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How To: Install Subway Tile

subway tile shower

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.

Tools Needed:

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!

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6 thoughts on “How To: Install Subway Tile

  1. The installation in that photo at the top of the page is horrible. Not even remotely lined up at the corner or level. Very sad.

  2. Thanks for the video, lots of nice tips on installing subway tile. In your video you already have a wall that is prepped and ready to put the tile on. Do you have any tips about what you need to do to the wall before putting tile on, especially in regards to the kind of walls you might expect to find in the bathroom of an old house (in my case mid ’30’s)?

    1. I am curious about this too. Our house was built in 1920 and we wonder… do we put cement board over the shiplap? Something else entirely? It is very hard to Google for information since most results are just how to install the pre-molded shower liner things. No thank you! :/

  3. Hi Evie, I used my cricut to cut vinyl and overlaid it onto the tile. Previously it was just plain subway tile. I”ll be doing a post soon on this project!

  4. Great video Scott! Super helpful and scaffolded so that even novices like me feel confident to give it a try!

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