection creates the foundation of a quintessential cottage. Its vintage tile appeal is organic, with a handmade timeworn edge & finish.


What Design Style is a checkerboard pattern?

It actually fits into any design style quite beautifully. About a decade ago, my opinion was that they were too dressed up, formal, and ornate for me. I couldn't wrap my head around the Mckenzie Child's craze, that is, until I worked with a client on a magical floor in their family home, with a neutral and soft cream & medium gray checkerboard ceramic 8x8 floor. This is where I fell in love with the idea and started stepping outside my comfort zone with tone, pattern, and tile shapes. Today, I'm still chasing these charming Mckenzie Child's courtly check pumpkins and will one day get my hands on them.

Soft Aesthetic Checkerboard Patterns

Checkerboard kitchen floorPRIMEMERIBA


Maximalist Checkerboard Patterns

Mazzini Terrazzo tileMaxfine TilesMaximalist Home


Funky & Fun!

Pink Terrazzo Checkerboard FloorCheckerboard lawnNoble & Prosper

Whether you are going for a soft aesthetic or bold, there are endless options for duo combinations. Have you heard of the design style called Dark Academia or Moody Maximalism? How did these design styles come about? It turns out the Addams Family was onto something. Photos with deep jewel tones & checkerboard patterns aplenty reign the Moody Maximalist for Every Décor Facebook group, and, notably, you don't need to have royal veins, as the Addams Family does, to be able to enjoy it in your home.


Checkerboard Tile in the United States

Checkerboard Diner Floor

In the 1920s, checkerboard pattern flooring became popular in residential kitchens, and it's no secret why. The 1920s was when ceramic tile started to be manufactured in large industrial complexes. It was also when paper-faced mosaics were invented, so hand-setting individual mosaic pieces were no longer required.

A few decades go by, and we hit the 1950s when ceramic tile takes a back seat to vinyl and plastic laminates due to cost and labor options during the postwar housing boom. This, of course, did not make the checkerboard pattern disappear, but it did eventually fuel the asbestos remediation industry. By the middle of the century, vinyl checkerboards could be seen in nearly every diner across the US. Checkerboard kitchens and diners were more popular than ever before. 


Tile in US History

Grout Joints & Rectified Tile

Checkerboard pattern tile installations have a distinct feature that dictates the overall feel - the size of the grout joint. You will be surprised to learn how recent it actually was that marble-look porcelain with very small grout joints was first possible - due to rectified edges. The grout size dictates the design at large in the place a checkerboard tile pattern adorns, and having porcelain available as an alternative to marble means that the trend has become more accessible over time.  

A rectified tile is defined by its extra step in the manufacturing process, which mechanically grinds each side to achieve precise and consistent dimensions. The most sought-after feature of rectified tile is that the uniform size allows the tile to be installed with grout joints as small as 1/16". 

Tiles that aren't rectified are known as "pressed" with a factory edge and vary slightly in size from each production run. Although often unnoticeable to the human eye-- due to the slight size variations, 3/8" grout joints are needed, partly to align the tile correctly during installation. Smaller joints result in a floor that may become misaligned at some point during the installation. 

Read our Expert Guide on Grout Blog for more great info on grout.

Checkerboard Restaurant

 PALATIAL Collection

Tile in the US market, up to about 1990, was driven by pressed products, meaning it was required to be installed with a larger grout joint. Rectified tile, which can be installed with a much smaller grout joint, began to be manufactured in the early to mid-90s by Crossville. But there is something important to note - that the rectification machines were in a different plant, which means more resources were required to produce them. This means tile distributors across the US probably didn't have a large variety of rectified tiles readily available until the late 90s or early 2000s. Of course, Italy has been rectifying tiles a lot longer, so many imports were enjoyed across the US before that era.  


Crossville Checkerboard

Crossville at a tradeshow, displaying their large format (for the era) 8x8 pressed tiles, which were the first in the US to produce. Can you imagine how many checkerboard floors were installed using those tiles?

Today, in US factories, the rectification machines are typically located within the same plant, bringing the cost down, albeit still more expensive than pressed tiles, due to the extra steps, time, and machines required during rectification.


Checkerboards in Commercial Projects

The tile industry has come a long way since 4x4 tiles in a burger king bathroom. Now that tile is readily available and the most hygienic & durable material, it's the most suitable flooring for universities and schools. Add a grip finish for higher slip resistance, and you have endless options to break up the challenge of monotony that many institutions face. Checkerboards add visual interest yet can still blend into the background while providing a learning environment with the healthiest material available. Our Globalgrip Collection has a robust selection of options that can be installed indoors and outdoors, connecting your traditional learning space with nature, using a soft aesthetic checkerboard tile pattern.  


