Subway Tile - brands and quality?

sandwhyMay 9, 2008

Hello kind people! Been looking over some posts and gazing jealously at the gorgeous photos of bathrooms here. We are remodeling a basement bathroom in our 1910 home and are doing the shower/walls in subway tile, which leads me to my question - any particular brand of tile you folks would recommend? or run screaming from (ie CHEAP tile)? Been to Lowe's and HD and some tile/flooring stores (which seem rather outrageously expensive) and am rather clueless (obviously) about quality and what to look for.

Many thanks and please feel free to post more photos of your subway tiled bathrooms... getting some great ideas here. :)


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Hi Sandy-

I live in 1860's house so I know from whence you are coming. The least expensive subway tiles from the specialty bath place tiles are $5.85 a square foot (Home depot probably cheaper) but as they are machine-made they are incredibly flat and regular. At the top of the spectrum they are $13.65 psf and are somewhat irregular, have a pillow-like look and are hand-made (or so they say).

I am about to order something in between but I also would like to hear from others on this subject...

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 9:54AM
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This is one place where I really cut corners (as well as budget) in my bathroom remodel. I went with plain old dumb American Olean off the shelf $0.22/tile from Lowes. With 10% off coupon it ran me about $1.59/sf. To tell you the truth, once installed, except for color there is very little difference in look between these and the $6/sf ADEX subways in my kitchen. The color was REALLY important to me in the kitchen though, I wanted something that was bright and white and clean next to my white appliances and trim. In the bathroom I was ok with the softer look.

Handmade tile is a whole different look, as are beveled and other specialty type tile you can get. If that's the look you have your heart set on, it's probably worth it. If you want a more period look those are not really correct either.

The other option are the "period correct" perfectly flat subway tiles that are also very expensive. To tell you the truth, my house is not so precious as to justify 10x what I spent in tile. My house is old and it's beautiful (at least I think so) but I will never walk into my bathroom and wish I had spent 10x as much on the tile. I will be glad I put that money toward central a/c when I walk in there and it's comfortable during a heat wave this summer. In my opinion unless you are doing a totally period correct restoration, there just isn't enough bang for the buck to justify really really expensive tile that looks almost but not quite like the cheap stuff, but that is my opinion only. The wonderful thing about opinions is that we are all entitled to our own.

Here are a few shots of my "classic on the cheap" bathroom, not done yet but coming along. Also using the cheaper field and floor tile ($2/sf with coupon from Home Depot off the shelf) I was able to splurge a bit on decos and liners. The liners were $1.28 a piece from lowes, the decos were $2.50 or so a piece from lowes and the black chair rail was about $3.50 a piece special ordered from my local tile store (coordinates perfectly with the liners from Lowes - my tile store also special orders the 1/2" x 6" pencil liners for $3+ a piece). This is before grout.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 11:13AM
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I agree with other posters, the true vintage are very expensive. I went with Dal Tile. They are nice tiles. About $3.00 sq. ft. The pillowy subways are not vintage. So if thats the look you are wanting go with a nice, uniform, flatter subway.
I like mine just fine. We have 7 baths in our new home so definitely needed to find a good price point as all showers are subway. Here are a few pics

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 2:24PM
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acountryfarm-- next time you want to use the Rittenhouse Square, go someplace else. There's no reason you should be paying over 2.00 a foot, and even at that they're making a good profit.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 5:19PM
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Hi sandwhy--

I was looking for true period style subways for my kitchen backsplash and went with Subway Ceramics. Like others have mentioned, they are quite a bit more expensive than some other options, for a fairly subtle difference that most people probably wouldn't notice. I am kind of a stickler for those little details, though, so for me it was worth it. Fortunately, I have a small kitchen (and small bathroom!) so the cost was manageable--if I had 7 bathrooms or was doing as much tiling as kgwlisa, I would have had to reconsider. (I'm not sure what the final cost per square foot for the field tile came out to be, honestly.)

Here are a couple pictures of my kitchen backsplash--I'll also be using this tile for my tub/shower surround, and to repair some original (1926-ish) baseboard tile that a PO damaged when installing a vanity. (The Subway Ceramics tile is an astonishingly close match to the original tile in my bathroom).

And for what its worth--I had a local tile shop special order these tiles for me, and they were so enthralled with the quality of the tile and how nicely it installs, they had every guy from the shop come to visit my kitchen to ohh and ahh over it. It really does give a nice 'old' look for a new tile.

Hope this helps!

Here is a link that might be useful: Subway Ceramics website

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 6:31PM
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Ohhh---and I also wanted to say you should look at the 'Gallery' section on the Subway Ceramics website. Even though they give full disclosure, it is a little sneaky since the pictures are of original tile installations--so not THEIR tiles--but they are great pictures if you are looking for period style bathroom inspiration. I think all the pictures are from Jane Powell's Bungalow Bathrooms which is a great resource if you are into that sort of thing (I have spent some quality time with my copies of 'Bungalow Kitchens' and 'Bungalow Bathrooms' over the last few years! :)

I've linked to the Gallery page below

Here is a link that might be useful: Subway Ceramics Gallery

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 6:38PM
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just out of curiosity "Rittenhouse Square" ? is that what Dal carries? I was under the impression that it was a Dal product. Now I can't claim to be an expert because I am not, but that is what they told me. Not true?
I know I learned one thing when my builder decided not to be involved in building my house....
....that the tile business is really a crap shoot. Not sure that everyone in it is always honest or trustworthy. Luckily I felt like I had the most help from Dal. By far the cheapest of anyplace I went.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 3:45AM
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Rittenhouse Square is the name of the subway series that Dal carries.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rittenhouse Square

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:18AM
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bill vincent- Thank you
I am going to dig out invoices just to check the pricing. We did a considerable amount of tile business with them and would hate to think they were overcharging. Probably not much to do about it now, but at least will be armed with right info for any future projects.

