Subway Tile

Category: Bathroom

More elements for our first floor bathroom design as the finish line approaches ever closer...our choice for wall tile: subway tile!

"Subway tile" is a commonly used term for a traditional 2"x6" wall tile, laid in a common brick pattern. It was the most common tile pattern throughout the bungalow's heydey in the first half of the century. As was advised by the "sanitary" experts of the day, white was pervasive until art deco introduced a wild range of colors in the 1930s.

Subway tile is still manufactured and commonly used today, although the dimensions have shifted to 3"x6" and the tile edges have become more rounded. You can see the differences if you closely compare the modern tile in the image below with the period tile in the image above.

3" x 6" subway tile (Greenwich Village by American Olean)

You can actually still buy tile that fits the dimensions and style of original subway tile. However, it can be very expensive and only the most discerning historian will probably ever notice. That said, if you've got money to burn by all means satisify your inner restoration purist. If you ever invite us over to your place we'll be sure to notice and compliment you on your fine taste... :-)

Update January 2005: (In response to a recent question someone asked us) I've tried to look up the exact history of "subway tile" on The Ol' Internet...and it doesn't have the exact story. However! My trusty memory served me well. I remember this kind of tile actually being used in New York subways...tile that is longer than it is high (it is a rectangle) and voila! I found some photos of New York subway walls. The NYC Subway began operations in 1904. My guess is that folks started using this tile in bathrooms (and possibly kitchens) because it was easier to "set" than smaller mosaic pieces and was the "hygienic white" which was fashionable at the time. The original subway tiles were flat all the way to the edge and had very tiny grout lines...easy to clean and maintain compared to other materials at the time.

You can get reproduction subway tile relatively cheaply these days...but it is rounded on the edges and the grout lines tend to be a little thicker. The dimensions are a bit different as well.

Why do we like subway tile? Well, aside from its nostalgic aestethic, it tends to be a tiny bit more forgiving on slightly crooked old house walls :) Because you set it in a brick pattern which breaks up the vertical line on purpose.)

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I wish you the best in finding Dave the cat!!


Ah, cats. One of mine decided to do her disappearing act in a 3 story walkup we were moving out of because it was being converted to condos. I was deathly afraid she'd hidden in a wall somewhere in one of the already-vacated, gutted apartments, and we would never find her. I had searched everywhere for two hours in vain, growing ever more despairing, when I reached into the (emptied, searched) linen closet and grabbed a handful of warm vibrating fur.

Never fear. He will show up when you least expect it, blinking at you as if to say, "What do you mean you were worried about me? I was right here all along! When's dinner?"


I am interested in using subway tile in several bathrooms. Do you have a resource to pass along to me for the best price for purchasing this type of tile. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Mary Ellen,

A friend of ours purchased the subway tile for us because he purchases a lot of tile. Though we know that he found the trim pieces (We have a dark grey edging about 3 inches from the edge of the tile all the way around.)

I would look at prices from The Great Indoors and Lowes, and then look at your local SMALL tile stores to compare. Best of luck!


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Started years ago as a scrapbook, this collection of photos serves as inspiration as we restore our own bungalow. We hope you find it either useful or entertaining as well.

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