A Brief History Of The Parquetry Pattern

Parquetry has been around for centuries. French for “a small compartment”, parquetry patterns are a type of inlay, where thin slices of wood veneer are arranged to create a geometric pattern.

Its origins and techniques date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, with parquetry designs often found in famous ruins like Pompeii. Its prominence died down in the Middle Ages, before coming back in fashion in Italy in the 16th century, and France in the 17th century, as a low maintenance alternative to marble flooring (which was done at the Palace of Versailles).

These days, parquetry still has its place, having a decorative effect on residential floors and furniture, architectural features and even state–of–the–art basketball courts.

From the heritage of herringbone, to the shapes of chevron, keep reading to find out about different parquetry styles and modern–day uses for it in the home…

Marquetry vs Parquetry

Although very similar in name, marquetry and parquetry are two different forms of ornate art. In short, marquetry is used to create pictures in wood, whilst parquetry is all about patterns.

The word marquetry refers to something being enhanced by a contrast of colours, meaning laying woods of varying species next to one another is how the composition or scene is formed.

Marquetry is often described as 'painting in wood' and the pictures can really be anything from still life fruit or flower arrangements to symbols, figures, animals, instruments and more. Due to the intricacy required to complete a work like this, it's often used on a small scale, such as a jewellery box top or in the centre of a table.

Parquetry, on the other hand, is fairly straightforward and linear, which means it can be more easily repeated across a big surface area like a floor or large sized furniture item.

Shapes & Styles

There are ten key patterns associated with parquetry. All are very geometrical or angular in design, featuring shapes such as squares, triangles and diamonds. 

They are herringbone, chevron, chantilly, mosaic, versailles, bordeaux, basket weave, checkerboard, wood strip, brick or stack bond.

The two most popular styles used today are herringbone and chevron.

Herringbone parquetry is the most traditional and rectangular, cut at a 90 degree angle. The pattern – named after its resemblance to the skeletal structure of a herring fish – was first used by Roman road builders. They realised that by laying bricks down in a V-shape, they could construct a more stable road.

Other ancient civilisations also used herringbone, including the Egyptians in jewellery making and Native Americans in basket making.  

Chevron parquetry pieces are cut at a 45 degree angle and fitted together at a point, creating a very contemporary looking zig–zag. The design started life in Medieval times and was mainly used in ancient Greek textiles and pottery.

Chevrons also became a military and police force symbol in English–speaking nations across the Commonwealth and USA. The number of chevrons displayed and the way in which they are arranged on the arm of the uniform determines a personnel’s rank. For example, three chevrons indicate a sergeant, and two identify a corporal. 

Flooring & Furniture

When you think parquetry, you think floors. Even with its luxe, European feel, it’s a very versatile and sought after style still because it is durable and affordable. Although carpeted floors are also favoured, wood is allergy free and much easier to keep clean.

Because parquetry floors are so long–lasting and hard–wearing, they can work well in most rooms of the house, especially in spaces with a high amount of usage and foot traffic, such as the front entrance or porch, the hallway, the living room and the kitchen.

Another great use for the pattern is in furniture. Wood is the most common material choice for furniture, so it makes sense to take what’s already there and jazz it up.

Almost any item of furniture can be done in a parquetry style, from your main dining table, to the lounge room coffee table and even your bed.

You can have it designed with or without a border and with contrasting colours. Using wood types that vary in tone and grain (such as oak, ash, pine, walnut, cherry, maple and mahogany) means the end result makes a statement, and the shapes are striking.

Herringbone parquetry style bed
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