Decorating with checks – 11 ways to embrace this classic pattern

From traditional country interiors to vibrant edgy looks, discover beautiful and versatile ways of decorating with checks

Decorating with checks
(Image credit: Johnstons of Elgin / Salvesen Graham / Vanderhurd x 8 Holland Street)

Decorating with checks is a wonderful way to bring color and pattern into a room. With designs ranging from buffalo plaid to tartan, checks are fabulously versatile as they work with so many prints and can complement both traditional and contemporary schemes.

From wallpapers and upholstery to curtains and cushions, there are lots of ways to incorporate checks into your decorating ideas and part of their enduring appeal lies in their ability to add interest and subtle pattern to a room without dominating a scheme.

'Checks can provide the perfect foil for more intricate designs, bringing them back down to earth, somehow encouraging you to not take a room quite so seriously. In other words, checks can make a room feel instantly more relaxed and liveable,' says Caroline Inchyra founder of fabric and wallpaper brand Inchyra. 

To prove just how versatile decorating with checks can be, we've rounded up a host of beautiful schemes along with some expert advice on where and how to use them.

Decorating with checks

Interior designers and homeowners have been decorating with checks for centuries. A staple of country decorating ideas and traditional decorating ideas, checks can be used to create all sorts of looks depending on the colors and scale you choose.

'We incorporate checks into many of our projects – it is a wonderfully versatile pattern that is just as at home in an English country house as it is in a coastal cottage or townhouse,' says Nicole Salvesen, co-founder of Salvesen Graham (opens in new tab). 'We love the rich history and timeless appeal it encapsulates, and it is a great way to add personality and uniqueness to your home with ease.' 

While they are commonly used in traditional homes, checks are shaking off their history and we're increasingly seeing bold colorways and exciting combinations embraced in contemporary interiors. ‘There is a misconception that checks should only be used in traditional, country or period interiors, but there is definitely a case for using checks in more contemporary spaces,' says interior designer Charu Gandhi, founder of Elicyon (opens in new tab). 'In essence, checks are geometrics, so you can play with scale and color and use them in an abstract way.'

1. Choose bold colours for a playful, modern look

Vibrant sofa with tartan skirt and cushions by Johnstons of Elgin & Ben Pentreath

(Image credit: Johnstons of Elgin & Ben Pentreath )

Checks and tartan have long been associated with the country interior, but why not put a twist on tradition by using it in creative ways and in bold colors? Scottish mill Johnstons of Elgin (opens in new tab) has teamed up with interior designer Ben Pentreath to launch a playful collection of lambswool interior fabrics, including a beautiful check, that blends weaving heritage with fresh color combinations. 'It has been a wonderful process to help Johnstons design a capsule collection that combines my love of strong pattern and color with the absolute best of Scottish woolen weaving,' says Ben Pentreath (opens in new tab) of the collection. 

Pictured above is a sofa in the wide Cherry Stripe paired with a skirt and cushion in the Flame Check, one of five colorways.

2. Create a beautiful focal point with a checkered sofa

dusky grey-green room with a sofa in Jane churchill J0188-03 Oxana Check, red/green

(Image credit: Jane Churchill)

Decorating with neutrals in a living room leaves plenty of scope for introducing playful prints across seating and for a touch of print and color that won't overwhelm you can't go wrong with a check. Jane Churchill's new Oxana Check – pictured in the red/green colorway – features multiple colored yarns making it easy to pick out accent color ideas for accessories.

3. Mix checks with other prints

Yellow check quilt on a bed in a traditional bedroom

(Image credit: Salvesen Graham)

When decorating with checks, as with any pattern, it's important to make sure they are balanced and don't dominate a room. ‘To keep the space from feeling too busy, layer checks with other patterns of similar scale and tone so that nothing shouts louder than anything else. This will ensure the eye is not drawn to only one feature, making the space feel cozy and inviting rather than too small,' advises Nicole Salvesen, co-founder of Salvesen Graham. 'Using checks with three tones of the same color also adds versatility, enabling them to be brought into a scheme really easily.’

4. Choose gingham for a country look

Inchyra gingham bed valance

(Image credit: Inchyra)

If you love classic English country decor you can't go wrong by decorating with gingham. 'It could be said that classic English interior decorating ticks three fabric boxes: florals, stripes, and checks.  So many classic interiors include these three design styles to add layering and interest,' says Caroline Inchyra founder of fabric and wallpaper brand, Inchyra. (opens in new tab) 'For me, our Vintage Check linen is an important part of our collection and certainly a constant favorite with our interior design clients.'

