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 Thereby leaving them with an outdated kitchen and feeling like they wasted money.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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It’s Not Meatloaf! So, Why Are There Leftovers??

Material Waste in Interior Design and Decorating

People are hot and cold regarding leftovers… Pun intended. When it comes to food I think of leftovers as a meal I don’t have to cook. When it comes to design, that’s another story.

What is waste?
I’ve yet to have a job where there was no leftover product. Trust me, designers hate leftovers as much as clients do! However, most of the time they are a necessity. In design school we learned about a concept called “waste”. Normally, waste is something we try to avoid, but in the home goods and home improvement industry it is a good thing. In my industry, waste as a concept means a designer orders a set amount of materials in excess of the surface area to be covered. The waste concept works under the assumption that we will need more product than the size of the surface area to be covered because items have to be cut or a pattern needs to match. Ordering materials in excess assures that we will get the job done on time and, even more importantly, that end product looks good!

photo credit: Jason Briscoe

What happens when there’s not enough?

There are two issues with not ordering enough product up front. The first problem is time. For example, the tile installation occurs near the end of a bathroom remodeling project. We’ve installed most everything, except the tile flooring. The tile installer comes to the job and begins to lay the tile, but then runs out of tile when he’s 90% done. We then need to order Extra tile. We have to wait for the tile to arrive. Then, we have to wait for the installer to find time in his schedule to come back and finish! Depending on his schedule, it could take several days to weeks to get him back on the job! The designer isn’t happy, the installer isn’t happy, but most of all, the client is not happy!

photo credit: Karly Santiago

The second problem is color match. Manufacturers make most products in batches. This includes everything from fabric to tile. These batches are called dye lots. If I order a fabric today that was the last of it’s batch, and I have to order more of the same fabric that is from a different batch or dye lot, then there is a risk that the 2 fabric pieces will not match. This might not be noticeable if the different dye lots are on window treatments or pillows on a sofa. However, if it is two adjacent cushions on a sofa or two pieces of wallpaper that are next to each other, the mistake will be pretty obvious.


How much are we talking about? 

Waste amounts vary from product to product and by use. For example, you will need more waste for a large patterned wallpaper than you will for something textured with no discernible pattern . The way you use the material will also change the waste. Typically, you need to calculate a 10% waste for stack bond (straight) or running bond (brick) tile pattern. However, if you turn the tiles on a diagonal, you will need to calculate a 15% waste. So, you may end up with  half of a box of tiles at the end of your job.

Running Bond Tile, photo credit: Lisa Moyneur

Believe me, I celebrate when I have minimal waste. I’m always happy to hand a client 6″ strip of fabric when the project is complete,  but that doesn’t always happen. More often than not, there is an excess of materials.  However, when the client loves the way their home looks, it worth it!


I hope you enjoyed learning about waste. If you’re thinking about starting a design or decorating project, you can book your complementary Design Style phone consultation with Paradigm Interiors here. Be sure to check out our website and sign up for the newsletter here.