The beauty of timeless subway tiles

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The beauty of timeless subway tiles

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Matt Kitchens:  Kitchen by LWK Kitchens,
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It may have been a while since the subway tile made it big on the interior design- and architectural markets, but that doesn’t mean it’s past its heyday. In fact, it has come to be known as one of the most timeless pieces ever, superb for styling up anything from kitchens and bathrooms to even outdoor surfaces.

Any why not? Subway tiles are elegant, classic, neutral and inexpensive, plus they have the option of appearing in a range of other colours and designs. And don’t forget that they can just as easily be used alongside other tiles in the same space – thus, what’s not to love about them? 

Although the generic subway tile flaunts a size of approximately 7.6cm x 15cm, it’s also become available in other sizes – some more elongated, others smaller, and others even beautifully oversized. 

But where did the beauty of the subway tile come from? Let’s find out…  

1. The history of the subway tile

Our Classic Range Kitchen in a Richmond Home:  Kitchen by Simon Benjamin Furniture,
Simon Benjamin Furniture

Our Classic Range Kitchen in a Richmond Home

Simon Benjamin Furniture

As the name suggests, the subway tile was originally designed to be placed in subways. This distinctive tile owes its creation to designers George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge, who designed it for the brand-new 1904 subway of New York. 

A great advantage of the subway tile is that it doesn’t stain and is very easy to clean. How ironic, then, that so many people automatically imagine the subway tile as a decoration used exclusively for dark and dingy places – like subways. However, for the turn-of-the-century New Yorkers, the subway tile was a chic decoration cladding up their brand-new underground transportation surfaces. Add the fact that white tiles automatically reflect light, and it just makes sense why this design was used for underground subway stations. 

Once the subway tile styled up the subway, people and designers started experimenting with it in various interiors like kitchens, bathrooms and butcher shops – basically, any space you’d like to keep as clean as possible. And even though the trend of the subway tile may have snoozed for a few years, it appears to have been woken up with full force! 

Whether you use it to conjure up an ambience of a time gone by or simply to add a touch of decoration to a background, there’s no denying the allure of subway tiles. Let’s see some popular options for using it to style up your interior spaces. 


2. Subway tiles for bathroom walls

White Metro 20x10 Tiles:  Walls & flooring by Walls and Floors Ltd,
Walls and Floors Ltd

White Metro 20x10 Tiles

Walls and Floors Ltd

Seeing as bathrooms are mostly small spaces, it just makes sense to opt for a material that’ll help cast around the light and make the room appear bigger and brighter. And that is exactly the reason why subway tiles (from floor to ceiling) are such a terrific option! 


3. Subway tiles for kitchens

White matt kitchen​ design:  Kitchen by LWK Kitchens,
LWK Kitchens

White matt kitchen​ design

LWK Kitchens

Floor-to-ceiling wall? Backsplash? How about the area behind your sink or stove? All of these could be the ideal places for subway tiles. Don’t forget that the finish of subway tiles makes it a super practical option for a kitchen that’s prone to spills and splatters. 

Notice how this kitchen with its predominantly white / off-white colour palette is far from monotonous thanks to a few clever tweaks and additions – including the presence of the subway tiles, which adds a generous amount of pattern to the background. 


4. Subway tiles in other colours

Black 20x10 Metro Tiles:  Walls & flooring by Walls and Floors Ltd,
Walls and Floors Ltd

Black 20x10 Metro Tiles

Walls and Floors Ltd

Why not jazz up your subway tiles in another colour? White might be the generic tint for these beauties, but that doesn’t mean you can venture out and try another hue. 

Just see how these designs in a bold and broody dark charcoal ensure so much class and style for this kitchen. Who knew that a timeless look could become even more stunning? 

5. Bevelled subway tiles for a more formal look

Addison Grove:  Bathroom by Hamilton King,
Hamilton King

Addison Grove

Hamilton King

Another way in which subway tiles can ensure a most striking look can be with a bevelled design. This ensures extra texture to your wall and firmly ups the room’s classic formality. 

We especially love this modern bathroom’s take on a bevelled subway tile in a thunderstorm grey, ensuring an almost industrial-like look. 

6. Subway tiles in cool blue

Just when we thought subway tiles couldn’t get more magical we were presented with this amazing design: a modern bathroom flaunting miniature tiles in a cool aquatic blue! Perfect for any design and theme (nautical or otherwise), these tiny treats ensure a breath of freshness, especially when inserted into a black-and-white colour palette such as this. 


7. Subway tiles as a disappearing act

Drummonds Case Study: Loz Feliz Retreat, California:  Bathroom by Drummonds Bathrooms,
Drummonds Bathrooms

Drummonds Case Study: Loz Feliz Retreat, California

Drummonds Bathrooms

A quick look at this bathroom and you probably won’t even notice the subway tiles – and that’s precisely the point. In this classic bathroom, the subway tiles are ideal for helping the other tiles become more prominent. And once you notice the fabulous motifs of the floor’s Mediterranean tiles, your eyes automatically start searching for more patterns, and only then does the subway design of the walls in the background start to fade in. 

White grout ensures the subway pattern doesn’t compete with the floor tiles, allowing the walls’ look to fade out a bit more. 


8. Subway tiles in a herringbone pattern

City Brick:  Walls & flooring by Decorum Tiles,
Decorum Tiles

City Brick

Decorum Tiles

There are various patterns with which to clad your walls with subway tiles, and herringbone is just one of them. But just make sure you know in which direction you want the herringbone to point. For instance, would you like to draw attention to a room’s high ceilings? Let them face upwards! 

We especially love this combination of creams, greys and blacks – it might be an all neutral colour scheme, but the end result is far from boring!

Speaking of past trends that are still big today, let’s see How to copy the mid-century modern design

Where in your house is the perfect space just waiting to be adorned by some subway tiles?
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd,

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