Interior design is not about getting from point A to point B in the shortest distance. Just take it from zigzags! These little lines are all about the design journey, relishing each and every twist and turn along the way. Of course, we are all familiar with zigzags. Right now, you could be wearing a zigzag top, lounging on a zigzag upholstered chaise, or even doodling a zigzag in the margin of your notebook. Zigzags appear to be the low-hanging fruit of the pattern world, materializing in dozens of variations on almost every surface imaginable, from clothing to furniture to walls. While zigzags aren’t the most complicated design motif, zigzag patterns hold an important role in design and carry an even richer history. After all, they are still continuing their design journey centuries after their debut! So, what is it about zigzags that keep us coming back? In this Interior Design Glossary entry, I review the definition, history, and benefits of zigzag patterns. Plus, I explain why this trending pattern never goes out of style.
What are Zigzags?
Zigzag patterns comprise a series of small corners set at variable angles tracing a path between parallel lines. Zigzags can range from highly regular and structured patterns to more freeform and loose designs.
A Brief History of Zigzag Patterns in Interior Design
Zigzags were initially developed to strengthen textile and basket weaves as far back as 1800 B.C. The triangular edges lessen the chance of fraying and allow for a more durable product. As civilizations developed, zigzag patterns were employed in building and infrastructure designs, making appearances on reinforced rafters, paved streets, and other architectural elements. While zigzags started as a practical choice for their strength, the pattern resonated aesthetically. Zigzag decorative motifs are prevalent throughout the Egyptian, Islamic, Byzantine, and Romanesque design periods. The pattern made its way on pottery, frescos, tilework, and other decorative features. But, of course, the zigzag journey didn’t stop there.
Zigzags remained popular through 1920s Art Deco, 1950s Mid Century Modern, and even today’s latest design trends. In fact, the Art Deco movement plucked zigzag patterns straight from the styles of Ancient Egypt and reinvented them with bolder colors and shimmering metallic finishes. It just goes to show that everything old is new again, including that trendy herringbone backsplash you just installed.
Types of Zigzags
Zigzags can be irregular or uniform.
Structured zigzags follow exact proportions, lining up to create the perfect uniform pattern. Typically, you will see more structured zigzag patterns in architectural elements like tile or brick lays.
Organic zigzags are a bit more freeform. Think about the zigzag lines you draw in your notebook while on business calls. These little lines represent the zigzag pattern but don’t follow their structured cousins’ exact proportions and geometric uniformity. Typically, you will see organic zigzags on things like wallpaper or art prints.
What’s the Difference Between Herringbone vs. Chevron?
Two of the most popular zigzag variations are herringbone and chevron patterns. But, do you know the difference between these two terms? While they may paint a similar picture in your head, misuse of the words can wreak havoc on your wood floor lay or kitchen backsplash plans.
Herringbone is a broken zigzag pattern where rectangular tiles or wood planks meet at a 90-degree angle. The Celtics developed the herringbone pattern as far back as 600 B.C. and named it for its resemblance to the skeleton of a herring fish. The design stuck with us and continues to be used for brick walkways, parquet floors, and kitchen backsplashes.
Chevron is similar to herringbone. However, tiles or planks are cut at the edge to form triangular joints, creating a seamless and unbroken zigzag pattern. The origin of the symmetrical pattern is French and first appeared in the late 14th century. Chevron is popular in Art Deco design for its sleeker appearance but is employed across dozens of design styles.
Zigzag Icons in the Design World
It wasn’t enough to just have zigzags in our house. We had to bring them to the fashion forefront as well! Missoni is an Italian fashion house founded in 1953 known for its colorful knitwear designs, which feature an iconic zigzag weave. In 2011, Missoni debuted a line at Target, which led to website crashes and cleared out shelves minutes after release. The brand even went as far as trying to trademark the zigzag pattern! Their collections cover all aspects of life, featuring clothing for women, men, and children, as well as a home collection.
Gerrit Rietveld designed the Zig Zag Chair in 1934, and it was quickly deemed a design icon. The piece is one of the first examples of a cantilever solid wood chair. It’s formed by four wood boards interlocked with dovetail joints to create a visually dynamic Z-shape. Though appearing unbalanced, one can securely sit on the chair thanks to some well-applied design principles. Furniture producer Cassina reinterpreted the chair and launched production in 1973. There is just something so satisfying about a seat that appears to float in mid-air!
Benefits of Zigzags
The zigzag pattern is widespread throughout the design world, making appearances everywhere from high-end wallpapers by Kelly Wearstler to best-selling home goods lines by Target. And, there is a good reason why! Zigzag patterns come with a long list of benefits. They never go out of style, aren’t restricted by budget, and can pop up on almost any surface. Zigzags are versatile, ranging from organic to structured interpretations. They feel modern and historic, familiar and edgy, and above all pleasing to the eye.
Why are Zigzag Patterns Trending?
Zigzags dominate the design world. You can see them everywhere, from the Egyptian art wing at The Met to the aisles of HomeGoods. The pattern has been used in every style through the decades, making appearances in bold metallic zigzag inlays in Art Deco furnishings to subtle white subway tile backsplashes laid in a herringbone pattern.
As one of the first patterns we learn to draw, it’s no wonder we hold onto zigzags. These dynamic little lines carry a sense of comfort, which will always be a big design trend in my eyes. Zigzags have had a long journey through the design world, and it is only just beginning!
Should You Incorporate Zigzags Into Your Interior Design Scheme?
When I look at a zigzag pattern, I’m reminded that the path to good design isn’t always a straight shot. There will always be a surprise along the way — something that forces you to take a turn. However, zigzags teach us to appreciate the unexpected turns our design projects (and lives) present. Many obstacles will come up in life, but that doesn’t mean we stop moving towards our goals (design or otherwise). After all, those twists can lead to some of our best work. It’s good to keep a good zigzag pattern on hand to remind us to persevere. They’ve been doing it for centuries now.
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.