Subway tile--too trendy ??

tricia257January 31, 2013

When I started looking for kitchen ideas, I loved subway tile the minute I saw it. Now the more I look I realize I see subway tile evrywhere. Is anyone wondering if a subway tile backsplash may be too trendy so eventually it screams "I did my kitchen in the 2010's ?

I think I love them so much I don't care, just wondering.

BTW, my kitchen is going to have white upper cabs and dark cherry base cabinets and I see white subway tile with this combo all the time.

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I LOVE subway tile too. I think it is timeless!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 6:55PM
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I don't think you could find a more timeless element in a kitchen than subway tile. It might not be the most unique thing, but I do think it will stand the test of time (and has stood the test of time).

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:20PM
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Subway tiles couldn't get to timeless with a map and a bus ticket. They didn't exist for more than 75 years and people who wanted to replace broken old tile couldn't find any new.

White uppers, dark lowers, subways. You're doing a current, trendy kitchen. So? Why do you care? In fifteen years everything you install now is going to look like mommy jeans anyway.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:20PM
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My 1930s house had original subway tile on one wall in the kitchen - white tile with a black border across the top. We redid the kitchen and the only thing we left was that wall of subway tile! Subway tile is classic.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:35PM
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You can all repeat it as often as your wish, but opinion does not stand up against fact.

Subway tile was so wildly unpopular that it completely disappeared from production around 1930ish until the turn of the millennium.

It is not timeless. Period.

It's nice. It's OK to like it. It's OK to decide to use it. I have it in my bathroom. It's just not OK to make stuff up about it that is patently untrue.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:40PM
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OK, I'll bite. So what is your definition of "timeless" and what would you consider examples of timeless design elements?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:21PM
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Marcolo - everyone is entitled to their opinion. Subway tile is a design element that graced many 20th century homes and the subway systems such as NYC and DC. It is not just 3x6 tile; it can also be 4x4, 6x6, etc. Yes, 3x6 is popular; however, it is something that has been around for decades.

I have been a long time fan of the arts and craft movement. Every house I lived in was from the arts & craft period of the early 20th century until we built our new home. And, it has arts & craft elements AND subway tile in 2 different sizes. In the mid 1980s I served on a committee that met in the city hall, a former home and USO facility. The bathroom on the 2nd floor was black and white subway tile. I fell in love the moment I stepped into the room. Everything was original to the home. Someday I would have a bathroom just like it - and I do.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:31PM
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I think subway is timeless and gorgeous. Do it! Also, we are just about finished with our remodel with dark chocolate cherry bottoms and white tops!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:02PM
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I agree with Marcolo on this one in terms of the 6x3 format. It disappeared from production for many decades and was impossible to find even for restoration projects except for salvage.

If you want something that has stuck around from sometime in the 19th c. until now that would be the 4x4 format.

Since the 3x6 has made a reappearance that has lasted a decade+, I think the format is probably here to stay but the white 3 x 6 subway tile format combined with every other material and color under the sun is going to say early 2000s as much as an avocado refrigerator says 1967-mid 70s. That doesn't make it a bad choice, though.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:24PM
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motherof3sons--No one is entitled to his own facts. Subway tile is most certainly not 4 x 4 or 6 x 6. You are essentially saying that all tile is subway tile, and you are not correct. Subway tiles are rectangular, and if you were to walk into any store that sold tile asking for a 4 x 4 "subway" tile you would be certainly get a most quizzical look. The longest-lived shape of tile for the past century has been square, not rectangular. And as I said--twice, now?--no one even bothered to produce subway tiles for most of the twentieth century. Something that was completely out of fashion for seven or eight decades is "timeless?" Then what does that word even mean?

The silly search for timelessness in a kitchen was ably ridiculed in a number of threads like this one. liriodendron correctly pointed out that the quest for timelessness is itself a fad, replacing fake French or Fake Tuscan with fake Edwardian.

The weird obsession with timelessness is part and parcel of the OTK dogma, whose adherents truly believed that the One True Kitchen would forever remain at the height of popularity. Now, OTK kitchens are being ripped out of homes and sold at Green Demolitions. Duo-tone kitchens, like the OP plans to design, are now all the rage. Large format tiles have edged out subways as truly trendy; subways are now merely popular and ubiquitous, like stainless steel.

