Subway tile: Trend or Classic

Do you think subway tile is too trendy? I hear this a lot. It’s not a particularly difficult question to answer, but I always feel like I want to expand on the answer a little.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s not a classic. There are styles that are acceptable long after their popularity fades. They transcend the contemporaneous constraints that typically define trendiness. Chanel suits. Louis Vuitton handbags. Chippendale chairs. And yes, subway tile.

NYC Subway Ceiling

The reason I say this is that 3″ x 6″ white tile arranged in a running bond or straight bond pattern has been used for almost as long as subways have been around. They’ve been used in kitchens of the industrial type for nearly as long. So, needless to say, classic white subway tiles give a space a specific feeling. Vintage. Rustic. Industrial.

Subway style tiles in a commercial setting

That being said, white subway tile used in a residential kitchen can be used in many different interior styles. However, with the rise in popularity of subway tile, many variations on the classic have started showing up. There are glass versions. Elongated versions. Colorful versions. Each iteration taking the classic subway a little further away from classic.

Glass subway tile in a smoky tan

I’ve had clients worry that their backsplash selection will go out of style. Thereby leaving them with an outdated kitchen and feeling like they wasted money. The thing you have to keep in mind about a backsplash is that you can easily change it down the road. A beautiful backsplash is like a beautiful piece of jewelry, it can really add a lot of style, but it can always be changed!

As for not wasting your money, tile backsplash is a style investment, and like any other investment, the money can be big or small. A simple white ceramic tile backsplash can be as little as $2.00/square foot. Glass tile can be quite a bit more expensive with designer brands costing upwards of $100/square foot. An average kitchen has about 15-30 square feet of backsplash, so it’s easy to see how material costs can quickly add up. However, compared to counter surfaces and cabinets, the backsplash is going to be a smaller investment. Either way, you can switch out a tile backsplash if you want to freshen the look of your kitchen.

Transitional bathroom backsplash with mixed material mosaic and 4×4 white ceramic in a straight lay pattern photo credit: Hannah Glogower

My advice for making your selection: Let your style be your guide. If the style of your kitchen is classic and traditional, you will probably want to stick with more traditional shapes and applications – subway, 4″ square, ceramic, natural stone, neutral colors. However, if your aiming for a transitional, retro, or eclectic look, bring on the color and shape! You can really experiment with mixed surfaces, glass, metals, and handmade tiles! Ultra-contemporary or minimal? You might consider using the counter surface for your backsplash.

Contemporary kitchen with marble counters and backsplash

The Verdict: To make a long story short, subway tile is a classic! Subway tile may come in and out of popularity, but it’s a classic look that can work in many kitchen styles. However, if you feel like being brave, shake things up a little and get creative! You can always update your backsplash later!

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Solid Wood Flooring versus Engineered: Pros and Cons

Should I get engineered wood or solid wood? This is such a great question and I hear it all the time. It really all comes down to this: What kind of investment are you willing to make? Engineered wood can range in price from $2-3/square foot at discount retailers to $12/square foot for for high quality engineered wood, while solid wood can range from $10-12/square foot for domestic species like oak, to more than $20/square foot for exotic species. From a pricing standpoint, there is some overlap, but what are the real differences

Reclaimed wood floor

Engineered Wood: What’s the Scoop?

Engineered wood covers all manner of sins, as they say. With such a diverse range in colors, styles, and pricing you have a lot of choices. Deciding what will work best in your home really comes down to what your goals are and how much money you’re willing to spend.

The most important thing to know about engineered wood is the wear layer. Wear layer is the part you see after the wood is installed. It’s the part of the floor that becomes worn and damaged over time. Most engineered wood that you buy from discount retailers and big box stores will have a very thin wear layer. A thin wear layer means that you cannot sand and refinish the flooring if it gets damaged and worn over time. A thin wear layer is considered to be 1-2mm thick. The 2mm wear layer can be refinished, but it really depends on how significant the damage is. There are engineered wood that have very thick wear layers, which can be refinished multiple times, but as you might imagine they are more expensive.

Wear layer on top of the click lock plywood plank

If you have a limited budget and are going to self-install, the cheaper engineered woods may be the way to go. Buyer be ware, though. The claim is that engineered wood will last for 15 or more years, even the thinner wear layers, but I have personally owned engineered wood that only looked good for 5-10 years. So, while your pocketbook may thank you now for the lower cost solution, you may need to replace it in just a few years.


Solid Hardwood: Know Your Stuff

Solid hardwood is a great investment, but it is usually an investment. If you select solid wood, your making a commitment. Solid wood be refinished several times and really only has a couple of drawbacks. However, the drawbacks will be the same as engineered woods: water can damage wood and if you have large pets, their nails can scratch the floors and dull the surface.

Golden Oak, very popular in the late 1990’s. The question on this homeowner’s mind: Can I refinish it?

The awesome thing about hardwood is the variety of finishes and the ability to change them. Right now oil finishes have become popular. These are great because they are better for the environment and it’s easier to make repairs. You can easily sand and oil out any scratches or gouges when the floors are not stained and simply oiled. And while solid wood is more of an investment, you won’t be hauling a load of lumber to the landfill every time the floors start to look bad.


The Verdict

If you can do solid wood, go for it! If you’re not ready to make that investment and commitment, know what your getting! Aim to select an engineered wood with a thicker wear layer so that you can get more longevity from your floors!

If you need help selecting flooring, set up your complimentary Design Style consultation with Paradigm Interiors here.

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