Words by Elizabeth Mayhew, The Washington Post
So many patterns and designs we use today are actually as old as time. Perhaps there is no motif this is truer of than the Greek key, which is even older than its name suggests.
Greek key, also referred to as meander, is in its most basic form a linear pattern. The design is made up of a long, continuous line that repeatedly folds back on itself, mimicking the ancient Maeander River of Asia Minor with its many twists and turns.
Greek key strikes the right balance of decorative and simple, ancient and modern, masculine and feminine, all at the same time. For this reason, it has always been one of my go-to decorative elements. I own sheets with Greek key embroidery, upholstery edged in Greek key trim, a pair of Gustavian chairs with carved Greek key details, and a slew of plates and platters rimmed in the Greek key pattern. But as with any design element, too much is too much. So I try limiting my use of it to one item per room. I use it as I do any other geometric pattern; it works particularly well when juxtaposed with more organic or flowery design.
One of the greatest benefits of Greek key is that it adds architectural interest to a room where there isn’t any. Edge simple curtains with a Greek key trim, and it’s as though you’ve magically added architectural moldings to your windows. Put down a large-scale Greek key rug, and you instantly have a strong, geometric shape that anchors the room and optically makes it look bigger.
Using the pattern on walls can have the same effect. San Francisco-based Briana Nix used the Phillip Jeffries wallpaper “It’s Greek to Me” in a powder room she designed, giving the room serious architectural interest and graphic punch. She said she felt the black-and-white Greek key was more unexpected than its “overplayed” cousin, chevron.
You can find items with just about any scale of Greek key. The key can be blown up to a single large bracket so that the design takes on a super graphic quality, or the motif can be miniaturised and densely repeated so that the keys are less noticeable.
When it comes to colour, there are no rules. You can find Greek key items from trim to tile in every colour. And one thing to note: The Greeks themselves used colour freely. All those white temples were actually heavily decorated with colour and gilding. So take it from the Greeks, their colour and their key.
Featured Image: Ballard Designs