If you’ve been keeping up to date with the latest trends in Irish home improvements and interior design, then it goes without saying that your Instagram feed, search history, and the stacks of magazines by your bedside are chock-full of these alluring tiles. Rectangular and bevelled, typically made of ceramic, but sometimes of glass or porcelain, metro tiles (also known as subway tiles) are set to be the rage all across Ireland in 2022.
But are they just a fad? And how can they be best used in the home? The tiles you’ve been seeing so much of in Irish home renovations are not, in fact, a passing trend. They’re called metro tiles (or subway tiles), and have been in use since they were first designed for the opening of the New York subway system at the dawn of the 20th century.
Beloved by Victorians for how easy they were to clean and maintain, metro tiles were once the calling card of ‘civilized’ society – used anywhere cleanliness was a priority: public toilets, railway stations, underground. Today, however, they have been repurposed for the home.
With the diversification of available materials, colours, grouting and design styles, metro tiles are in use in almost every Irish home with an eye for simple, timeless, classic aesthetics. In fact, they are especially well-matched to those homeowners in Ireland who seek to pair timelessness with modern chic, since the fundamental subtlety of subway tiles helps to tone down noisier colours and patterns.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the 6 most popular pattern ideas for using metro tiles in your home, as well as our top tips for subway tile maintenance, and suggestions on where metro tiles might be best used throughout the house. Let’s dive in!
One of the most appealing aspects of metro tiles is just how easy they are to clean. They tend to be slightly bevelled (raised away from the wall), with slopes on each edge down to the grouting. This textured construction, as well as the glossy materials (ceramic, porcelain, glass) with which they’re made, makes cleaning them incredibly quick and painless.
Furthermore, the sheen of their gloss does wonders in reflecting the natural and artificial lighting of any room. This means that even the smallest, dimmest room can be brightened considerably simply with the installation of subway tiles. Not only can they improve the natural light of a room, however, but also the shape and size. With the right layout and pattern of metro tile, you can subtly add to the width and/or height of any given room, by tricking the viewer’s eye.
For these reasons, among many others, the most common applications for metro tiles are in the kitchen (as kitchen backsplashes) and in the bathroom; and generally as wall tiles, rather than floor tiles (due to the texture), in both. Subway tiles are naturally well-suited to use in these areas and help to pull the aesthetic of these rooms together by providing a uniform base against which to frame brighter and bolder designs.
We’ve already touched on just why we at Tile Merchant, along with the best Irish interior designers, love metro tiles. But what exactly are the real benefits of installing them in your own home?
The classic. Metro tiles are laid horizontally in long lines, each subsequent line offset by a half tile width, resulting in a traditional ‘brick’ design. You can use this style practically anywhere, since it’s such a timeless design.
Especially useful in situations where you plan to cover large areas with metro tiles, and in rooms which could benefit from looking a little wider than they actually are. The classic subway pattern for metro tiles is especially attractive when coloured tiles are paired with a grout of a different colour or tone, so as to embellish and draw attention to the alternating layout.
An alternative to the classic horizontal brick layout is the ‘stacked’ version, wherein metro tiles are laid one atop the other in a grid, with an emphasis on the horizontal axis.
A mite less subtle than the ‘Brick’ or classic ‘Subway’ pattern, you should use this to emphasise the crisp angles and modern minimalism of your home, especially when combined with the swirling lines of natural wood.
Undoubtedly the most complex pattern for any tiles, herringbone subway tiles should probably be left to professional tilers to install. They are, however, all the more magnificent for the extra work. The herringbone style is achieved by laying metro tiles at right angles to each other to create a repeating zig-zag pattern (which resembles herring bones).
This style might be a little too loud for an entire room, but a herringbone backsplash in a kitchen, or herringbone subway tiles used as a shower backdrop, can add a powerful sense of movement and energy to spaces which are otherwise synonymous with work and chore.
Turn the classic ‘Subway/Horizontal Brick’ pattern on its head, and what do you have? The vertical brick! Tall vertical columns of metro tiles are offset by a half tile height to give them a 90-degrees-rotated brick aesthetic.
This pattern is quite unique, and may not be the favourite of many, but for those brave enough it can pay off dividends. Framing the bathroom vanity, or set as the kitchen backsplash, this vertical brick pattern pushes the floor from the ceiling to open up any space, whilst turning the classic Victorian style into something a little more modern.
Arguably the most unusual pattern for subway tiles, laying them vertically in uniform rows (to create a strict grid pattern) can actually have some truly impressive applications. From heightening small, squat bathrooms, to accenting the modern minimalism of a sharp, angular kitchen, the ‘vertical stack’ is unusual, without being faddish.
Like the herringbone metro tile pattern, laying your subway tiles diagonally takes a lot of work, and a lot of very precise cutting. Unless you’ve heaps of DIY experience, this one is best left to professionals! Also like its herringbone brethren, the diagonal brick design energises spaces like no other on this list.
Drawing the eyes dynamically across the entire expanse of the tiled area, this pattern achieves its full aesthetic potential when created with a duality of colour – choosing two (or more) different coloured subway tiles to highlight a feature wall, for example.
Here at Tile Merchant, we’re often asked two things about our gorgeous range of subway tiles: Are they really that easy to clean? And: Is the amount of grout required an issue?
Yes! In fact, their inherent cleanliness was the reason they were designed in the first place! Back in 1904, when the New York subway first opened, the designers wanted a tile which could be easily maintained and kept glossy and attractive over many years, so as to make people unfamiliar with underground travel feel more comfortable with the idea. Wipe your metro tiles regularly with a hot, damp cloth, and they’ll be perfect for decades to come.
No! In fact, by carefully choosing the right grout to accompany your subway tiles, not only will they keep as clean as any other, larger tile, they’ll look better than most, at the same time. These days, there are plenty of grouting alternatives with inherent antifungal properties. Choose one of these, and keep the tiles and grout clean with a hot, damp cloth (as above), and you’ll experience no trouble with mold or fungus, even in the dampest, most humid areas of your house (such as the kitchen backsplash, bathroom sink, shower or bath). There are even a range of colours (in addition to the traditional black or white) with which you can grout your subway tiles.
At Tile Merchant, we’re always happy to assist you on your hunt for the perfect colour, style and application of tile, from grout to design. Just pop into our Dublin showrooms, browse our online shop for metro tiles, or contact us via our website.
We offer extremely competitive pricing on our entire range of tiles and likewise. We stock a huge range of wall and floor tiles and our prices are competitive for retail and trade. Our stock is widely available in our showrooms in Dublin which are open 7 days a week.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to shop our tiles online, we can supply you with samples delivered for free.