The lasting appeal of the Subway tile proves two design truths: that form follows function, and that “simple” never goes out of style. Created in 1904, the subway tile – including new variations like the 4×12 glass subway tile – remains to be one of the most commonly used materials for flooring and wall cladding.
Discover the iconic Subway tile’s unique journey, and the different ways they can be used today.
From the 19th Century New York Subway Tile to 21st Century Homes
The 3 x 6-inch subway tile was first installed in the New York Subway Station in 1904. Designers, George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge, wanted a material that could withstand the dirt and foot traffic in the country’s busiest subway station.
New York City then was a busy entry port. It outdid all other American cities in terms of trade, finance, pop culture, and high-brow interests like art and fashion. The biggest corporations chose to build their headquarters in New York. The city’s jaw-dropping skyscrapers beckoned diverse groups of people to come in. When the New York Subway Station was inaugurated in October 27, 1904, more than 100,000 people paid a nickel for their first ride in what was going to be the largest system in America.
The tile that defined the look and feel of the station still carries that same vibe from the 19th Century New York. The distinct aesthetics of this time is a theme many of today’s designers still love to recreate.
Soon after it made its public debut, the iconic subway tile quickly showed up in homes and commercial buildings. Seeing how easy it was to care for the tiles, people began to associate them with cleanliness. If there was a place in a house or an establishment (like the kitchen or the toilet) that had to be particularly spotless, tiles became everyone’s material of choice.
In recent years, the 3 x 6-inch subway tile plus its variations like the 4×12 glass subway tile, is making a huge come back. Just look at Martha Stewart’s kitchen.
From Ceramics to Glass
The ones used in New York were made from glazed ceramic. Ceramic tiles consist of sand, clay, and a combination of natural products. After being molded into shape, the mixture is subjected to high temperature.
Ceramic tiles are durable, affordable, and easy to care for. It is no surprise they continue to be one of the most hard-working building materials in the world. Being able to take a good beating, they are frequently installed in high traffic areas.
Today though, the term “Subway tile” refers not only to the original ceramic 3 x 6 inch. Any tile that has a width twice as much as its height can be considered a subway tile. So there’s also a new variety that is made from glass.
The 4×12 glass subway tile is colorful, classy, and luminous. Characterized by a wider rectangular shape, these tiles move the eyes from left to right thus creating an illusion of space. Their size and form make them ideal for narrow spaces.
One of more noticeable differences between glass and ceramics is durability and resistance. While they both perform very well against stains, mildew, molds and chemicals, the surface of glass is easier to scratch. While it is an ideal material for a kitchen backsplash, it may not be the best choice for the kitchen counter.
The 4×12 glass subway tile is the ideal material though if style and class are what you’re going for. In 2017, the most popular tile colors were black, blue- green, white, berry-inspired colors, certain shades of pink, and all kinds of gray. They were used in combination to create dramatic backsplashes in bathrooms and kitchens.
Subway tiles have certainly captured the imagination of a lot of designers who are now using them in a wide variety of colors, sizes, textures, or finishes. Available in neutral and bright mosaic like colors, the 4×12 glass subway tile is highly flexible. It’ll blend well with a variety of thematic interiors like Modern, Coastal, Moroccan, and Eclectic
While there are those who want to explore new colors and patterns, many homeowners still go back to that original beige 3 x 6-inch subway tile as it was first seen in New York. It is basic, functional, classy, and adaptable to other decorative items in the house. The simplicity of the 19th Century New York Subway Tile will never go out of style. It remains to be one of the most commonly used materials in American homes.