Anyway, all this weird OCD-like repetition that subways are timeless is beside the point, which is: Should the OP put subways in her kitchen? If not, why not? Because they won't be popular in ten years? So what?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:25PM
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Mother of 3sons is correct. There are 4 x 4" and 6 x 6" tiles in the NYC subway. Here's an example and I can find more if you think this is a fluke.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:34PM
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Shakespeare hasn't written one word since the first decades of the 17th century, yet somehow he is regarded as timeless; your point, Marcolo?
Subway is universal, ubiquitous and beloved, on the fast track to become timeless.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:41PM
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The NYC subway also contains lots of bas-relief and mosaics. As well as polychrome faience tile. Is that what you're claiming people mean when they talk about subway tile? Is that what the OP is asking about putting in her kitchen? A green faience bas-relief of a beaver? Are you asking to be taken seriously?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:41PM
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Oh that is too funny. My DH was actually thinking it would be fun to buy some tiles from the Transit Museum store and install them in our backsplash. I went to CCNY so buying a beaver tile did come up in the conversation!

Here is a link that might be useful: Isn't he cute?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:47PM
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I hope not :)

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 10:57PM
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If you love it then do it!
If you all are going against "trendy" how about "overused"? I always liked subway tile but now am getting sick of seeing it. I guess that can happen with anything. I have a marble countertop and maybe that's being overdone as well. I think what matters is if you really love it or not. I love my marble so much I can't imagine tiring of it...

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:02PM
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Casey, don't know how to tell you this, but: Shakespeare was perhaps the most influential poet and playwright in the English language, and subway tile is a piece of ceramic or porcelain you stick on the wall of a kitchen.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Oh, and Shakespeare has been continuously in print for centuries. Subway tile has been continuously in production for...about ten years or so. 'Bout the same lifespan so far as harvest gold and avocado, come to think of it.

Fishies, overused really is a better word. "Trendy" can be confused with cutting edge, and subways haven't been new for a decade. I always rebel when people try to pressure posters to put in subways, but in this case, it's what the OP actually wants. So what's wrong with that? I'm about to put in a kitchen that's been out of date for eighty years, because that's what I want.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:08PM
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Subway tile is a design element that graced many 20th century homes and the subway systems such as NYC and DC.

Huh? The DC Metro system opened in 1976. I cannot say I have seen every station, but they all seem to look like this:

There is a hex-tile floor, which is kinda cool, but nary a subway tile in sight.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:10PM
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Don't know about DC, but it's everywhere in the Paris metro.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:17PM
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Is that what the OP is asking about putting in her kitchen? A green faience bas-relief of a beaver?

Nooo, don't be silly. That look is coming into fashion in 2017, but will look dated in 2021.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:20PM
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So I guess subway tile now means Scrabble, too.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:21PM
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I say if you like it, do it, and don't worry about timelessness. We used subway even though it was "trendy" (and paired it with white Shaker style inset cabinetry, which seems to be everywhere now too!) We like it. It was almost certainly what was in our 1915 home's original kitchen (the cabinetry we know for sure was, and the subway tile very likely was). So I consider it timeless from that perspective--I like to think it will not look out of place in our home even after the trend has faded.

I would honestly be more concerned about the two-tone cabinets being 2010s than the subway tile. (And yes, we have two colors too...though in our kitchen that resulted from some compromise/negotiation rather than a desire for a two-tone space!)

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:21PM
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1. I love this forum because there is no topic too small to have a passionate discussion.

2. Amandasplit, can't wait to see your kitchen. What are some of the details?

3. Marcolo, I'm with you s tiles do seem super trendy and you never saw them for the last 30 40 yrs.

I'm fine with mixed color cabinets. My bedroom is a mix of cherry and white which we did 10 yrs ago only because we like cherry and needed a full built in wall unit and did white because we couldn't afford real wood. I actually like the cab color enough in the kitchen I don't care if its trendy.
I live in a 60's ranch that we bought during the housing bubble. It is not my dream house. My style could be described as English Country without the clutter and lousy heat, plumbing etc.

