The Story of Courtly Check
August 21, 2015
So how did our beloved Courtly Check get its name and what is its origin? Who knows where the spark actually ignited—might it have been Italian black and white marble floors from a Venetian Palace that started it, or ancient handwoven textiles from Africa? Was it inspired by a chess tournament, or Jean Cocteau’s socks? The traditional black and white check certainly has its place in history and seems to resonate in some way with everyone. Over the past thirty years or so, our unique spin on this much-loved pattern has been incorporated into designs for everything from dinnerware to eyeglass frames, and everything in between. One thing is for certain—our Courtly Check has withstood the test of time and become a favorite to an incredibly dedicated following.
As far as I can remember, our checks first appeared as a thin border composed of a few rows in varnished oil color on the bonnet and base of our hand-painted armoire. Visually, it seemed the perfect punctuation mark to top this beautiful piece, but it also served to divide two other ornate patterns.
Then in 1995, MacKenzie-Childs launched a collection of hand-painted enamelware fondly referred to as Roasted Marshmallow, which featured a new twist on the black and white check. The pattern was part of the Camp MacKenzie-Childs collection, designed for casual outdoor use and glamping, but we soon discovered it was also great layered into our unique point of view on formal place settings. The deliberate but spontaneous use of additional colors dragged through each check made it highly unique and no two pieces were ever alike. The caramel-like amber tones pulled through the creamy white and black checks was reminiscent of the look of marshmallows perfectly toasted over an open fire. A few years later, an editor referred to MacKenzie-Childs as “the court jester of tabletop,” and upon that comment, Roasted Marshmallow was renamed more appropriately as Courtly Check.
The Courtly Check pattern continued to make small, random appearances on a wide variety of designs including hand-painted glassware, but it was nearly a decade later that the pattern began its steady rise to stardom. Alongside the increasingly popular Courtly Check enamelware, the pattern went into use in a full range of artisanal Aurora-made ceramic dinnerware. And then in 2009, after years of development, we were able to successfully print the pattern on linen. Upon doing so, the Underpinnings Upholstered Furniture Collection was born. It was in this moment that Courtly Check began to take center stage not only as a detail pattern, but as a primary foundation on top of which to layer color and other patterns. It’s our version of a neutral surface, if you will. Using our own printed fabrics has launched an entire new wave of ideas, allowing our checks to appear in unexpected places such as accent pillows, outdoor cushions, notebooks, personal accessories, pet accessories, wallpaper, and so much more.
Today, Courtly Check is undeniably our signature. We’ve had fun hand-painting tea kettles, walls, bowling shoes, soccer balls, and pumpkins with it. We’ve worn it as trousers, aprons, and coats, and we’ve dressed windows and beds with it. My son has hand-painted Courtly Check high-tops, and my husband walks our dog with a Courtly Check lead (and of course Flanna sports a matching collar). It’s weird to say, but is has woven itself into the fiber of our household, sort of knitting things together. And I never tire of it. Never. In fact, I’ve got my eye on an old tuxedo that I think might just look fabulous in Courtly Check.