Spotlight On: Subway Tile
To stand up to the dirt and grime of a bustling, growing city, and to beautify the otherwise gloomy subway tunnels, architects George C. Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge used a glossy white ceramic tile to protect and decorate the walls of the New York City Subway. By the time the subway system opened in 1904, Victorian concerns regarding hygiene and health had already popularized the use of tile in public buildings, private bathrooms, and kitchens. Not only was tile easy to clean, but Heins and LaFarge knew that it would be durable enough to use in the new subway tunnels. They worked with the Grueby Faience Company of Boston and the Rookwood Pottery Company of Cincinnati to create the tiles that still cover the tunnels today.
As proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was popular at the turn of the century, Heins and LaFarge designed colorful mosaics to reflect the character of each subway stop location, as well as the border patterns that ran along the tunnel walls. During the 1910s, household bathrooms, which were often tiled in sanitary shades of white, took on hints of color in decorative trim, similar to that of the subway tunnel borders. By the 1920s, colored bathroom tile became more common and was often arranged in geometric Art Deco patterns. Colors became brighter in the 1930s, and decorative art tile came into use. Tile remained a popular material for bathrooms throughout the 1950s.
Today you can get this vintage look in your own home using reproduction or salvaged subway tile. We carry authentic reproduction subway tile and bathroom accessories in many different glazes and several different price points to fit every style and budget. We also offer an ever-changing selection of vintage tiles and accessories. Take a look at our selection of subway tile here.