To finish rambling, virtually all kitchens will be dated unless you do something that is tied to the original style of your house, in essence just restoring the house. (I just shuddered thinking of the original kitchen that was in my house. Orange stained birch cabs to match all the orange wood trim that was in the house.)

Thanks all for the discussion. I may look at some other tile only to avoid trend on trend on trend.


    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:28PM
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Well, I guess the reality might be this, if one can ever envision the future...

I suppose that all in all it boils down to the backdrop you would like to look at day in and out for the next 15 or so years. To me the running bond "look" is just easy on the eye and a softer look than a perfectly symmetrical square tile or mosaic.

The crackle tile that is so popular now was very "trendy and modern" 35 years ago, (DH was a mason on his days off as a firefighter) but back then it gave an updated look to the traditional opaques which were common (usually white, blue, green and black - and of course the 50's pink and grey. My chikdhood kitchen's color scheme. ;-))

"Back then" it was much simpler because there were fewer choices. Today - it's a double-edged/bittersweet situation - happily more choices, and sadly too many choices. We are lucky to have such dilemmas, but it does cause much angst - it took me a year after our remodel was done to "live with" the kitchen and realize the feeling that I wanted to have for years to come.

I was beginning to quite like the drywalled/primered backsplash we had - quite neutral and unassuming...

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:35PM
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My style could be described as English Country without the clutter and lousy heat, plumbing etc.

Hey, then, what's left?

I agree with almost everything you say, except I don't think an exact restoration is ever strictly necessary. It's more a general principle. The more you stick with something that relates to your house's style, the more enduring your renovation will be. The more you careen off in a specific different direction--putting a an overwrought Victorian kitchen or a French country estate in a '50s ranch--the faster it will get stale and moldy.

In your case I think subways' ubiquity works in your favor. If they were still associated only with Edwardian sculleries, they'd be silly in a '60s ranch. But when they're taking up half an aisle at Home Depot, that probably means you can put them almost anywhere, if you really have to.

But yes, do look at alternatives, too.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:52PM
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I guess I must be way ahead of the trendy curve then since I installed white subway tile twenty years ago as backsplash in my kitchen of my 1916 house. So, yes it was available then and didn't go out of production for seventy-five years until fairly recently as some here have stated. What did go out of production was the incredibly thick, probably 3/8" thick white subway tile that was original to our house.

And, I am installing new counters and leaving the white subway tile in place as my backsplash. For houses of a certain vintage, it is absolutely appropriate and won't shout 2010s.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 11:57PM
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Marcolo---don't be so negative & such a hater! You're like the funny/negative girl on Saturday night live!!! Haha

Subway tile is beautiful, classic---but yes, all things go in and out with the changing trends. I LOVE it---

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:01AM
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There is a significant difference between "classic" and "timeless" and "trendy"... and "archaic" for that matter. I feel as if someone somewhere put a picture in a magazine and said "this is THE style" with the implication that if one disagrees then one is terribly... gasp... out of fashion, or, even worse, has no sense of style. And this is a multi-billion dollar industry, so obviously people buy into the idea.

I fall into the category of hopelessly out of fashion in all things be it clothes or house decorating. If I like it, I want it; if I don't, then that's a big fat negative.

@OP if YOU like subway tile, then you should get subway tile in whatever form you want. And if you don't, then you should not. How much joy you will get from a kitchen that looks like YOU want it to look, that matches your version of beautiful. And how much angst worrying about whether you tile will be out of fashion in a few years. Life is way too short for that sort of worry.

Create a kitchen that you love and d*a^%m^%$n the torpedoes!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:03AM
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Thank you, needinfo1, for verifying that my memory was not failing me. I thought I recalled considering subway tile in the mid-90s. It was not nearly as popular, but you could still purchase it at a tile store. I recall it being a little expensive, however, and definitely not as common.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:08AM
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I've been reading this forum since 2008 when we redid our kitchen. I didn't then, and I still don't, get subways. In 2008, this board was cluttered with lots and LOTS of advice that said that any other backsplash but subways, preferably creamy white, would be a huge mistake. But that was when I was shopping for my tiles, and I hit every store in my city (and there are a lot). In every one, I saw walls and boards and catalogs of fabulous tiles, in every imaginable colour, shape, material, style, and texture. It was sensory overload. I could visualize all of them (OK, many) in fabulous kitchens, but had to limit my efforts to finding ones that would work in mine. I couldn't understand that subway phenomena - was that all the choice the other GW folks had available to them? Don't they have tile shops in the rest of the world? How come everyone had to have the same thing?

