From New York Subway to the Home – History of Subway Tiles

From New York Subway to the Home – History of Subway Tiles

Subway tiles didn’t stay underground for long.

Less than a century after their debut in the New York Subway, these 3X6 rectangle tiles are a must-have addition to any residential or commercial property.  With its simple, yet modern design, it’s no wonder subway tiles have lasted the test of time.

How did these tiles get their start to become one of the most popular styles in modern history? It all begins at the turn of the century – last century, that is – when architects, George C. Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge, were contracted to design the first New York Subway Station. At the time, the architectural team had already completed large Beaux-Arts style (which was in vogue at the time) projects at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Bronx Zoo, so they were certainly up for the task.

Subway tiles train stations
Original City Hall subway station, IRT Lexington Avenue Line, in 1904. Source.


Late-century Victorians were obsessed with hygiene. Heins and La Farge looked for a tile that was easy to care for, clean and shaped like bricks. The solution was sparkling, white tiles that didn’t stain. The white tiles had the additional advantage of reflecting light. It brightened the underground station, giving the illusion of a safe, sanitary space. The designers used the white tiles in conjunction with striking mosaic tiles to create an impressive backdrop to the marvel in engineering that is underground railroads.

The style was repeated all across the world, from London’s Tube to the Metro in Paris and many other subterranean trains around the world.

Following the debut of the new Subway tile, the trend spread quickly across commercial interiors. It featured any place where a “sanitary” appearance was revered, including butchers, hospitals and eating establishments. It wasn’t long before subway tiles made it into the home, most commonly featuring in the bathroom and kitchen.

Although the subway tile trend hasn’t really gone away, it’s had a massive surge in popularity over recent years. It’s simplicity, versatility and affordability make it an ideal option, especially when giving new kitchens an “old world” charm.

At Stone & Tile Studio, we stock a stunning range of Carrara marble and Natura subway style tiles in a variety of classic colours. Browse our range online and see them in person at Zillmere Design Centre.

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