The History of Subway Tile

Subway tile is a megatrend in today's interior design world. You see it scattered all throughout bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, businesses... but where did they originate from?



Did you know this popular tile style is actually not a new trend at all? The name "subway tile" first came to light in the early1900s when the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, now known as the famous New York City Subway, was preparing to open up!




How it Began


Two craftsmen, George C. Heins and Christopher Grant Lafarge were spearheading the subway project. Who knew that when they met at MIT they would be creating one of the biggest projects in the city? In fact, this was not their first major project in the city. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Bronx Zoo’s Astor court were their other two big projects when they took up the subway renovations. Heins and Lafarge decided on what seemed like a basic 3-by-6-inch ceramic white tile plastered to the sides of the stations but ended up turning into a staple tile that would be around for over a hundred years.


They also found a way to make their creation a bit more unique by adding different color tiles to different stations based on their locations and the trains associated. Not only were these tiles laid out in a stylish way, but they also created a bright atmosphere for travelers.


Iconic Stops


One of the original 28 stops, Astor Place, became a staple for city travelers. During the 1950’s renovations, the beaver tile mosaic in that station was an icon to John Jacob Astor, one of the first millionaires in NYC. Another one of the original stops was City Hall, radiating with grand arches, skylights, chandeliers, and beautiful colored tilework. On the day of its first departure, more than 15,000 people showed up to ride and check out the incredible new design while the mayor was at the controls with bells and whistles ringing through the tunnels. Today, the City Hall station is no longer in service. However, both of these stops have become New York City landmarks.



How Have The Tiles Changed?


In the New York Subway, most of the stations have undergone or are currently going through renovations. Many of the stations have decided to replace the original ceramic tiles with fresh white porcelain tiles, keeping some of the original designs. However, the City Hall Station, one of the blooming stations for the tiles we know today, has the original tiles on display in the New York Transit Museum for tourists to see.


The tiles did not just shift underground, but in domesticated homes & businesses as well. Homeowners began to add the classic tiles into their kitchens and bathrooms, starting all the way back in the 1920s. Nowadays, the subway tiles have expanded out of their 3-by-6 inch and into dimensions such as 4-by-8 and 4-by-16, and more! Sometimes the tiles even come smaller or in squares.



Modernizing Tiles


If you are looking to add some history into your home discreetly, this is the way! Since their debut underground, these tiles have appeared in kitchen backsplashes and on the walls of bathrooms. The versatility of the tile has created a number of options for homeowners and designers. Choosing a different color tile or grout can make the space completely different; not to mention the layout and textures of those tiles. Here are a couple of beautiful interior examples of subway tile that can help elevate the look of your home or business:





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