Why Subway Tile is So Popular

Why Subway Tile is So Popular

You have likely come across the sleek and rectangular 3” x 6” tiles known as the subway tile many times throughout your life. After all, they have been a popular choice of tile for over a hundred years!

Before we delve into the reasons for their popularity and their many applications in modern design projects, let’s dig into some interesting historical facts about subway tile.

The Origins of Subway Tile

Mattone - Ceramic

You can thank the New York City subway system for making subway tiles so trendy. And they are aptly named - dubbed after the NYC subway system itself. Dating back to the early 1900’s, the architects of the NYC subway envisioned a durable, easy to clean, stylish and urban look that would entice and impress onlookers. They developed an inexpensive yet sleek, glazed-top ceramic tile from a Cincinnati Ceramics manufacturer, which mimicked the look of stone but was more durable, virtually stain-proof, and moisture-resistant.   

The tile’s official rise to stardom peaked in the 1920s and ‘30s when they became wildly popular. And while they may have been a trendy option back then, they are still a beloved choice in modern times and are used quite often in today’s home and commercial renovations.  

Benefits of Subway Tile 

Let’s explore some of the many reasons why subway tiles are so well liked!

Low Price Point

Silber- Ceramic

Depending on what type of subway tile you choose, the tiles usually cost between $5 to $10 per square foot (psf). However, they can vary wildly in price. A garden variety hardware store tile can be $2 psf if you’re unfussy or looking to revamp a rental income property for cheap. On the other hand, a high-end artisan tile shop selling handmade or imported tiles can cost you anywhere from $30 psf to $60 psf. Some subway tiles can be made of real, natural stone, or customized with specialty materials for various applications, but the majority are made from ceramic or porcelain which is the reason they are usually inexpensive.

For those who want the look of stone without the expense, this is one of the best tiles to luxe up your home at a steal. On all levels between price, style and standard of excellence, this is the “go-to” tile when you want an impressive, striking and rich look, a good quality material, and a low to average price-point. Finding a beautiful, high end subway tile for a good price for your project is definitely within reach.

Timeless Style

James Series - Ceramic

One of the most appealing features of subway tiles is their shapeshifting ability for use in all types of projects and styles, ranging all the way from traditional to industrial. They are sought out and purchased in a variety of renovations, from low-end budgeted reno’s to high-end ‘dream home’ renovations. These trendy rectangles are both a fail-safe addition to every kitchen no matter the style, as well as a preferred ‘fall back’ design staple both nationally and worldwide to this day.  

It’s easy to understand how subway tile’s clean, fresh and simple aesthetic never goes out of style, and is the desired choice for most of today’s design projects worldwide.  

Traditionally, subway tiles are 3” x 6” which is the most popular size for subway tile. However, any variation of rectangular tile dimensions can work for subway tile as well. Even this striking rhomb shape variation can be used for subway tile to create a sophisticated, elevated and dramatic effect.

Subway tile just has that “je ne sais quoi” ability to please everyone’s aesthetic tastes. Maybe it’s the geometric flow of lines and shapes that’s so appealing. The clean lines paired with a high gloss coating and neutral colors add an effortless elegant style to a room, as well as reflect light to brighten and enhance the space.

Low Maintenance

Bower Series - Ceramic

In terms of its functionality, subway tile’s material composition makes it perfect for use in high traffic areas such as kitchens and bathrooms because the clay is thick and less porous than real stone. This makes it also more resistant to moisture plus the durable material hardly ever stains, is resistant to extreme temperatures, and is robust enough to withstand chemical cleaning solutions without getting damaged.   

Porcelain Subway Tile is equally easier to clean and offers a unique trendy look, and can be used on both floors and walls.

Subway Tile Patterns

Hikkaki - Ceramic

Another awesome feature of subway tiles is the ability to create a variety of patterns with them, generating different looks from irregular to structured. And you don’t necessarily have to stick with a neutral white color palette; you can try combining several different colors of tile such as black and white for a retro look, or opt for other colors for a punchy and eclectic look or choose one bold color to create an accent wall. 

Some Patterns to consider:  (popular patterns)

Traditional Herringbone (pretty and show stopping)

Offset – one-third or one-fourth (classic and neutral - the go-to option)

Stacked bond (clean, simple and traditional - no offsetting)

Horizontal Herringbone (trendy take on the traditional herringbone)

Other patterns you might like:

Crosshatch (looks like a parquet floor pattern)

Running Bond (up and down running tile in increments - a twist on the vertical stacked)

Straight Herringbone (has a busy, geometric look)

Diagonal Herringbone (warm, interesting, energetic pattern)

Vertical Stacked Bond (or “Soldier Course” Bond - tile running up and down)

Vertical Offset Stacked Bond (fun twist on vertical stacking) 

Diagonal Offset (uncommon and unique)

Check out all the Tile Patterns here for some Tile Laying inspiration.

Bottom line.

Subway tile is well loved in both residential and commercial applications for its classic and timeless appeal. You can save tons of money (and time cleaning) using beautiful subway tiles as opposed to marble slabs or natural stone tiles which are more delicate and require careful maintenance. Its reasonable cost makes it very practical for your design project, saving you potentially thousands of dollars both during the project and down the road, as it is a durable and long-lasting tile.

To Figure Out How Much Tile you will Need For a Project:

Click on a tile you like in our Subway Tile Gallery and scroll down for our easy Tile Calculator.