Subway tile - A timeless classic

Anyone with an interest in Home Improvement or Design (who hasn’t been living under a rock!) has heard the term Subway Tile, especially lately. Those little 3-by-6 glazed white rectangles have been a staple of kitchen and bath designs for decades, and it seems to be ALL the rage once again… but did it ever really go out? Simple but chic, there’s a reason subway tile is a classic when it comes to tile options.

Subway tile is riding a wave of enormous popularity right now, but it’s been around for a long time. If any of your walls are glazed with those little 3″ x 6″ rectangles, you have a little piece of history in your home. It may be the hardest-working tile in the US!

From the moment they made their debut in the 1900s they have only been gaining in popularity. Why? It’s simple. Subway tiles are easy to clean, stain resistant, and light reflective. They go anywhere, and come in thousands of different colors and combinations. From solid black or white ceramic to natural stone, marble or glass, the ways you can utilize subway tiles in your home are only limited by your imagination.

A Brief History of Subway Tile

It’s called ‘Subway tile’ because Once Upon a Time (1900’s New York) it was designed to be installed in the (then brand new) Subway Systems. They were looking for something classic, clean and durable. Thus, Subway Tile was born! Designers George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge created the distinctive 3″ x 6″ rectangles for the very first station of New York’s then brand-new subway system in 1904.

Not only were the tiles easy to install, but they were easy to clean as well! The white tile had the additional advantage of reflecting light, brightening the underground Subway stations.

Before long, the Tiles began to appear outside the Subway system. Kitchens, bathrooms, butchers and hospitals… everywhere a sanitary and clean aesthetic was desired. They were adopted across the globe as the ‘go-to’ to reflect a clean, sanitary space. With its sleek, easy-to-clean design, it’s no surprise that the trend is still going strong today.


Like all ceramic tiles, Subway Tiles are no exception when it comes to durability. Ceramic is, in fact, best known for its durability: “There are still intact installations in the ruins of ancient Rome and Egypt,” says Dave Gobis, executive director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. “Pompeii has many examples of beautiful ceramic tile work that are still pristine after 2,000 years.” They are tough enough to take a beating for decades. In fact, the adhesive, grout and caulk that’s used to install subway tiles will need to be replaced LONG before the tiles themselves do!

Thinking of using them as a backsplash over your stove? Go for it! They are SUPER easy to clean and have a protective layer that rests over the material, making them impervious to water and stain penetration. They are also naturally resistant to the ravages of high humidity conditions (And y’all know ALLLLL about Summer in a Southern Kitchen, amiright?).

Subway Tiles are extremely hard and very difficult to crack. When installed properly, you can expect them to last upwards of 20 years and longer! If a single tile does crack due to a severe impact, the process of replacing that tile is relatively simple.

Does Grandma still have Subway Tiles in that hideous avocado green in the bathroom? Now you know why…


There is a reason this trend has been going strong for over 100 years. It’s one of those trends that won’t look dated in a few years. It’s because it looks good in so many spaces and with every design style. This classic tile shape is so streamlined and modern that it literally works for any style of space, from farmhouse to modern. Plus, we love the newest trends with dark gray grout!

More than a century after its first use, ceramic subway tile has endured as a favorite time and time again for generations of homeowners. Subway tile has something for everyone! Today’s tiles come in a wide variety of colors and finishes that will work well, no matter what your style is! Mix and match with different patterns and grouts – Subway Tile can be personalized to go with whatever design you are looking for!

The versatility of glass allows for glass tiles to be made in an endless variety of colors, textures, and finishes. From modern subway-inspired glass tiles, to bright blends infused with glitter or marbling to mimic marble!

Subway Tiles aren’t just for kitchens and baths anymore either! We’re starting to see subway tile in laundry rooms, mudrooms, and even fireplaces where they offer a pop of decorative (easy to care for, heat resistant) flair.

This classic style has evolved from the traditional 3”x6” rectangles to include additional sizes and colors. Unique patterns, textures, bevels, and splashes of color have also brought subway tile up to modern standards. 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 do they cost?

Subway Tiles are by far one of the bestselling tiles today, and over the last 10 years, not to mention one of the most popular choices. Prices start around $2 per square foot for budget field tile and soar to $50 (or more) per square foot for handmade artisan tile. It really depends on what look you are going for, but they are definitely cost effective! It’s a much more affordable option compared to other materials like stone or glass.

Given the low price point, there’s little wonder why they’re used so much both in residential and commercial properties.

However you decide to use it, Subway Tile is a durable, timeless and cost-effective option for your home that has stood the test of time and is just as popular today as it was 100 years ago.