5. Use checks to create statement upholstery

Grey dining room with tartan upholstered armchairs

(Image credit: Project Kriste Michelini / photograph Thomas Kuoh Photography)

Not only do upholstered dining chairs offer luxurious comfort for guests, but they are also a wonderful way to inject pattern and texture into a neutral space as demonstrated in this grey dining room by interior designer Kriste Michelini (opens in new tab)

The monochrome tartan creates a beautiful focal point and by choosing to only cover the backs of the chairs Kriste Michelini has ensured the scheme doesn't feel overpowering. 

6. Try a tartan wallpaper

grey tartan wallpaper

(Image credit: Future)

If you love patterned wallpaper but are cautious about committing to a busy design then a pared-back tartan is a great solution as it is an easy-to-live print that will endure across the decades. This tartan wallpaper idea from Sandberg is perfect for bringing a classic country feel to this entryway and its subtle neutral tones pair beautifully with a classic sage green on woodwork. Complete the look with a classic stick-back rocker chair and a cozy throw.

7. Create a statement hallway floor

Hallway with checked tiled floor

(Image credit: project Shannon Adamson / photograph Miranda Estes)

Checks don't just have to be introduced through fabrics and wallpapers, they can make fabulous feature floors, too. Here interior designer Shannon Adamson (opens in new tab) incorporated a playful tartan hallway flooring idea into this new build home as a nod to the clients' shared Scottish roots. 

8. Go for a colorful chequerboard floor 

Bert & May green and white encaustic tiles in a hallway

(Image credit: Styling Sally Denning | Photo Polly Wreford)

Perhaps more popular in a hallway, and easier to achieve, is a simple chequerboard floor design. This hard-working geometric sits happily in both contemporary and period homes alike, as in this hallway, where the vibrant green and white chequerboard tiles from Bert & May add a fresh dimension to the painted classical wall paneling.

9. Choose a checkered rug 

Beige living room with red and blue checked rug by Vanderhurd

(Image credit: Vanderhurd)

A checkered rug in bold colors is a quick way to create a beautiful statement in an otherwise pared-back interior, plus it can easily be moved around the house to keep things looking fresh or give a different space a new design spin. Part of an inventive collection between Vanderhurd x 8 Holland Street, the Checkerboard Rook rug above is perfectly paired with sculptural furniture and geometric artwork.

10. Add a decorative touch to a bathroom

White bathroom with a checked Ernie wallpaper border from Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson)

Bathrooms can easily feel cold and sterile, but adding in pops of color and subtle touches of pattern can make all the difference. This delightful Ernie wallpaper border from Susie Atkinson is a quick way to add structural interest and a decorative touch to a white bathroom.

11. Lay a beautiful table

Traditional bedroom by SalvesenGraham with pink check armchair and ottoman

(Image credit: Salvesen Graham)

In the prettiest delicate pink, a chequerboard tablecloth is sure to delight at any gathering. This Summerill & Bishop x Claridge linen design, which comes with matching napkins, instantly elevates dining table decor and transforms a setting with a celebratory feel.

How do you decorate with checks?

There are plenty of ways to introduce checks into every room, from a statement sofa to a beautiful living room rug.

'Checks are perfect for soft furnishings in a room, whether that is a tablecloth, a valance or a cushion. I love using a check as a curtain lining, which creates interest from outside the window as well as inside. Checks can also add detail as pipings and bindings to finish other patterns on everything from cushions to headboard ideas,' says Caroline Inchrya, founder of fabric and wallpaper house Inchrya.

For more traditional schemes plaids and tartans are a great way to make a space feel cozy. 'There is something inherently comforting when these patterns are used especially for winter,' says Charu Gandhi, founder of Elicyon (opens in new tab). 'To ensure you can transition from season to season go for weaves that include soft browns, beiges and saturated highlights in the check to keep it fresh and interesting.'

Alternatively, there is a growing decorating trend at the moment for vibrant checks, so if you're confident with color try using a bold check on a sofa to create a statement piece or go for a checked rug in contrasting colors to make a feature of the floor. 

What pattern goes with checks?

Checks are hugely versatile and can complement a multitude of different prints which adds to their enduring appeal. In a country interior they pair well with classic stripes and florals, alternative, for a more modern approach try layering with different abstract or geometric prints.

'You can create an almost op-art visual interest by layering large-scale black and white buffalo checks against smaller-scale ginghams and stripes in window treatments or wallpaper. The best way to layer checks is to stick to the same colors so that the space doesn’t become dizzying,' says interior designer Charu Gandhi, founder of Elicyon.

Pippa is Content Editor on Homes & Gardens online contributing to Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors print issues. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.