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In appreciation of metro tiles

Posted by Direct Tile Warehouse | Monday, January 04, 2016

In appreciation of the metro tile

Ah, the classic metro tile. These little beauties have been around for decades, gracing everything from kitchens to hallways to feature walls to bathrooms. But where did the metro tile come from? Why has it proved so popular over the years? What off-shoots of the style have there been? And what’s the status of the perennial metro tile today? Well, to answer all those questions and more, we here at Direct Tile Warehouse have put together this breakdown of the classic range, looking at everything from its European origins in the early 20th century to its modern day manifestations in homes and cafes and pubs right across Britain.

Where the metro tile began

Where else could this truly iconic staple of the modern ceramic and porcelain world have first graced the walls other than in, well, a metro! Yes sir, it was a simple, rectangular version of the range that was first used in public to cover the walls of none other than the New York subway system. Its supporters, who first adopted the tile around 1904, said that the rectangular shape made the tile perfect for fixing to the curved walls and subterranean caverns of these transport networks, while its white, glossy finish meant it was easy to clean and maintain. They were right, and soon the metro tile – as it came to be known – could be found on the walls of underground city metro systems from Paris to London.

What are the features of the metro tile?

The original metro tile was known for its distinctively raised and bevelled surface, which gave finished walls a high level of texture and relief. The height of the bevelled edge varied on different versions of the tile, but was typically higher than other ceramics with similar features. This meant that the metro developed a clear and recognisable style, while the plain white colour scheme remains an expression of the original.

What versions of the metro tile have evolved?

Over the decades, as the metro tile fell in and out of favour and was used in a whole host of different spaces and places than just its original subway setting (where it still proves a favourite – just check out the refurbished stops on the Tube in London!), the style has sprouted a range of off-shoots. These range from all flat metro tiles, known more commonly as brick or brick metro tiles, elongated metro tiles complete with the classic bevelled edge, small-scale metro tiles that add way more relief and texture to the finished surface, and – last but not least – a kaleidoscopic array of different colours, going from lime green to sparkling gold, brilliant white to deep browns and blacks. Whoever said the metro style wasn’t a versatile choice?

How popular is the metro style today?

Believe it or not, the metro style of the 1910s and 20s is still going strong today. After a brief resurgence in the 70s under a retro banner, when the tile was used in bathrooms and living rooms across the US and the UK, the style has once again become a staple of the tile world. Today, it and its various off-shoots are super-popular choices for use in bathroom spaces and kitchens, forming interesting backsplashes and border sections to divide up monochrome rooms. What’s more, capitalising on the industrial-chic flavour of the classic subway-come-underground settings the tile first represented, cafes and bars across the country are now adopting the range, meaning it’s become nothing short of a truly hip and perennial favourite.

Where and how should I use metro tiles?

As we’ve already seen, metro tiles are suitable for use right throughout the home and even in a number of commercial spaces. That said, the bathroom and the kitchen are certainly the two most popular places to lay metro tiles. It’s also worth getting creative with how you place the metro style in these various rooms throughout the home. So before you start your project, be sure to consider different laying patterns, like herringbone and modulated lines (perhaps the most popular way of laying metro tiles), different colour schemes and the like.


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