Subway tile conquers interiors

Trending: Subway tiles can be laid in virtually any configuration and are on course for world bathroom domination. Photo: Surface Gallery. Design: TomMarkHenry
Trending: Subway tiles can be laid in virtually any configuration and are on course for world bathroom domination. Photo: Surface Gallery. Design: TomMarkHenry

To most people, subway stations, or the underground as we call it in Australia, isn’t a very sexy place to spend a lot of time.

It’s certainly not the place that would inspire you to take a shower or play with your rubber duck.

And yet, the tiles that adorn the subway walls are the hottest thing in bathroom design today.

You’d have to be living in a tube station not to realise that the subway tile is on course for world bathroom domination.

Designed for the New York subway in the early 1900s, the iconic 75mm x 150mm tile soon adorned the walls of stations all over the planet, from Paris to London.

Eventually they evolved for residential use, in bathrooms, kitchens and other wet areas around the house.

No doubt the subway tile’s original benefits – durability, low maintenance and reflectiveness – are as relevant today as they were 113 years ago.

Which might explain why interior designers such as Greg Natale are still specifying them.

“They are such a classic look, we were using them 15 years ago,” Mr Natale said.

“Nowadays we are all doing bathrooms that are a bit more traditional and a bit more layered and the subway tile really suits that.”

Mr Natale believes the next big thing will be square subway tiles.

“We’re using them in a few projects at the moment,” he said.

Adrian Zipevski, associate director of Surface Gallery, agrees that square subway tiles (50mm x 50mm) are going to be very popular, with some people steering away from the traditional subway size, and even colour.

Contrasting colour.

Contrasting colour.

“The original subway tile is gloss white, but now we are seeing them in many different colours, and even in a matt finish,” Mr Zipevski said.

And while most people still lay their subway tiles in a classic brick pattern, others are discovering how versatile the humble tile can be.

“You can lay subway tiles in every way from a herringbone pattern, to a basketweave, or vertical offset,” Mr Zipevski said.

“Choosing a contrasting grout, such as charcoal with a white tile, can also add an element of texture.”

Machine-made subway tiles can be bought for less than $30 per square metre.

A batch of tiles that have been handmade in Spain can cost $90 per square metre, but the results will speak for themselves.