FWIW, I ultimately chose small slates that coordinated with my cab, floor, and countertop colours and materials.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:14AM
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needinfo--Quick, go show us pictures of subway-tiled bathrooms from the '50s and '60s and '70s. There must be plenty, so it'll be easy? Lots and lots, we can't wait.

Or are you arguing I'm wrong for saying subways first became available around 2000 because you bought the mid- or late 90s????

It goes back to what liriodendron said: This emotional, irrational belief that a tile shape will somehow endure in popularity forever--it's a fad in itself. Nobody cared about that a few years back.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:15AM
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marcolo: My house still has its original 1930 cabinets (with the addition of a sink cabinet in the 1950s, I'm guessing). Sadly, the backsplash is not original. I keep thinking about replacing it with white subway tiles - which I believe would have been a possibility for the original - and I'm hesitant because they feel too trendy! I laugh at myself for that thought, but it's hard to get past it.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:47AM
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They were certainly around and available in those decades--they just weren't ubiquitous as they are today (and weren't available in every color of the rainbow and every imaginable finish). But subway tile was commonly used in bungalows, and we have several bungalow restoration books that date back to the mid 1970s. They all include discussion of and lists (some lengthy) of places to get subway tiles. One of the places is a tile shop down the street from us that has been there since the last time subways were popular; I'd be willing to bet that they have stocked at least the basic white subways in every decade since then. That's not to say any of this makes them timeless or classic. But it's just as wrong to imply they were used 100 years ago, vanished, and then suddenly reappeared in 2005. They've been there all along.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 12:51AM
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Whatever tile I go with could not be as bad as the tile in the kitchen I grew up in. 4x4 yellow plastic tile on all four walls up to shoulder height.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 1:41AM
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I always think of subway was perfect for homes of a certain age (like St. John suits being perfect for professional women of a certain age).

I have an older home and I wouldn't hesitate to put in subway tile - but otherwise I think it's a fad it will be supplanted by whatever the new thing is going to be.

Even the once very expensive marble subway tile has come down in price, I've seen it at $8/11 sq/ft, not the least expensive option in the world but not out of range for many people either.

Anyway. Beyond a stove and a sink - everything else you put in a kitchen is pretty much a luxury purchase. Buy what you like and what you think you'll like in 20 years.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:06AM
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I'm with 2LittleFishies..I like the look of subway tiles but I'm getting a little sick of seeing them everywhere. They certainly are popular and I'm guessing people are going to start wanting something different.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:16AM
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The potential "problem" here is the word "timeless" because it raises certain expectations that will not be met. Sure subway tile as a Restoration Product was available *somewhere* as a relatively expensive, custom ordered product. So were stone countertops always available. But in the scheme of things virtually Nobody was installing them--and in the case of subway tile, nowhere but a restoration-type or period-specific project.

Timeless is different than classic, and timeless means that you really wouldn't be able to identify when something was from, when it was done--and that's near impossible to achieve.

Look at the kitchen materials that *are* timeless in the sense that since the modern kitchen came on the scene, they have been readily available. White appliances. Some kind of vaguely abstract-patterned, plain colored phenolic material for countertop surfaces (laminate). Shiny chrome fixtures (which replaced shiny nickel fixtures). Partial overlay cabinet doors. (And in general, shiny brass doorknobs).

These are the materials that a lot of GWers are turning their noses up at, right now, and yet they are clearly "timeless" because they have been available in every decade of the modern kitchen's existence as soon as the material itself was introduced.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:50AM
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Hi All.

Marcolo - you picked an image that is so dear to my heart for Thursday's post. Thanks for reminding me of a place that I love!

