Let's Talk About Subway Tile

vjrntsDecember 8, 2006

I would like to put subway tile in my new kitchen in my old (1922) house. The original kitchen was most like unfitted, and, while I considered going that way, I have ultimately decided to go with period-appropriate styles and materials, but built-in cabinets and counters. (The kitchen is not original now, anyway, it's got old cabinets and formica counters and a vinyl floor.)

Subway Ceramics has gorgeous tile, and you can get a crazed finish as well as plain. I'm guessing that plain is more authentic; but I like the look of the crazed, too.

I'm not into obessesive restoration for this project, just responsible renovation, but some of y'all know a lot more about architectural history than I do. I realize that in the end I should probably go with what pleases me, since I have to live here, but I think I could go either way.

Can anyone offer me pros and cons from the old house perspective? What do you think?

Here is a link that might be useful: Subway Ceramics

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The plain finish would be more period-appropriate.
Also, I would think that the crackle finish would be more of a beast to keep clean. All those little cracks attracting dirt and grease in a kitchen....hard job to keep it all shiney.
[just my 2 cents]

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 11:38AM
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Pick what you like. We just picked crazed tile for the backsplash in our 1920's house. In the long run your kitchen is probably going to look like an early-21st-century kitchen done over when it was trendy to use early-20th-centuryy-looking "subway" tiles. :) I don't think dirt would be a big problem on the backsplash, but I wouldn't use the crazed tile for a countertop.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 2:24PM
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I have a friend who has the original 1920's white subway tile in her kitchen floor-to-ceiling (very high celing!) and it is so fabulous. I don't think she realizes how fabulous it is, since it is of course very old, and everyone else around here has new kitchens with granite, etc. But I think it's great. Also, I went to someone's house recently who is redoing the kitchen & butler's pantry in her 1920's bungalow with black granite counters and white subway tile backsplashes with very dark grey grout & white cabinets and it's a knock-out. (Neither kitchen had crazed tiles). Wish I could share a pic! Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 2:56PM
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A friend has original subway tile in a couple baths that is "crazed" but does not look like the tile made to look "old and damaged" on this site. My hunch is that over time the "new" crazed would draw attention to itself in negative ways -- particularly since it doesn't sound like you plan for the whole kitchen to look old. Do you plan to "distress" your new cabinets with dings & such? Probably not! In which case I'd get the demure and well-behave plain subway -- and not too white as new whites are more white than old ones. Usually the goal is to design a kitchen that fits the house in the way that it might have "originally" -- not after decades of abuse and the failure of materials. To my eye, that crazed tile would be more fun in contrast with new, hi-tech materials than masquerading as antique. And the thing is, in an old house kitchen that thought will pop up, don't you think?

It's tough blending old house aesthetics with your own budget and personal taste. We all have to wrestle with our own compromises.

Incidentally, one of my friend's baths is a tile box -- every wall & the ceiling as well! fuzzywuzzer, I'd love to see your friend's kitchen.

On a side note, my 1914 kitchen actually had an original built-in cabinet before our remodel. For technical & safety reasons we could not keep it so we measured it thoroughly and rebuilt it, complete with 100 yr old wavy glass my GC salvaged from another renovation project. If you're putting new cabinets in but want to keep the old feel, one detail to include in your new design is "no toe kicks." Won't work with standard cabinets but sometimes a local cabinetmaker is less expensive (was for us).

And as for that old vinyl floor, real linoleum is back & better than ever & might be a good consideration for your 1922 kitchen. Cork, too.

I had 2 "bibles" during my kitchen renovation -- Jane Powell's Bungalow Kitchens & "The Kitchen Book" (circa 1917) from American Bungalow. Both offered great inspiration for blending old & new sensibilities.

I hope you're having a grand time with your project.

(nice blog, BTW!!!)

