Tesselate… to tessalate… tesselation… not!

vinyl tile laid in a basketweave For many a moon I have pondered: What is the exact technical term for when you lay pieces of streaky VCT floor tiles at 90-degrees to each other. The most common pattern, I am sure, in mid century homes that used this ubiquitous vinyl- or vinyl-asbestos floor tile — similar to the Congoleum VCT available today. I have always thought, there must be one word in the industry that means “lay each tile at 90 degrees to each other” and which is more precise — leaving no confusion about what you’re going to do. So, the other day I got all excited because somewhere someone said this was called “tesselation.” I got to experience tesselation-elation!

Alas, my elation was short-lived, as I consulted with the wikipedia and tesselation seems to mean ‘fitting pieces of tile together’, generically speaking, not in any particular pattern. There are a many, many ways to tesselate, depending on the shape of the tile. “Tessela” means “small square” in Latin, although tesselation refers more broadly to fitting any number of shapes together.

In fact, the Wikipedia reminded that: This is math. I think it would be called plane and solid geometry. As in uniform tiling of the Euclidean plane, and, tiling of regular polygons.  There is never any running away from math — it’s actually very useful in solving interior design problems. To be sure, these wiki-pages are useful for patterns and ideas to consider if you are going to tile a floor or a tabletop.

88 patterns for mosaic floors

But, it may be easier to refer to this reference: 88 mosaic tile patterns from Daltile.

30 patterns to lay vinyl floor tiles in your kitchen or basementAnd for other ways to lay your square vinyl floor tile — your tesselas! — remember this one too: 30 patterns for vinyl floor tile from 1955.

vintage oak parquet flooring in basketweave layout
Anyway… I probed all around that geometry-soaked Wikipedia world, and in the end, I think that to lay tiles at 90 degrees to each others is simply called: Basketweave. I’m accustomed to thinking basketweave involves lots of little pieces of bathroom floor tile — but the concept also makes sense fitted to our streaky Azrock Cortina (which I used in my kitchen)… linoleum from Marmoleum, Armstrong or Tarkett (which have a few streaky choices)… or even wood parquet — like in my dining room (pictured above). Problem solved. I have the word.


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  1. Kristine says

    I’m an architect, and we use the term “quarter turn” to describe this pattern because each piece is turned around 1/4 of a circle to the next piece. Used to describe any flooring (VCT, carpet tile, porcelain tile) with a linear pattern.

    Basketweave works, too 🙂

    • bux1234567 says

      Likewise, I’m a contract space designer, and in my field we call this pattern “quarter-turned”.

      • Kevin says

        I, too, work in construct. I was just getting ready to log-in to say that “quarter-turn” is how it’s described in construction documents.

        Feel free to email us with questions like this one, Pam. If we don’t know, we’ll find out for you!

  2. Trouble says

    I’m disappointed in my floor 🙁 I used Armstrong Classic Black, tesselated, and it looks RIGHT in there….but there’s a 1/16th gap down the center *!@#&%^!! I layed them tight together, and the adhesive had dried clear, the whole bit.

    The sub floor is new and solid. I rolled it and left no one walking on it for 3 days.

    *!@#&!!! It’s always something.

    • Just another Pam says

      Is it possible the glue wasn’t quite dry enough and there was some slipping from walking on it? It happened on the floor at the bottom of the back stairs here but we caught it in time to slide them back….not easily….My version of OCD has a real affection for things being straight and accepting the slightly off stairs, walls et al in that area had used up it’s quota of acceptance.

  3. Jana (Berniecat) says

    Thanks for the math lesson! I always am looking for examples of practical uses of Math to share with my college students. Also, recently laying VCT for my kitchen floor, I agree with Gavin… I liked placing the tiles going the same direction. I don’t know if it’s OCD, but I have learned about myself that I like symmetry and tend to do designs that are symmetrical on my floors and with my furniture.

  4. Jay says

    Interesting! Wonder where the idea of alternate direction for the pattern layout originated. It was certainly popular in the 40s and 50s when this tile was in wide use everywhere. My own basement floor with it’s tan streaky tiles is laid with 1/4 turns. Thanks for the math lesson, now I think I’ll take a nap.

  5. Marion Powell says

    I don’ t know how to leave a link, but if you google Escher tesselations you’ll see a master at work.

  6. says

    That’s what was original in my house. I found it when I pulled up the carpet. It looks like it would’ve been pretty cool back in the day. It needs replacing though 🙁
    You’re a great resource in research for when I put something new in though. I probably have asbestos vinyl in there …who knows, some kind of vinyl or linoleum from 1957.

  7. hannah says

    Mr. Wonderful layed our kitchen flooring like Maryanna’s above. I call it “harliquin”. 🙂

  8. mobile_home_dude says

    Fascinating how OCD affects people differently depending on how and when you were raised. When I see that pattern laid all in the same direction, I think “Those would look so much better if the installer had laid them ‘correctly’. Didn’t they know that you’re always supposed to lay them perpendicular (my dad’s term) to each other”?

    This coming from a person who twitches when things aren’t straight, centered, symmetrical, etc. I guess I feel that it’s more interesting if the pattern is broken up – in exact portions and quadrants, of course. Gotta love and embrace that OCD!

    Turns out ol’ dad’s terminology wasn’t exactly correct and also that the tiles weren’t ‘always’ laid 1/4 turn. Having trouble risin’ above my raisin’, I suppose.

    Another of my dad’s sayings is “Make sure it’s level, plumb and square”. I still say it because I think it sounds cool.

  9. Jen8 says

    What a coincidence, I need to’ tessalate’ about 15 tiles of 1940s VCT– but where can I find some that will match the existing floor? Can anybody hook me up?

    • pam kueber says

      Jen8, you gotta hunt them down – this is likely not going to be easy. watch ebay, your restore and estate sales. you might also check with neighbors. please also be aware there may be asbestos in these old tiles — get yourself informed and consult with a professional so that you can decide how to handle…

  10. verbatone says

    In some technical fields, it would be called an orthogonal pattern. Basically orthogonal just means “at a right angle to one another”. You can read through the whole wikipedia article if you want a headache, but the first sentence sums it up fairly nicely:


    Maybe orthogonal a good term?

    I believe the phrase, “the two tiles were orthogonal to one another” is perfectly valid.

    • pam kueber says

      hmmmm, I hear what you are saying, but it looks like ‘orthogonal’ also could just mean ‘checkerboard’… ?

  11. J.R. says

    In very old builders terms, tessellated flooring was simply synonymous with decorative or patterned flooring (usually describing some kind of border or inlay) but it is a non-specific term- So it is not an incorrect word for the pattern, as it is decorative, but quarter turn is more specific to exactly what kind of tessellation is being used. (say versus herringbone or basket weave.) Pattern names or terms could be quite the matter for debate as time, region, etc. tends to cause different terminology to be applied to things.

  12. Maryanna says

    I was always told that the reason behind laying these tiles down in 1/4-turns is to camouflage dirt and debris, and reduce the need for constant cleaning. It makes sense to me that pet hair, dirt, etc will probably show a bit less on the turned tile than it will on tile all facing the same direction.

  13. brneyedgrl80 says

    This is the same pattern the original floor tile in our kitchen has, but ours has black streaks on a white background.

    Ours had been tiled over by past occupants of the house and beyond saving.

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