6 Awesome Historic Floor Tile Patterns

Image Credit: www.houzz.com/pro/tileshop-berkeley/tileshop

Tile is possibly the biggest design element of any bathroom. And if you are working on a vintage bath it’s important to use historic floor tile patterns that fit your home.

If your bathroom was “remudeled” in the past it can be hard to find a floor tile that will fit your home’s age and style. Most of these floor tile patterns were popular from the early 1900s until WWII and will fit nicely with any old house bathroom.

If your house is older than 1900 it’s very possible the bathroom was an addition since indoor plumbing wasn’t considered a necessity until after that time. Before then only the wealthiest homes had a bathroom. The rest of the world made due with a chamber pot and a commode which was a type of a nightstand for when nature called in the middle of the night. Because of that most vintage bath designs, even on much older houses, will fit into the 1900-1930s style.

The small format of these tiles served an important purpose. The small size of most early 20th century bathrooms makes them poor candidates for large format tiles. These little tiles allowed for unique designs and the small tile made the cramped spaces feel much bigger than they actually were.

 

 

Hexagon
Hexagon Tile

Hexagon Tile
Image Credit: luxetile.com

Hexagon tiles (typically white) were a hugely popular choice for floor tile. The design of these can be as simple as all white or could contain a complex pattern of different colors and designs. Their small 1″ size allowed for some very creative mosaic patterns to be incorporated by a skilled tile setter.

Often times the field of white hex tiles would be left bare with merely a mosaic border pattern in black or some other accent color to give a pop to the otherwise antiseptically white bathrooms of the day.

 

 

Penny Round tile

Penny Round Tile
Image Credit: HomeDepot.com

Penny Round

Penny round tiles, while not as popular as their hexagon cousins were another popular mosaic tile option. These tiles typically came in 3/4″ and 1″ size and because of their small size they create a very unique look especially from a distance.

Their round shape creates a larger portion of grout than with most other tile options so grout color becomes very important with this style.

 

 

Square
Mosaic tile border

Square Tile
Image Credit: Restorationtile.com

You don’t have to have odd shapes like hexagons or penny rounds to be in style with historic floor tile. Square mosaic tile fits the bill quite nicely. Little 1″ square tiles (3″ and larger tiles are a different style entirely) were another very popular choice for floor tile. Often borders for the hex and penny round floors were done with 1″ square tiles in a multitude of colors.

Borders designs like Greek keys, winding belts, family names, and any other imaginable designs were fairly common. While most popular in the borders they were also readily used as field tile as well.

  

 

Basket Weave
Basket weave tile

Basket Weave Tile
Image Credit: merchantcircle.com

This style is not as difficult to install as it may look. These tile come in 12″ x 12″ sheets just like the hexagons and penny rounds.Usually black and white (which was the theme for the average home bathroom) this tile really gives the illusion of being weaved together. It’s a little more difficult to install since you have to be careful to follow the pattern precisely from sheet to sheet. Though this photo shows marble tile it is available like all of these options in marble or ceramic.

 

 

Pinwheel
Pinwheel tile

Pinwheel Tile
Image Credit: Mosaictilesupplies.com

Especially popular in the 1920s and 1930s, Pinwheel tile patterns are a simple and fun design. They were rarely any other color than the standard white with a black center, but on rare occasion you might find a dark blue tile in the center of the pattern.

This pattern works well in a large or small space and was also a popular option in kitchens of the day.

 

 

Block Random
Block Random Tile

Block Random
Image Credit: Daltile.com

It may seem as the name suggests, but this tile does actually have a specific pattern. This tile was fairly popular in the late 1930s and thru the 1940s in a variety of colors. The 1940s gave rise to thousands of color combinations for this tile pattern as it became increasingly popular throughout that decade.

 

 

If you have a historic house and you stick with one of these 6 historic floor tile patterns no one will know it is anything other than original. Colors and patterns changed significantly over these decades.

