Part 1: Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile

 

I’m not sure why, but every now and then I meet someone who says that he or she doesn’t like subway tile.

Originated by designers George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge in 1904, the classic white 3″ x 6″ rectangular tile was first seen in a New York subway station. It quickly spread to kitchens and bathrooms across the country as the new century became obsessed with wipeable hygienity.

 

 

Having spent probably thousands of hours on the subway during my 4 years living in Washington Heights (north of Harlem), I have a very deep affection for subway tile. I can understand if people are bored with it, but I have a hard time understanding the dislikeIt’s classic, it’s historic, it never looks dated … and it even looks good and is price-appropriate in those prevalent suburban homes from the ’50s – ’90s that so many people are looking to update (but not outprice their neighborhoods) right now.

And it goes with bearly every color scheme, however you may change it. All that’s good, IMO.

 

Not to say that I don’t like a stunning, patterned, drenched-in-color statement tile!! I DO!

It just all depends upon the house and the homeowners comfort with uniqueness 🙂 The bones of the house come first!

 

My humble opinion and craving for color/pattern aside, I think there are wonderful options for classic but fresh-feeling tiles for those who are subway-tile-tired … always depending upon your style house, of course. Here are a few.

 

1. Square Tile

 

While the classic 3″ x 6″ tile has become widely known as “subway tile,” there’s actually a lot of square tile to be found in the 19th century underground systems.

 

 

I think square ceramic or porcelain tiles look wonderful in homes dating from the Victorian through present day. It’s great in new builds and 1950s ranches, too!

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Anna Spiro

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile - square tile
Lotta Agaton via Apartment Therapy

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile - square tile
via My Scandinavian Home

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile - square tile
Brooke Wagner via source

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Studio Shamshiri

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Brepurposed

 

2. Glazed Thin Brick

 

I love glazed thin brick for either historic homes Victorian and earlier — i.e. imagining it was formerly an unglazed brick wall or fireplace that has since been painted — or new builds with a farmhouse sensibility. It’s actual reclaimed brick, that has been sliced thin & glazed. Thus its variegated hue. There’s a rusticity to it that ceramic or porcelain don’t have.

It’s can be a great tile for newer homes (1950s+) that have brick on their exteriors — part of the facade, walkways, chimneys, hearth, etc.

 

I used it on the backsplash of my stove alcove, imagining it was formerly a fireplace converted to a range area.

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Home Glow Design

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile -- brick
Abbie Naber

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tiles -- brick
Cle Tile

 

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile -- brick
via Better Homes & Gardens

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile -- brick
via source

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile -- brick
Coats Homes via source

 

3. Zellige Tile 

 

The traditional handmade Moroccan tile has taken the design world by storm. But proceed at your own risk! Many tile guys aren’t used to this highly uneven material yet.

 

Read: 3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

This is a tile that I think is GORGEOUS but doesn’t necessarily belong in every home. I like it in houses that are truly antique or are new “old” houses — homes with the same patina as the tiles themselves. It also looks good in really modern settings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite fit with the ’70s-’90s suburban builder homes. Too custom. Sorry former spec homes. 🙁

 

I used it on the floor in my No Plain Jane Powder Room.

 

 

3 Important Things to Know BEFORE You Install Zellige Tile

 

Here’s a more full-on view from when it was installed. I used a dark grout, because I didn’t want the floor to look like a green candy cane with white grout.

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Heidi Callier

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Studio Ezra

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Emily Henderson

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Zio & Sons

 

4. Mini Brick Mosaic in a Single Color

 

This is one tile format that I think has staying power. It’s been under the radar. But unlike the variegated mosaic tiles of 10-15 years ago, these small bricks are all the same color — making for a subtle shimmering backdrop. A great alternative for suburban spec homes.

 

Looking through my IG feed, I found this little scheme that I created for a kitchen design consult from a couple of years ago that included a mini-brick porcelain mosaic from Wayfair.

 

5 Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile

 

And some images of the material in action!

 

5 Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
via source

 

5 Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
Katie Rosenfield

 

5 Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
via Instagram

 

5. Glass Tile

 

Glass tile is beautiful and luminous. It comes in brick, hex, mini-brick, elongated brick. You name it. I often see it used in blues, as it looks so watery to begin with. For the same reason, it looks stunning in coastal-inspired homes.

 

Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile
via source

 

CBi Studio via source

 

via source

 

Some other posts that may interest you:

 

Cement Tile Lookalikes — How to Get Samples

2 Common Tile Mistakes in the Bathroom

Should I Oil My Soapstone or Leave It Natural?

 

I’m going to take a few weeks off to spend with my men and be back with the second part of this post, along with some fabulous sources for all of these looks. Enjoy the summer sun!

 

-Amy

 

 

Home Glow Design Shop on Chairish

 

 

Share on pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

4 thoughts on “Part 1: Fresh Classic Alternatives to Subway Tile”

  1. Guilty as charged: I don’t really like subway tile (well, at least in kitchens. I like it in the subway! and even bathrooms.) Love these options, for that distant day when we spruce up our kitchen.

    1. Well, I know you guys are out there, which is why I chose the topic! Don’t worry, you’re in some pretty good company. 😉 Glad to give you some inspo.

  2. Amazing post, can’t wait for the second part! Amy, you mentioned that architecture of the house comes first. I’m wondering what would you do if you’re working with new build house without any single moldings. Would you hire or consult with an architect? I’m not sure about crown moldings. Shiplap heights. Are these things suitable for architecture consultations? What steps could you do if you unsure how to find best moldings and baseboards? I noticed that great interior designers always have pleasing moldings.

Comments are closed.