Recapture Vintage Period Looks with Subway Tile

by Matt Goering

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Subway tile is a term that refers to the straight lined, usually white, tile that is so commonly found lining the walls and ceilings of subways across the country. What few homeowners realize, however, is that subway tile was also used widely in residential applications in the earlier part of the 20th century. Most often found in bathrooms and kitchens, this tile was easy to install, was "hygienically" white (a big selling point at the time), and it's uniform color and shapes helped to hide what were often crooked wall, ceiling, and floor lines.

Subway Tile is Back
When the art-deco movement hit residential interior design in the late 1920's, subway tile gave way to an explosion of tile colors and shapes previously considered unsuitable for sanitary areas of the home. It hasn't been until recently that a demand for vintage subway style tile has resurfaced. Fortunately, suppliers have jumped at the chance to meet that call and there are a number of companies that manufacture reproduction vintage tile for homeowners trying to recapture this sensible, sanitary tile design.

Subway Tile is Better and Brighter than Ever
While this tile is available in traditional, vintage looks, modern sensibilities have led manufacturers to produce subway style tile with a little extra flair than those made a century ago. Adding a splash of color every few tiles, as well as using hexagonal and octagonal tiles is not unusual these days. Furthermore, combining these subway tile innovations with the straight lines of traditional subway style tile can lead to some spectacular results.

Subway Tile and Home Restorations
Besides great looks, there are a few other reasons homeowners choose this tile for their bathrooms, backsplashes, and kitchens. As restorations of older homes become more and more popular, so does the demand for original materials. In that respect, the demand for tile that matches original designs found in vintage houses has grown as well. For the small number of restoration purists for whom there is no alternative but the real deal, there are subway tile manufacturers who create new tile that is virtually indistinguishable from those of old. No colors or fancy shapes here, just the reliable, clean, straight lined tile design that started it all.

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Talk to a Specialty Supplier
Quality reproduction subway style tile isn't something you can find just anywhere. That being the case, if you think this is the right tile design and material for you, search out a supplier that specializes in the production and distribution of these vintage tiles before you purchase. Doing so will not only ensure that you'll get quality materials, but you'll be able to consult with your supplier about the best design possibilities and installation options available to you as well.

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.