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Monday Inspiration: For the Love of the Metro Tile

13th May 2019
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Morning morning to you all. It’s a five day week which feels like a bit of a shocker after the run of bank holidays doesn’t it? Anyway, after last week’s tile talk I thought I would show you a few more ideas with tiles that won’t break the bank.

vertical metro tiles at brepurposed

vertical metro tiles at brepurposed

Because while I understand that (at least on my part) indecision has a huge part to play as there are just so many beautiful choices, there is also the fact that tiling can be an expensive business and you don’t want to feel you’ve spent so much money on them that the bathroom and kitchen are forever held hostage to a decision you made five or ten years ago.

So there’s another way. And it’s the humble metro, or subway, tile. Yes, in white, it’s a classic. But if you lay them in a different direction it’s a whole new thing. And, since they are mostly very affordable, you won’t need to pay a ransom to release yourself from their clutches should the desire arise.

the brass trough basin at Soho House Greek Street designed by Linda Boronkay

the brass trough basin at Soho House Greek Street designed by Linda Boronkay

First up, the newest fashion on the block is the vertical lay. But even within that style there are options. At the top, Bre has used two different colours for her one room challenge makeover and put a shelf between the two colours but you don’t need to, you can just change colour. Using the white at the bottom helps the loo to blend in although Joa Studholme, the colour curator at Farrow & Ball, maintains that it’s easier on the eye (less threatening) to put the darker colour on the bottom. You can make your own mind up about that. I would certainly agree when it comes to kitchen cupboards and paint but it works in this room.

Linda Boronkay, the design director at Soho House, has also used vertical tiles in this club bathroom but has used border tiles between the rows which bring a slightly more expensive feel to the overall arrangement.

herringbone tiles via @ciaraelliott

herringbone tiles via @ciaraelliott

The herringbone lay has been around for a few years now and was probably the first to take over from the classic brick formation. Seen above and below on both a half and a full wall, Ciara has used shorter, more classic, metros while below they are longer and narrower.

There will be quite a lot of cutting with this pattern so bear that in mind if you are paying labour costs.

pink herringbone tiles @renovating_a_nightmare

However, Ciara’s version, and that below, where the tiles have been laid in column formation (again a change to traditional brick) means that you can change the colour of the top half of the wall easily which means you can half redecorate. Ciara has painted the top and, since the tiles are white, she can choose pretty much any colour she likes to ring the changes. Below you can just change the wallpaper to bring a whole new look.

artisau gloss pink tile from topps

artisau gloss pink tile from topps

One thing to bear in mind if you want to use coloured grout (as above) which, in a bathroom at least can be much more practical as soap has a very yellowing effect on white, is that if you buy crackle glazed tiles they will soak up the grout in all the glaze lines. We did that once and had to buy a whole set of new tiles.

Now for a bit of pattern now because this tile is currently hugely popular (it’s almost as ubitquitous as the subway) and here it has been used in a couple of interesting ways which I thought would be worth sharing.

star tiles by ca pietra

spitalfields retro star by artisans of devizes

Above the counter top basin has been fitted to a tiled ledge that disappears back into the wall. It creates an almost trompe l’oeil effect, although if I were doing the same thing I would probably have extended the counter out at the sides to make room to put things down. At the moment I look at that and once I have thought “wow”, I am worrying about the practicalities. Having said that, it’s probably just a cloakroom rather than a bathroom so the need for a toothbrush, and all that is less pressing.

Below, the tiles have been used to zone a bath in an open plan space. I’m not sure if it’s still fashionable to put baths in bedrooms but either way, creating a tiled zone like this is a good way to bring a limited, by which I mean, non-scary, amount of pattern into a room which often doesn’t have any. And, once again, in a small area like this you can probably afford to replace (I’m ignoring the extra ones in the foreground and talking solely about using them in one place) or you can change the paint in the room as the monochrome colours mean they will go with anything.

freestanding bath and star tiles via savills

freestanding bath and star tiles via savills

And finally, this bathroom belongs to the designer Pearl Lowe, whose Somerset home, Sophie Robinson and I visited last month to record an episode of the podcast. Full house tour coming up on Thursday along with the interview so you can listen and look at the same time. How’s that for practicality?

Now clearly these aren’t metro tiles but you could absolutely create the same effect by buying two different colours and laying them in herringbone stripes like this.

pink and white chevron tiles at the home of pearl lowe

pink and white chevron tiles at the home of pearl lowe

So I hope that has given you ideas for ways to make cheaper tiles look more exciting in your own homes. The metro tile is a classic and it will never go out of fashion however you choose to lay it, but using it on half walls so you can change the decor around it or laying it in a different style might at least make it a little less traditional.


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  • Anna 13th May 2019 at 12:26 pm

    I have seen metro tiles placed in a square shaped pattern, two horizontal and above two vertical, most effective.

    I must say the Soho House photo is somewhat shocking. How grubby and unappealing the bathroom looks, especially the floor tiles.

  • Marie 13th May 2019 at 9:55 am

    Great ideas I agree with Joa Studholme Kate…. it’s an “anchoring” thing… weight (dark) at the bottom… for me anyway.

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