Why the design industry is mad for plaid… and tartan… and checks.

Checkered Shower by Veneer Design
Jessica Alexander

Bathrooms have been long regarded as the ultimate sanctuary; a restful respite to brush your teeth, take a shower, and perfect your multi-step skincare routine. So, we tend to decorate our bathrooms to match those chill vibes—be it with soothing solids, a palette of cool blues and greens, and some fresh foliage in a particularly sunny spot. But if your soothing bathroom style is starting to feel a tad snoozy, why not shake things up with a checkered or plaid shower? This statement-making phenomenon has been slowly making its way up and down the West Coast. 

Green Plaid Shower by Studio Anand Sheth
Tile patterns used by Anand Sheth.

Studio Anand Sheth

For Anand Sheth, who runs his own architecture and design firm in San Francisco, his mad-about-plaid mentality was born out of practicality. “Introducing patterns and textures to heavily-trafficked surfaces can require less maintenance compared to monolithic floor treatment where scuffs and damage will be more obvious,” he explains.

While Sheth originally checked his commercial projects—crafting a moody buffalo pattern in the bathroom of San Francisco’s Bar Part Time—he realized that this same design trick can “integrate artfulness into the function of the home.” “In a family home, bathrooms serve as sanctuaries where you can steal moments of solitude,” he says. “It’s a prime location for unexpected bursts of personality that enrich the experience of being home.”

Slim stripes and plaid flooring in a San Francisco home designed by Anand Sheth.

Studio Anand Sheth

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When putting the finishing touches on his clients’ home—an art-packed space in San Francisco’s Noe Valley—Sheth employed tiles with slim stripes in a shower niche to create a plaid-like repeat on the shower floor. Meanwhile, the high-contrast palette used here creates a healthy balance between subtle and statement-making. “Each bathroom becomes a unique immersive art installation and contributes to the gallery-like experience of the home,” the designer explains.

Checks and plaids might be popping up all along the West Coast, but Natalie Myers of Veneer Designs says it’s by no means a trend. “This pattern has been around for centuries and is actually quite versatile,” the Los Angeles designer shares. “I’m currently having a ball using checkered tile in my design work because it allows for a playful reinterpretation of a timeless pattern.”

Gray Checkered Shower by Veneer Designs
A checkered design by Natalie Myers.

Jessica Alexander

That’s right, plaids and checks might be as classic as patterns come; however, they don’t have to feel lackluster. While plaid and printed tiles are readily available for purchase, Sheth says it’s possible to flex your creative muscle.

“Selecting a mix of in-stock colors and designing a custom pattern becomes a way to serve multiple purposes: Infusing surprising personality, protecting buildings, and using available materials to meet budget and schedule goals,” he shares. “Outdated subway tiles are being replaced by similarly-priced tiles in various colors, sometimes arranged to form a textile-inspired pattern.”

Bar Part Time Bathroom by Studio Anand Sheth
The bathroom at Bar Part Time designed by Anand Sheth.

Nicholas V. Ruiz

For expensive and durable tiles, Sheth recommends building a pattern with Daltile’s Mosaic Tool—just like he did at Bar Part Time. While a plaid’s intricate color palette can bring some nuance to the pattern, a checkered set can feel relatively simple in comparison, right? Well, not quite. For a “classic and old world” feel, Myers recommends incorporating unexpected materials such as  marble or limestone. Or, if you prefer to go with more classic material, here’s your permission to play around with color.

“I am enjoying the exercise of making it my own by using less dramatic colorways,” Myers says. “I also like playing with three to four color combinations in the checkered pattern, not only two.” For an extra dose of visual intrigue, she also likes to extend her pattern beyond the shower or abruptly switching to a solid field tile.

But isn’t that what’s so great about this non-trend? From tartans to checks, there’s no one way to rock this style—making it all the more possible to bring a little personality into your shower. Check mate.