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A Classic Never Dies...We Heart You, Subway Tile

Natural stone subway tile

Gorgeous white subway tile is a classicWe recently bought a home and it is a fixer upper. My husband and I are already dreaming about the laundry list of projects we want to tackle. The first up is the bathroom. When brainstorming ideas for the design of the space, the various materials and textures to consider, my suggestion for the shower was subway tiles. They are classic, easy to clean, and affordable. However, my husband’s automated response was “Subway tiles? They are so boring!” Little does he know the world of Subway tiles that exist.

Subway tiles have been popular since the early 1900’s when they were used in New York to decorate the walls of the underground rail stations. When they were first introduced, the tiles were made out of ceramic and came in one size, 3” x 6”, and were set on a staggered pattern making them the original mosaic wall tile. They quickly captured the public’s imagination and moved from the subway into the bathrooms and kitchens of prewar houses for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

Today, the subway tile has endured as a favorite for almost a century. Yet, this classic has evolved with times. Subway tiles are now produced in a variety of sizes & configurations. Manufacturers often use the term now to describe any rectangular tile with a length twice its height, from 4-by-8-inch planks to 1-by-2 mosaics, and even some tiles (such as contemporary 2-by-8 strips) that don’t share the original’s proportions at all. What’s great about the various sizes now offered is that it allows you to use the material and find the proper scale for the desired space. For example, if you are covering a large area such as a mudroom feature wall, the 4” x 12” tiles would look less busy and are fitting for a big space. If working on a backsplash or a small fireplace surround, the 3” x 6” or even 2” x 6” tiles would be more appropriate.

Not only has the definition & size of the tile changed with the times, so has the material. In addition to ceramic, subway tiles are now also made in glass with various finishes. This innovation gives the classic tile a modern twist. It mixes a bit of the old with the new and provides an array of colors that partner well with just about any style of decor. Glass subway tiles also hold up better than the original ceramic. The old ceramic style of tile would degrade over time from water and would start to wear quickly. Glass tiles do not have this problem as it is impervious to water which makes it ideal to use in bathrooms, kitchens, and pools. Norstone has their own take on a subway tile with their Basalt Interlocking Tile Product, which features similar product ratios in a unique mesh mounted system, allowing for quicker installation and a modern twist on a classic look.

Black Norstone subway tile

Needless to say, after showing my husband how the subway tile has been around for so long yet evolved with the times with an endless array of options, he is now on board. I simply explained, subway tiles are like a good pair of black pants. With a timeless silhouette and versatile pallet, they will be in style forever!

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Norstone's New Dimensions in Natural Stone blog aims to discuss design themes, sources of inspiration, and how the world around us influences our creative interpretation and buying preferences.

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