Subway Tile

Somewhat mysteriously, one of the most common search terms that leads to this website is some variant on ‘subway tile.’ It’s not entirely surprising, as I have certainly commented about good tile before, but perhaps it’s time to give the people what they want…

Of course white subway tile is a perennial look for a bathroom, particularly one in an older house. The general pattern of a wainscot of tile, capped with some band of deco pieces, is predictable and timeless all at the same time. What makes me love the bath above, however, was that we used the basic 3x6 tiles in three different ways: up the walls, per usual, vertically in a band between the two blue glass strips; and in a herringbone pattern in the center rug area of the floor. Along with some white pennyrounds, white 6x6 outside of the rug and under the toilet, and the blue glass decos, it all becomes clean, textural, and classic.

Another installation of white subway tile and pennyrounds, but in a whole different palette, manages to accomplish the same thing. The tile installer and I quarreled over the grout color on this particular project, as I insisted it needed to be in the same family of brown as the pennyrounds themselves (I think he wanted grey). The pennyrounds run up and around the shower, just out of the frame to the left, with the subway bullnose tile cap around the perimeter. It manages to suit the modern sensibilities of the homeowner (hi, Christie!) and still fit into the 1920s bungalow vibe.

In both of these cases, we went with straight-forward, affordable white tile. We didn’t worry about the fact that modern subway tile, at least the stuff that’s reasonable to purchase, bares only a passing resemblance to the stuff installed in fine homes earlier last century. The holy grail of subway is (for me at least) the perfectly flat, hairline grout, crackled finish of 1910s bathrooms… and as far as I’m concerned, they don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Recently I’ve been playing more with taking the general rectangle of the subway tile and tweaking it, either in scale, direction, or layout. A number of clients have settled on doing a staggered vertical pattern (the classic subway on its side) which I noticed for the first time on the set of House (happens to be in the morgue, full warning). I especially like this with large rectangles, as it can give some great verticality and height to an otherwise cramped space. Photos when installation is complete!

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