Globalgrip Checkerboard    Checkerboard School
Left: GlobalGrip Collection
Right: Architectenbureau Felix & Partners tactfully chose the right components for Middenschool Bredene, MOSA Global Collection.


Installation Requirements

STOP! Read this before installing a Checkerboard Pattern Tile!

Getting creative with checkerboard patterns can be risky business. Now that you know a little about rectified tiles, let's get into more details.  

First, let's quickly review rectified tiles. If you want the smallest grout joint possible, your tiles must be rectified. These tiles can have a grout joint no smaller than 1/16", but often ⅛" is a better fit. Talk to your installer about which is possible for your installation. If you want a more storybook, or natural feel, pressed porcelain or antique stone may be a better fit for your project, with a larger grout joint of 3/16" or more. See our visual guide below to get an idea of grout joint spacing.  

 Grout Spacing Guide

Next, you must know about calibration. Both tiles must be calibrated - meaning they are dimensionally the same. This is the most important thing you need to be aware of. You can't mix a white 12x12 tile from one factory with a 12x12 black tile from another.  

Calibration = a sorting process that manufacturers may use to ensure all tiles within packaged boxes are dimensionally consistent. During the manufacturing process, unfired ceramic tiles are nearly identical in size when they exit the press, but the firing process in the kiln will cause the tiles to shrink–perhaps at slightly different rates from piece to piece. Through calibration, manufacturers sort tiles based on the finished size.

Read more about other important tile terms in our Tile 101.

Only the producer of the tile can ensure your two different tiles have the same caliber, so you must work closely with your salesperson to ensure this important detail. Buying tile from large home centers can be tough because many tile cartons do not display this information, and in those cases, there is no way to know if the different tiles are compatible. 

What happens if your two tiles are different calibers? Think of it like putting together a puzzle - where each piece is only a hair-off. You might be fine when you first start, but you will have a surface fit for a funhouse at the fair by the time you finish.  


Hamilton Gardens Checkerboard Floor

I recently discovered this floor on an adventure to Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand. The tile is most likely unglazed, and the optical illusion pieces have been meticulously cut.  


Digital Printing - Marble Look Porcelain tile Checkerboards

The tile industry is constantly innovating, design and format-wise, from slabs, thinner, thicker, through body veins, anti-bacterial, and more. To date, printing capabilities have been the most transformative of them all. Tile design and pattern have come a long way from silk screen to roto-color to digital printing technology.

The number of faces on a tile can vary from as little as one on basic tiles to over thirty on premium ranges. The industry usually does not provide this information publicly but if it's a concern you can always ask a rep or salesperson. Digital printing entered the market at the turn of the century and was not perfected until around 2010. 

Vision Color Checkerboard


Digital Printing has brought the most realistic images possible and introduced hybrid looks to the market, adding texture and dimension. Most tiles produced in large-scale factories utilize this technology, with a few exceptions, such as deep vibrant colors. Pictured left is our Vision Collection, showing a concrete look tri-color checkerboard pattern.

Take the knowledge you have now on rectification and digital printing, which means that the most realistic-looking porcelain tile checkerboard pattern was not widely available from US factories until the past decade or so. Yes, I realize I'm ten years off here - but it took us about a decade to really perfect depth in veining. Your marble-look porcelains may not be real, but they are real pictures of actual stones, likely from Italy, but that topic could be another blog in itself!  


Classic Marble Checkerboard - what you need to Know

Marble and natural stone tiles make some of the most captivating and timeless checkerboard floor installations. As simple as the design is, you must have a considerable amount of knowledge to avoid problems with the material and on the job site during installation. Let's review some important details. 

Thinset - White stones should always be installed with white thinset

Dimensions - Black and white marble tiles obviously do not come from the same quarry - and probably not even the same Country. This means you must know if your two selections will work together. Are they the same exact dimensions? Mixing sources can be tricky, and it takes some extra work to find this information if you are browsing on your own, as only the factory or distributor can confirm the tiles will be consistent and are compatible to use in a checkerboard pattern.

Our CHECKMATE Collection, shown below, was designed with this in mind, and we have already done the work for you to ensure all sizes will work together & have hand selected both classic and muted stones for any aesthetic.  It would be wise to avoid sourcing two stone tiles from different stores unless you are confident they are exactly the same. 




Thickness -  ⅜" is the standard thickness for most stone tiles. However, it's important to know that some rare stones may be thinner and laminated onto another stone, making them thicker. I have also seen thinner stone tiles on the market, but these are few and far between. Nonetheless, it's important to know the thicknesses between your checkerboard selections are the same. If they are different thicknesses, you must discuss this with your installer, as more work must be done to ensure your floor is even.

