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 dislike. It’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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And some images of the material in action!
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.
Some other posts that may interest you:
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!