Love of My Life | A Romance With High Contrast

When my wife and I were deciding where to have our wedding ceremony, the solution was as simple as black and white: We would have it on the wraparound balcony of Room 64, at Chateau Marmont, the proudly louche Sunset Boulevard hotel.

It wasn’t because of the eucalyptus air of civilized debauchery or Old Hollywood glamour. We were drawn to the suite’s dramatic foyer corridor, lined with a classic black-and-white marble checkerboard floor. It looked so smart, so timelessly chic, so apt for a big entrance, rolling out from the doorway to a striped canopied terrace and corresponding view of sepia-toned Los Angeles. It was the visual drumroll to our vows.

I confess I’ve always found the black-and-white checkerboard look aspirational. My obsession with these floors, as crisp as a spring day, began when I was a child, playing on them in the tony Main Line Philadelphia confines of affluent grade school friends. We’d race our pet turtles and stage toy soldier sieges across their stark geometries. After I moved to New York, I was drawn to night spots that carried the torch, such as Manhattan’s Café Society-like Indochine restaurant, where the black-and-white marble floors played nice with its palm-frond wallpaper and effortlessly sophisticated patronage. You could almost hear “As Time Goes By” lilting through the rooms.

The pattern has a distinguished past: It’s helped give a rarefied air to such historic temples to taste as Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier in West Virginia, the Art Deco-style Beaumont Hotel in London and a whole host of Hollywood Regency mansions and Palm Beach villas.

Interior designer Maureen Footer, author of a book on decorator George Stacey (who ushered the harlequin floor out of the palazzo and into Park Avenue), said there are no boundaries to where these floors can set a mood: patios, courtyards, galleries, decks, foyers, sunrooms. “They’re cool and stately,” said Ms. Footer. “That’s where their appeal really begins. They carry this graphic drama about them that is incredibly chic.”

These floors are tough, too. “They’re more practical and durable than you would think,” Ms. Footer said. “The marble or granite varieties are practically indestructible. And I would’t sniff too loudly over using linoleum,” she said, adding that Ms. Draper often did, “to smashing effect.”

Another devotee of black-and-white checkerboard floors is New York designer Miles Redd, who has made the look something of a signature in his own work. “Black and white is the ultimate graphic backdrop,” he said. “As a floor pattern, it goes great with almost any color. I particularly love them with a deep indigo or turquoise.” Mr. Redd prefers to hand-paint the squares on wood floors, an effect he has rendered in homes from Houston to the Upper East Side. He built his own 1,500-square-foot patio in downtown Manhattan with simple decking that was painted over in matte black and white.

Though they enliven service areas like kitchens and bathrooms, Mr. Redd is not above going with the obvious location. “I’m still forever using them for entrance halls,” he said. “They outline and delineate them.” If you find the classic square too constraining, there are endless variations: squares within squares, squares with the corners clipped off, zigzags, rhombus configurations and patterns that might have been mapped out by M.C. Escher, with interlocking optical effects, wavy shapes and kaleidoscopic spirals.

My wife and I, now living in New Orleans, have finally taken our own baby steps into the black-and-white matrix, laying out a checkered floor in our Uptown bathroom to go with the claw-foot tub and tongue-and-groove walls. A once-dark chamber is becoming one that’s cool and full of light. —Steve Garbarino