The Metro Tile: All You Need to Know

(Read Time: 3 Mins)

Subway tile or Metro tile? Whatever you like to call them, it’s clear to see that these simple rectangular tiles are more popular than ever, finding themselves in commercial and residential settings around the world. They have remained an iconic choice for over a century! There vintage yet clean contemporary look has enabled them to stay relevant throughout the years. Once again thanks to the constant ongoing development and manufacturing of tiles there back better than ever!

So, if you’re thinking of going for the classic subway look, this is the perfect article for you as we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the iconic subway/metro tile.

Rich in History

To no surprise, the metro tile acquired its name in the early 1900s, after being designed for New York’s newly constructed subway system. The tiles designers, George C. Heinz and Christopher G. LaFarge, understood that it needed to be durable, versatile, hygienic and visually pleasing for the heavy usage from the population. As a result, they created the distinctive 3” x 6” rectangular tiles in white and used first used them in the first NY subway station in 1904. Thus, the iconic metro tile was born.

It wasn’t long before other cities around the world took to the metro tile, with London Underground adopting it shortly after. The Victorians at this period in history were obsessed with hygiene and saw the easy to clean and bright white tiles to be a perfect option for a sterile look. Although we now associate underground transport systems as ‘dirty’ by today’s standards, these once were marvelled as new futuristic concepts. The clean, simplistic tile paired perfectly, brightening up those forward-thinking spaces — a new style for a new concept.

Following the continued usage of the metro tile, it soon captured the public’s imagination and began finding its way into pre-WW1 homes, workspaces, and hospitals for both the practical hygienic benefits and for aesthetic reasons. The tiles popularity continued to increase over the decades, and now today in the 21st century, they have become a ubiquitous choice for homes all over the world. Their ability to remain traditional yet modern has cemented their iconic look, seeing purists from each generation rekindle its popularity. Heinz and LaFarge would be proud.

What are Metro Tiles Made Of?

The original iconic metro tiles were ceramic and have mostly remained to be ceramic. However, thanks to the advancements in manufacturing you can find metro tiles made of many different types of materials. Although the traditional ceramic tile has remained as the primary material, you now have a choice of porcelain, metal, glass, and natural stones like marble.

How long do Metro tiles last?

As we mentioned earlier, most metro tiles are ceramic which is a sturdy material that can withstand heavy usage and won’t be prone to cracking or chipping. Ceramic is also fantastic at retaining its colour, as exposure to light will not result in fading over time. So, to answer the question, they will last for decades when cared for properly.

Design and Styling Options

Although metro tiles are known for their incredibly simple design, that doesn’t mean you have limited options. With modern tile manufacturing, the selection of designs, finishes, colours and materials have grown exponentially. There is also a variety of edge finishes to choose from, each providing a subtle difference that enhances the style. Therefore, you can be sure to find the perfect tile for you and the style you want to create for your project.

The layout pattern of metro tiles is a fantastic way to utilise their small rectangular shape to produce some exquisite finishes. For example, instead of opting for the classic metro pattern you often come across, you could create a herringbone pattern effect that offers zigzag angles for an entirely new look. Perfect if you want a different look without paying that bit extra.


It is clear as to why the iconic metro tile has remained to current, as they offer a timeless look that has continued to progress through the decades. With the addition of modern tile manufacturing, we cannot see them leaving our homes and public infrastructure anytime soon.

We hope this article has cleared up some questions you may have about metro tiles. At Artisan, we have a wide range of various metro tiles to suit all styles and budgets. Please get in touch or visit our showroom if you would like to find out more.

Like this article?