The early 1900s were more colorful to fit the sensibilities of the fading Victorian style. Other than the earth colored tiles found in Craftsman style homes, the late 1910s and 1920s were obsessively white tiled rooms because of the recent discovery of germs and the resulting sanitary craze. It was thought that white made it easier to spot germs. The 1930s was a mix of the sanitary white and the crazy bold colors found in Art Deco homes. In the 1940s the other color schemes faded and pastels like pink (not a girl’s color at the time), blue, yellow, and green rose in popularity along with creme colors.

If you have one of these infamous pink bathrooms you should visit SaveThePinkBathrooms.com before ripping things out for some interesting perspectives on your bathroom.

Don be intimidated by the big prices on these small tiles. Buying enough tile to finish a bath as tiny as most historic bathrooms won’t break the bank. That leaves you the ability to spend more per square foot and get some really nice tile that will last as long as you old house has.

 

Get the latest posts emailed to you!

by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

13 comments

  1. linda vartanian on said:

    do you know if there is any place i can get vinyl tile, or sheet vinyl, that has the pattern of old hex tile? i want something for the floor of a bathroom in a craftsman type home and wonder if there is any way to get this look without having to use actual ceramic tile. thanks for any leads/suggestions.

    • There’s nothing I know of like this but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Though I wouldn’t imagine it would look remotely like actual tile.

      • linda vartanian on said:

        hi scott,
        i called linoleum city in LA and they do make a vinyl in the old hex pattern. he said it is mostly for movie sets etc and there is no guarantee, but it is a good material. he is going to send me samples.

  2. Sasha on said:

    Just found your blog, and look forward to spending time perusing your site! My husband and I live in an old home (approx. 100 yrs. old). It is not an especially grand home-just a simple one story cottage in South Carolina. We are taking on a bathroom renovation, and I am driving myself crazy trying to choose the right floor tile! In addition to the options you listed on this post, are there any other patterns that could be appropriate? I am not necessarily interested in a Period restoration, but I do want a timeless look. I had settled on Carrara marble subway tiles laid in a herringbone pattern, but now I’m second guessing myself! My goal, when done, is for it to be something I won’t grow tired of that leaves guests wondering if its been there 2 weeks or 50 years! I would appreciate any opinions! Thanks!

  3. Debbie Moerbe on said:

    Wanting the square tile pattern floor featured in Dec 9 2013 the colors are just like we want. How do we purchase this or have made up like in article. Please help us!

    • Debbie, that tile pattern is made by American Restoration Tile http://www.restorationtile.com. Their work is usually custom so it can be expensive, but the tile is incredible stuff that is a perfect match for historic buildings.

  4. Vin B on said:

    Scott, Very cool blog! I recently purchased a loft condo that was an office building built in 1910. Much to my surprise, I found the original maple hardwood floors buried under some MDF boards. At one point in time (perhaps in the 50s or 60s) the original floors were tiled over in vinyl. My most recent discovery is the original unglazed square mosaic tiles in my foyer area. I’ve started to uncover it and I can’t wait to see the end result. It doesn’t seem to have any intricate patterns so far and has a simple thick border of black and green with staggered white tiles in the middle. The tiles were covered with a self leveling cement in some areas along with vinyl tile mastic with a third layer of carpet adhesive (the space was actually carpeted as well at one point). Do you have any tips on polishing or buffing the tiles to remove some of the residue from the cement and mastic to bring back the original shine? Thanks!

    • I’ve only done what you’re asking about once and it was A LOT of work. It can be done with a lot of elbow grease and some harsh chemicals. It take a lot to get that all that stuff off the tiles enough for them to be “restored”. I don’t of any way to effectively do it other than on your hands and knees scraping and scrubbing.

  5. Scott, you just inspired me to finally redo the main bathroom in our 1920’s rental house (I’ve already done the upstairs bath tile and added wainscot). Some fool (a flipper) bought the house 30 years ago and decided to “modernize” the bathroom floor by installing linoleum (bleh)that looks like it came out of a 1970’s apartment. Time to get it back to something more original!

  6. I think my favorite pattern is the classic hexagon tile. We have 1990s vinyl tile in our bathroom right now, but we found hexagon tile that we think is original (1920s) when we peeked underneath. It’s probably not salvagable, but it would be great to replace it with something similar to keep the same look and feel.

Leave a Reply

(Don't worry, we won't publish your email address.)