Subway tile is one of the staples of kitchens and bathrooms in historic homes. The clean simplicity of 3″ x 6″ ceramic rectangles harken back to the early 20th-century like nothing else. It has been around comfortably over a hundred years since it began covering the walls of the brand new New York City subway system in 1904 and while it has had varying degrees of popularity, it has always been a heavy hitter in the design world.
During the sanitary craze early in the 20th-century, subway tile was the perfect fit because it was easy to keep clean and its sparkling white appearance convinced people it was always clean. New York city choose the standard brick laid white subway tiles because they implied this same clean feeling and they brightened the poorly lit early subway stations.
It was a match made in heaven and people took notice. It wasn’t long before subway tile started showing up in all kinds of catalogues for homeowners. Once the craze hit, subway tile was cemented into the public’s mind as the premiere choice for a clean and upscale bathroom or kitchen.
How To Install Subway Tile
Installing subway tile in a new house is not terribly difficult with the right tools, but installing it in a historic house where nothing is plumb or level can be treacherous. Getting the layout right and accommodating for a room that is out of square is imperative and requires careful planning before you start. Speaking of getting started, I’ve included a list of the tools you’ll need before you get started.
- 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ trowel
- 5 gallon bucket
- Tile saw
- Diamond blade
- Margin Trowel
- Mixing drill
- Mixing paddle
- Safety Glasses
- Spirit level (2′ or 4′)
- Tile Sponge
I’ve put together the video below to walk you through the basics of subway tile installation as well as to show you some of the tricks I use to accommodate the challenges that come up with tiling an old house. Anyone can put up tile on a perfectly square wall with nothing in their way. This video will show you what to do when it’s not quite as simple as HGTV makes it look. And let’s be honest, it never is as easy they say!
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.