Edge - Earlier, you learned about the term "rectified," which only applies to porcelain. This term does not cross over into the natural stone realm; however, there are different terms to know.  

  • Cut-to-size: Natural stones are mostly available in a straight-cut edge, which we call cut-to-size. This is exactly what it sounds like.
  • Microbevel: Some stones have an extra step done in the manufacturing process to create a microbevel edge. This slight sloping angle provides added dimension and interest, and some tout that it offers a softer landing for bare feet (think of the more exaggerated bevel on a door threshold). When mixing stones, ensure that both have a micro-bevel or neither. Combining the two is not ideal. Skilled installers may be able to add the bevel on-site at an extra cost, as it's not a quick process to complete. If your tile is polished, there will be multiple rounds of polishing that need to be done to add the microbevel with the same finish.


Microbevel tile
    Example of a Microbevel edge on natural stone
  • Tumbled, Chiseled, or Antique Edge: Natural stone tiles with these old-world finished edges are all acceptable to use with a checkerboard pattern but require a larger grout joint to accommodate an irregular edge. Typically these edges are paired with smaller tiles when used in a checkerboard pattern so they are infused as part of the design feature. Larger tiles used in a checkerboard pattern don't need grout interfering with the pattern at large, and smaller joints are common practice.

Now that you have some knowledge of natural stone, you are equipped for the smoothest installation possible should you choose to adopt a stone checkerboard design.  

For more information on marble, read our Expert Guide on Marble.


Captivating & One-of-a-Kind Checkerboard Patterns

Hundertwasser Black and White WallHundertwasser Staircase

Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei, New Zealand

There are more than a plethora of special checkerboard tile patterns around the world. Here are two of my favorites. The Hundertwasser Art Center in Whangarei, New Zealand, is a really special place, with mosaic tile whimsy to transport you into a magical time and place.  

Earlier in this blog, you viewed a photo from Noble & Proper in Big Bear Lake, CA. Their website has a dreamy gallery, chocked full of some great Checkerboard pattern tiles & one really special green and white checkerboard, assembled from subway tiles. Notice the appropriately robust grout joint spacing.


Green Checkerboard BathroomDark Checkerboard Lodge
Beige Checkerboard BacksplashGreen Maximalist Bathroom


Don’t have a square tile?  No Problem!

There are many patterns that are not technically a classic checkerboard pattern, but through contrasting colors and shapes provide the same appeal.  Perhaps we refer to them as checkerboard adjacent.

  • Rectangular checker patterns - These are not as popular, but don’t be surprised if you start seeing those on the wall with 3x6, 3x12 or other popular brick shaped tile in neutral colors. Installing an off-set 12x24 can create an interesting pattern as well, as shown below in our  SOUL Collection.  
  • Assemble a larger checkerboard pattern - You can create larger patterns by grouping tiles together in 4’s, like Noble & Proper did, shown above.  
  • Shapes - some shapes can give you checked vibes when you alternative their colors, like our  PIETTA DONOVAN Collection. This can turn your tile design into a wall-paper like feel, without the vertical seams that drive you nuts!

 Soul Tile CheckerboardNew Ravenna Checkerboard Tile

Left: 12x24 offset pattern in our SOUL Collection.

Right: Gridded Check 3x5 cm, a hand-cut stone mosaic shown in honed Dolomite and Lagos Gold in the Studio Line by New Ravenna.

 Black and White Triangle Checkerboard TileGreen Trapezoid Checkerboard

Checkerboard patterns may feel like the main grand design feature all by itself, but the most interesting thing might be that they open up design possibilities instead of limiting them. For example, the installation below from our clients, who just installed K STREET b&w tile, is perfectly paired with pink parlor doors. Imagine for a minute that nearly any color door would look fantastic, although the pink is quite on fleek.


Chic Checkerboard K street

Now that you are equipped to properly buy or spec a checkerboard floor, head to your local Architessa showroom or reach out to your commercial rep to order samples of any collection referenced in this blog. Don't hesitate to ask if you're looking for something you dreamed up in your head. We have been known to source tile far and wide for the most special installations you have yet to set foot on.

Check out our Pinterest board below for more checkerboard inspiration.


Julie TauryJulie Taury has thrived in the tile industry for two decades and held various positions ranging from retail sales to product development. Her unique background in distribution, manufacturing, strategic sales, and the A&D industry has built an unparalleled skill set to navigate the unpredictable surprises of the tile industry. Currently, she is the Chief Innovation Officer at Architessa, and is a remote trailblazer residing in Auckland, New Zealand. 

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