To find the last time plaids were as widespread in décor as they are today, a time machine would have to whisk you back to the late mid-century. That’s when a fiber mix of polypropylene and polyester came together as Herculon, which had quite a moment when transformed into durable plaid fabric. These regimented tessellations covered sofas and chairs in two then-popular looks: mid-century modern and early American.
Herculon plaids seemed to be everywhere for 20 years, so when fatigue with the look finally set in, it did so with a vengeance. By the 1980s, the term Herculon plaid, or even just plaid, had become synonymous with tired, down-market design. This may explain why the 21st-century revival of the mid-mod aesthetic embraced so few crisscross patterns of any kind.
Plaids remained in the background until the Grunge trend took off. But since the Grunge movement, so popular in apparel for younger adults and kids, did not translate well to home furnishings, its impact on décor was limited to color. Plaid-pattern revivals for home products focused instead on menswear looks.
Today, however, line montages of all kinds are making a comeback in décor. Upholstery, decorative accents, table linens, toss pillows, tableware and more are all falling under plaid’s spell. And while there are certainly typical Tartan and menswear designs in the market, the newest plaids are upsetting this pattern’s reputation as a standard-bearer of tradition. Plaids today couldn’t look more different from those of the 60s and 70s.
Color offers the most obvious twist. Unlike the intersecting avocados, harvest golds and chocolates of the mid-century, new plaids are often energetic. They come with vibrant hues or surprising accents that wake them up. For example:
- The palette in a Sandra Jordan Prima alpaca plaid throw features Mulberry and lime.
- In the sherbet color way of Jazz, a new upholstery fabric at Taylor King, brighter versions of purple, red, yellow and pink make an eye-catching combination.
- Contract vendor Momentum perks up one new plaid fabric with shots of cobalt, magenta and red.
- The James sofa from designer Elizabeth Garouste, shown at Ralph Pucci in New York, pairs solid wine-colored velvet with a wine-and-aqua wool plaid for a chic, updated inside/outside look (inside/outside techniques also are building).
Scale is another point of differentiation as updated patterns go big and bold or very small. Wesley Hall showed an oversized approach to full advantage at the High Point furniture market. A chair covered in brown-and-white buffalo check fabric made a crisp, bold pattern statement. Caravane’s mohair throw, dominated by unexpected citrine and magenta, pushes scale to oversized proportions. Another Caravane pattern suggests that only a fraction of a magnified plaid could fit on an accent pillow.
Among the best small plaid introductions this season is Bitmap, new from wallcovering brand Designtex. Available in green or blue backgrounds, this design not only moves scale in a diminutive direction, but also uses pops of color within the plaid to create an abstract sensibility.
Abstractions offer another clear shift in perspective. Seemingly random color placement, overlays and detached lines offer unconventional, yet compelling variations to yesterdays tiled approach. The same is true of varied widths and irregular spacing, used alone or together. These techniques result in asymmetrical plaids with completely new and unexpected rhythms. Studio A’s Italian-ceramic Scratch Bottle features hand-applied scratch details in an abstract, crisscross layout that introduces another key option for updating plaid: texture.
Tactile and visual textures are making concurrent gains that translate into newness. Design elements with a worn-away appearance infuse surface designs with character and sophistication. Wesley Hall covered an accent chair with such a fabric, modifying a typical menswear look at the recent High Point furniture market. Kelly Wearstler’s new tableware for Serax combines three scales of window-pane plaids, each with a loose, hand-drawn vibe.
While some textural looks suggest a global perspective (as in the Studio A bottles), others build on current textile trends, like the appeal of bouclé and other nubby fabrics. Century Furniture and Taylor King have have both utilized this texture to create regimented plaids with an updated hand. ML Fabrics, a Netherlands-based textile company, has debuted a gauzy linen plaid in a pink-based colorway that feels ethereal and fresh.
Lightweight linen is not the only unexpected material to embrace crisscross patterns. In fact, the range of materials embracing them speaks not only to plaid’s versatility, but also to the potential for this trend to expand over the next two years. Look below for a gallery of new perspectives and unexpected applications that move plaids beyond the realm of tradition.