I appreciate your expertise once again.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 1:23PM
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Hi everyone and thank you all so much for the advice/opinions and photos! We certainly appreciate it. Keep 'em coming!!!

Sandy :)

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 4:02PM
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acountryfarm-- because of the fact that I'm a contractor and don't do much in the way of retail sales, I'm in the highest price group that Dal has for their accounts, and even for me, it's less than 1.50 wholesale.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 5:22PM
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I love the clean line of subway tiles, from the "cheap" ones to the killer expensive ones (and $13 ish is NOT the top of the line can go a great deal higher with the stupid things).

I am using a hand made crackle tile from the Statements tile line. While it's fairly uniform in shape, it does have some variety in it's final product in terms of how much crackle you might see and how flat they are. I loved the tone of these with my granite, but also the overall look. They are quite thick, which is a difference you see from the cheaper stuff to the expensive stuff. Because they're a crackle finish they are a bit higher in cost, but the luminous glaze was to die for. Not period...but just another option to show you :)

In a soft green or sky blue...e gads they're lucious! Really.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 8:15PM
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klb, your kitchen is definitely period correct tile worthy. My house is not period correct anywhere, although I do have antiques mixed in there. I also have WAY too many projects to be spending that much on tile when there is something almost as good for a teeny percentage of the price. Once you have natural maple kitchen cabinets though, it's not going to look like an old kitchen regardless.

The liner is soooo pretty too, I love the alternating bars and dots.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 7:20AM
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Igloo - Do you mean those gorgeous custom order crackle subways were only $13/SF? Tell me it ain't so!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 11:16AM
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I also used cheap ones from HD but someone on the kitchen forum had beveled subways and they were gorgeous.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 1:16PM
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LOL Sweeby...I said that $13 sq ft was NOT the top of the line (someone posted that earlier as a high cost subway).

It ain't so :( Because I have both field (posted above) and bullnose for the ends of the runs, I can't quote both prices specifically...but I can tell you that the field tiles ran about $68 sq ft...the bullnose were more, but I can't find the invoice (I'm thinking they pushed up on the $90 because of the custom coloring to match the field tiles).

The poster wanted to see brands and quality heh heh so here's a brand, and it's quality (dang I hope so).

But what I love about subways is what you see in the other posts here...that basic stuff from Home Despot looks so danged classy JUST because of the traditional "subway" shape. I'm using that in the rental remodel.

Oh and there is a way to ruin subway tiles. I have them in the entryway here in the rental. Plastic coat them with pink and red to simulate brick...::shudder:: Really...yuck!!! LOL

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 1:49PM
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OK - Thanks Igloo -- That restores my faith in economic parity and my own determined bargain-hunting. I searched high and low for crackle subways in gorgeous colors and ended up with Walker Zanger's Gramercy Park tiles -- Gorgeous colors, elegant shapes and trims, but pricey... (At least it was just a small backsplash.)

Sandy - If you like the thicker hand-made'y tiles and can live with white or cream, check out Emser's Classica line. Some lovely trims and unusual shapes to complement and a great price point.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 5:44PM
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I am being misquoted. What I said was $13.85 was the highpriced tile in my LOCAL tile store. Not that this was the top of the line for subway tiles. Sheesh.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 11:19PM
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i'm sorry i read that wrong missl.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 5:00AM
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I love everyones very detailed answers (and pictures) including kgwlisa. I am doing a bathroom and a kitchen backsplash in subway tiles. We have a HUGE backsplash for the kitchen. I'm totally sold on doing the cheapie loews tiles for the bathroom, but kgwlisa I know you mentioned you did another brand for kitchen. Is there a comprimise between klb 2000's beautiful tile from Subway Ceramics and the cheapie Loews ones? Thanks so much in advance...

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 6:58AM
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I used ADEX subway tiles for my kitchen. The reason I used them is because I wanted something pure and milky white. ADEX tiles are an opaque glaze over terracotta tile and just have a slightly different look to them. You'd think that would be less white than a tile with a white base but it's actually MORE white. I believe these were about $5/sf.

IMO (and this is just my opinion) unless you are looking for a specific color or specific trim pieces, there is very little reason to go above generic daltile/AO subways to any of the other subways (and unless you are going for all white, people have successfully mixed and matched less expensive field tile with colored trim pieces from other lines and the results have been beautiful. But as far as the shape and look of the tile - there's a pretty small difference between generic subways of different lines (not counting specialty subways like period reproductions or beveled or handmade looking etc).

Like I said, the reason I went for the ADEX was the milky white color that didn't look off next to my appliances and bright white trim. As far as how they look installed though, there's not a huge difference between those and the cheapies. Here is a picture of my far better crafted backsplash (because I did it myself, SOB)

This is before the trim was painted white though.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 8:43PM
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kgwlisa, really appreciate your thoughts,pics,recs. Thanks so much...cheapies it is!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 9:11PM
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I too appreciate the opinions and photos. Gorgeous work there those of you who posted photos... I'm so jealous/impressed with your handiwork!


    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 9:33PM
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