For those of you that don't read French I can tell you that the line 12 tunnel of the Place de la Concorde Metro station is tiled not with an homage to Scrabble, but with the letters making up France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Declaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen). I remember missing several trains because I was mesmerized by the beauty of the words those letters spell. Whatever their shape, those tiles have inspired poets, and on more than one occasion, brought me to tears.

Good golly, I miss Paris...

p.s. that runner is a statue in the tuileries garden

This post was edited by EAM44 on Fri, Feb 1, 13 at 9:02

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:55AM
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I don't know how to tell you this, but Shakespeare's work increased in popularity after it ceased to be produced. He was not the most admired English poet in his day. So like many things they are appreciated more _post mortem_.
Further, tile isn't seen as one piece of ceramic any more than a poem is one word; they must be experienced _in toto_.
Subways are essentially small glazed brick shapes, laid as brickwork, and would resonate much the same to an Elizabethan as to a Mod.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 9:08AM
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Really, the quaint vintage look that everyone is searching for these days would not have originally had subway tiles. For the average house of yesteryear subway tiles were used in the bathroom and there was no tile backsplash in the kitchen. Some large homes that had cooking staff or institutions tiled most of the kitchen area for easier clean up, so for function not looks.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 9:09AM
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We live in a neighborhood with homes built in the late 1880's. while bathrooms were only just coming onto the scene then some of the homes did have or still have something very much like subway tile. It is possible that these were from a remodel that occurred in the 1910-1920 era but they are really beautiful. They are certainly very crackled and cracked in appearance but a good friend of mine has left hers in a third floor bath that seldom gets use. I think they have been around for quite awhile. We put subway tile in our bath remodel thirteen years ago and it was in style then and is still in style now. Maybe some of the trendier beveled edge tiles might go out of favor but I think they are here to stay for quite awhile.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:36AM
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In the kitchen I think beadboard was more likely many years ago. I know the kitchen in our house had a beadboard backsplash. I love the look of beadboard but not the cleaning of it so we chose crackled subway for our backsplash in the new kitchen along with soapstone and inset shaker style cabinets. I guess I thought I was being "timeless" but am also being trendy.

Get what you like and who cares if it labeled as trendy or timeless. Maybe if we all hang on to those avocado appliances for another 50 years they will be timeless and all the rage at the same time too!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:51AM
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I question the oft-seen statement that subway tile was first used on the NYC subway, or invented for that structure. I have seen rectangular white tiles in original 1880s and 1890s bathrooms and kitchens. And maybe a couple of foyers. And dairies. They were "sanitary", "hygienic" and practical. They were highly recommended by sanitary engineers and modern architects.

They were a modern replacement for the enameled or glazed bricks used earlier - cheaper and labor-saving.

The audacious thing about their use in the 1904 subways was that they were considered utility tiles at the time, not decorative tiles - using large stretches of low-cost tiles interspersed with the fancy bas relief and mosaic bits was a radical concept.

Over time, the tiles acquired the name of the most prominent installation, the subway.

They are currently popular, perhaps over-used and inappropriately used by some designers.

However, I'm going to have bland beige rectangular tiles for my backsplash because they go well with the rest of the materials and are easy to care for.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 11:11AM
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The beautiful, old apartment I stayed in (in the 16th arrondissement in Paris) had white, rectangular subway tile, simple white cabinets, and marble countertops. This was in the 90s. The kitchen was so pretty, but not new by any stretch.
My mom, in her 70s, is no design guru. But since I was born, she has been reminiscing and loving white subway tile (rectangular, mostly, but sometimes square), because she remembers her old brownstone in NYC having "subway tile" in the bathrooms. And if you ask her why it's called that, well she'll tell you it's the "timeless and classic tile that got its name from the tile in the NYC subway, of course!"
Sorry, Marcolo, but I'm inclined to think my mom is correct.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 11:53AM
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That said, has it become a trend? Of course! But it will always have its place in the right home. And I don't think the "trend" is going away any time soon. Part of the appeal is its calmness, it's neutral-ness. ...the ability to let the other parts of your kitchen shine.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 11:55AM
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