    Bookmark   December 15, 2006 at 11:12AM
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Thanks to all for your comments! Infoartist, the tiles that I have in mind (although price may be prohibitive) look just like the old ones. No pillow top, the surface is flat to the edge so the tiles can be butted together with little or no grout lines. I think everyone is right about the crazed surface; I had my doubts and you've all just confirmed them! If I go with the subway tile it'll be the plain surface.

athomein1914, I have Jane Powell's Bungalow Kitchens, I love it! I will look for The Kitchen Book as well. (And I just got your name; I've been mentally saying "Ath-o-mine." Ha!) And I am seriously considering linoleum or marmoleum for the floor. I'm concerned about upkeep, though; I am NOT an enthusiastic housekeeper and anything that needs frequent waxing and wax removal is not going to happen, I know myself too well. My mom could cope with waxy yellow buildup; I work full-time and have other uses for my off-hours!

There is evidence in my main bath upstairs that the walls once had subway tile on them, which was removed at some time in the past. I wonder if, in 30 years, people will be trying to recreate the 60s and 70s looks that we're all tearing out now. I have to keep reminding myself that the POs were not heartless vandals, they were merely renovating a house that was looking dated at the time. All that old 20s stuff was just tired-looking in their eyes; they were a lot closer to it.

Well, we're trying to be gentle to the old girl; this is a lovely house and we want to walk that fine line between making the place a museum, and having a functional home that honors its past.

Here is a link that might be useful: Way more pictures of our house than you'd ever want to look at.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2006 at 8:46AM
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So, let's tawk.

I just discovered Subway Ceramics today. I am contemplating installing their white 3x6 for a kitchen backsplash (white Ikea kithcen--Lidingo--with oak floors, stainless steel perimeter counters and lyptus butcher block island top). Has anyone installed SC's product (or had it installed?) Frankly, I am worried that my tileman (who I am sure is proficient but no artisan) will not get the 1/16" grout lines right, which I want gray-colored.

Also,I am at odds with my wife and decorator over this. They want handmade white-glazed terracotta 3x6 subway with irregularities in the size--and white grout. I'm sure it's a nice look, but it ain't what they got in the subway.

I'm from New York City and had a "train pass" in high school. I'm also a lifelong subway buff who visited the old Jay St. Transit Museum at least 20 times. Wife and Decorator are from Jersey...nome sayin?

Anyway, my wife is cool with me making the ultimate call on the backsplash 'cuz she is in total control of exterior and interior paint colors, but we still need to hammer out all the kinks, so to speak.

Anyway, I'm wondering whether I should believe the hype that SC spews about being the only manufacturer of truly flat, square-edged subway tile. Also, is obtaining uniform 1/16 " grout lines some kind of tremendous installation challenge? Comment?

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.subwayceramics.com/

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 7:02PM
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My GC says that these tiles (from Subway Ceramics) have the vast advantage of being flat, when you lay them on a flat surface. Apparently other tiles (Irongate was mentioned specifically) will sometimes rock. All four corners don't touch down at the same time. Those, he tells me, cannot be put on a wall to produce a nice, flat, even surface. They can still look very good, but if you want that perfect flat surface, you need those rectified, flat tiles.

I'm going for it. They will be installed sometime after the fourth of July. We ordered from Subway Ceramics and I have every confidence it's going to look great!

One note. You may want to post over in the kitchens forum. There are a lot of folks there who've installed subway tiles and they may have lots more to say than I do.

Here is a link that might be useful: The kitchen forum

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 7:42PM
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Another source for the authentic flat subway tile is American Restoration Tile. I got samples from both Subway Ceramics and American Restoration Tile. Both are very nice, but slightly different colors -- Subway's are a crisper white, ART's are a little creamier. I didn't get prices yet, so I don't know how they compare cost-wise.

Also, I don't know if you're doing any bathroom tiling, but American also has a great selection of the unglazed floor tiles -- they're the only ones I've found that have the unglazed penny rounds I desperately want for my powder room!

Here is a link that might be useful: American Restoration Tile

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 8:49AM
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Hi , Please tell me where i can purchase 3x6 subway ceramic in gloss white in Chicago . I am getting the run around . I want to do my kitchen back splash in May. thank you !

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 4:19PM
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