Ask Maria: What’s Next After Subway Tile?

AskMaria

“I’m a big fan of your blog, and your e-book helped me choose paint colors I love when we bought a house last year.

I love the look of subway tiles, but I’ve noticed they’ve been around for awhile. I know here in New York, I’ve been seeing them for about 10 years (they could have been around for longer but that’s when I first became aware of anything related to design or decorating!). In fact, the other day I was watching a rerun of Sex and the City (which ended in 2004), and I noticed that Carrie’s bathroom had subway tiles. These days, they are ubiquitous. So I worry that if I were to redo a bathroom in New York in 2014 using subway tiles, it would be outdated in 5 years?

So my question is: what’s coming next? Surely there must be some up-and-coming trend that hasn’t reached the masses yet but will be the next big thing?” Debbie

This is such a great question! I’m sure Debbie isn’t the only one wondering about the very same thing. So here’s my answer:

No.

The current trendy tile is always out there and available. Right now that’s all those laser cut geometrics (third) image below. Before that it was that horizontal pencil tile (first image below) and before that it was mosaics (second image below).

backsplash trends

Subway tiles are ALWAYS in movies and TV shows because they are what most bathrooms should basically be tiled in. Classic and timeless. Set designers try hard to create spaces that don’t scream a particular era, unless that’s what they are trying to show of course.
Carrie's Bathroom & closet
Carrie’s bathroom on Sex & the City seen through her closet.

Ask Maria: What's Next After Subway Tile?

If you inherited this bathroom (above) would you immediately want to rip it out?
No.
And, except for the larger hex tiles which make this bathroom current, it’s actually hard to say if it’s been in this house for 25 years or one year.
What makes a bathroom personal and interesting and different from everyone else’s is a dresser you might incorporate as a vanity.
Ask Maria: What's Next After Subway Tile?
A fabulous mirror (or two) you fall in love with.
Funky light fixtures.
Subway tile should be one of a very small selection of tile anyone sells. If that were the case, there would be way less waste in the world with everyone installing what they think their trendy bathroom or kitchen should look like and the next person ripping it out.
Is all this trendy tile bad and wrong? Should you get upset if you have it in your house? No, of course not. This is not an attempt to make everyone feel bad that your bathroom isn’t some variation of the ones I’ve shown.
This post is for someone who is about to renovate or choose finishes and you haven’t had time to make the mistakes we’ve all made at some point. If this is you, listen up. You might be someone who will love your bathroom for a very long time.
If you have a question for an Ask Maria post, email me here.
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  1. Hello Maria, your expert teachings have really helped with my kitchen renovation a year ago. I followed your advice about how to coordinate the kitchen counter and the wall tiles and I picked glossy soft grey subway tiles. I know you love white but does the color of the tile, grout and size of the tile take away from the timelessness ? I had my larger 15 inch by 3 3/4 inch tiles stacked since this reduced any lippage with the tiles and they look great ! I hope to send you some before and after pics.

  2. I am in the midst of planning our new kitchen reno and have chosen stacked while tiles as a back splash for plain ‘unadorned’ cabinet doors, as I feel this configuration has a modern, clean look. I am curious to know why the ‘brick laying’ look is more popular: I am worried that I have made the wrong decision.

  3. Hello Maria

    Like everyone love reading your blog, I recently did a reno of my kitchen. We previously had white thermofoil cabinets, which started peeling, after years of use, and the heat. We opted for darker colored cabinets, espresso, in the shaker style cabinets, with silver modern 10″ pulls and since you had somewhat approved it, in a post. I felt a bit safe, in choosing that option. Just so that it does not feel overwhelming – we did four of our upper cabinet doors in frosted glass,(Btw, the kitchen can handle the dark cabinets with the amount of light that comes in- the pictures will soon be posted) with a granite counter top (very similar to Kashmir White), but was called River white, its not busy, and very, its got a clean look for the most part – with gray streaks that run in the long lengths, to which I matched my glass subway tiles. They give a blue green tint that the matches the counter top streaks as well as the wall color and looks fabulous with the espresso cabinets. I was torn between the white one and the one we installed finally. Its a solid color that shows up. I’ve gotten many compliments for the way I planned the kitchen. The floor is ceramic tiles, which I am compromising with but when we do get wood flooring done – hopefully I would be able to change the kitchen flooring.

  4. I love simple, white tiles and I love subway tiles… but I really don’t love the squat-looking, pillowed-edge tiles that remind me of the girls’ bathrooms at my 1930’s-era primary school.

    Everywhere I look, I see the standard-fare 3×6 or 4×8 glossies and can’t help but think that they are artificially (and sadly) shortened versions of their true self.

    On the other hand, I swoon when I see a hand-crafted 2×10 or 3×12 white, matte finish tile.

    After too many hours googling online and soul-searching for just the right tile… I found some amazing 3×9 white glossies for the kitchen. Then I steeled myself to pay the bill for a blend of 2×6, 2×8, and 2×12 white matte tiles from Heath Ceramics for the bathroom.

    So thrilled with the results of the skinny subs- still has that clean and simple subway look, but with just a little something different.

  5. I think subway tile is a great, inexpensive, and timeless choice, but definitely not the only option. My mom, for example, did one bathroom in crema marfil and one in carrera back in the 80s, and the rooms only needed a change of faucets to look brand new.

    In my own house, I try to think about what I really enjoy looking at, and unfortunately, subway tile isn’t it. I am careful not to pick the newest trend though, no matter how cute that geometric tile looks right now.

  6. What are your thoughts on Calcutta or Carrera subway tiles? I’m redoing a guest bathroom and trying to decide between those for the shower walls or just plain white subway tiles.

  7. Timing is everything… I was just meeting with a designer for our bathroom and was leaning this way. I am curious about your opinion on the gout as well and what do think of penny tiles as flooring option? Too busy or trendy? What flooring would you match for subway shower and ??? Flooring…

  8. My kitchen granite has a large wave design …in Greys with some light and sand color. I think a grey subway might look the best but I’m afraid of the grey being slightly off color. Would white subway tile look better. I know white is timeless. Is grey subway timeless too. Help!

  9. Love the black/white bath w wainscoting!
    Lots of drama w/o the big bucks. I think tile is overrated, in large, well-ventilated baths, except in separate shower. LOVE beadboard, if your home is not uber-contemporary. Adds interest w/o being expensive. My H installed it..smallish backsplash of kitchen..looks great. (we didn’t want to rip out the builder granite; it was ‘good enough!’) (for now.)

  10. Sorry, but I HATE SUBWAY tiles! Maybe I’m different because I live in the UK and therefore have a different background, but to me, subway tiles remind me of public toilets, definitely not a look I want in my home, and I hate to say it, but if I bought a home that had them, they would be one of the first things I would rip out. However, I do believe that keeping tiles white is the way to go, I just can’t bear the subway look.

  11. OH GOD. When we were house hunting last year, every new house and flip had that awful tan & brown bathroom mosaic/pencil tile combo that’s ubiquitous at Home Depot and Lowes. No. One. Is going to like that combination in 10 years.

    Once we finally bought, we had to re-tile our main bathroom, and quickly. Bright white subway tile. White grout. Easy. Done. Beautiful. I smile during every shower.

  12. After traveling the NYC subway system for many years in my youth, for years whenever I’d see white subway tile, I’d detect the smell of urine in the air- that musty mix of garbage and urine/feces that pervaded the underground rail system. Seeing so many beautiful spaces in the white tile, however, is slowly changing my association. I think if I installed it, it’d have to be in a herringbone pattern or in a cream color…I do love, though, how you stick to your guns on this Maria!