February 3, 2022

Ask the Expert

Metro Tiles: A Buyers’ Guide

Thinking about using metro tiles for an upcoming interior design project?
This guide will help you choose the best options and answer all your questions about these perennial tiles.

Before investing hard-earned cash into a home refurbishment project, we want to be sure whatever materials we choose represent a good investment. Choosing the right tile entails selecting one that won’t age or become outdated soon after the project is completed. In this regard, few tiles are more timeless and elegant than the metro tiles. That is why they are an ideal choice for a wide range of projects.

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Retro Blanco 10X20 (Available online & in-store)

Nowadays, you are as likely to find metro tiles in trendy bars and restaurant interiors as traditional Victorian public buildings. So why this simple tile has such a universal appeal? Here are the answers to everything you always wanted to know about metro tiles but were afraid to ask. 

 


Table of contents

Metro tile down through history

– Why the metro tile?

Criteria for selection

– Final selection

FAQs


 

The first use & rapid spread of the metro tile 

The emergence of the metro or subway tile dates back to the first mass public transit systems. At the turn of the 20th century, a reliable cladding material for the access tunnels and platforms serving the New York subway system became necessary. 

In 1904, architects Heins & LaFarge came up with a ceramic tile that would adapt to the vaulted ceilings and walls, was cheap to produce, hygienic and easy to maintain.  

First adopted in the States, the subway or metro tile soon became the ‘go to’ tile for all underground transport systems, from London’s Tube to Paris’ Metro. It was also used for public buildings and private homes during the Victorian era. 

Mass-produced and versatile, the gloss finish brought luminance to any space, whether it was an underground network, an institution, or a home. Most importantly of all, they were easy to keep clean. 

 

Why the metro tile? 

The reasons for using the metro tile today in home décor are the same as all those years ago when it was first developed. The looks, the range of applications and the easy maintenance are hard to match.

The sheer versatility of metro tile makes it equally suitable for a fireplace surround, kitchen backsplash, stylish bathroom, etc. With so many variations in size, colour, pattern, and grouting, no two applications need to be the same, which cannot be said for many tiles. Below, we’ve compiled a list of basic criteria to think about. 

 

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Ibiza Concrete Gloss 10X40 (Available online & in-store)

 

Metro tiles: Criteria for selection 

Several criteria will determine the right metro tile for your project. The metro tile will provide a bespoke tiling solution if these options are carefully considered. 

 

#1 Size matters 

The first dry pressed ceramic metro tiles took on the proportions of brick: the height was twice the length, 3 inches x 6 inches (roughly 75mm x 150mm). Since then, the metro tile has evolved into square, larger, rectangular and elongated shapes. The right size is determined by the available space and the dimensions of the room in question. 

Here is the original size as well as some variations that are available in our online shop

 Metro-Tile-Size-Guide

 

#2 Flat or bevelled? 

Although the first metro tiles were flat with a slightly rounded edge, a bevelled edge version soon gained popularity. The modelled effect is entirely different to the flatter metro tile. In the light, edges acquire reflectivity and a more three-dimensional quality that adds depth to a space. Another option worth considering is the handcrafted metro tile, a flat tile with a rustic relief.

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FLAT METRO TILES
retro-blanco
BEVELLED METRO TILES

#3 Metro wall tiles laying pattern 

One of the reasons for the popularity of the metro tile is its versatility. That means, achieving very different looks by varying simple design considerations. Like the patterns, which determine how the metro tiles are fixed to the walls.

The most popular patterns in the UK include: 

  • The Brick Bond, where the tiles are shifted half a tile concerning the rows, above and below. This is the most traditional way of laying tiles and looks convincing, never tired.
  • Horizontal Bond & Vertical Bond. Here the tiles are stacked directly on top of one another length-wise, or height-wise. For a small bathroom, the vertical bond helps to visually heighten a space. In either case, the look is modern and rational and attracts the gaze. Unlike actual brick, which uses its bond to reinforce structural performance, tile patterns are aesthetic.
  • A variation on the vertical bond is the vertical brick bond, which is recommended for a colour metro tile. This unusual pattern and non-white colour make for a powerful visual impact.
  • Herringbone is a highly decorative way to lay tiles. You will need a medium to large wall expanse to properly display this pattern. The kitchen backsplash with floating shelves, for example, is an ideal area. Or an entire floor to ceiling bathroom wall behind the Wash Hand Basin(s).
  • The Double Weave is a pattern inspired by basket weaving. Two tile pairings are alternated in the vertical and horizontal directions. The classic dimensions of the metro tile (twice the height equals the length) facilitate this decorative pattern. Like the herringbone pattern, it does require a minimum area to appreciate its overall design.

 

metro-tiles-laying-patterns

 

#4 Colour; tiles & grout

The choice of colour is the single most important consideration once the metro tile is selected. Colour has a significant impact on the perception of space and can both enhance and detract from it. Although the colour is a subjective matter, influenced by culture and precedent, there exists empirical data we can draw on to help choose.

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Retro Blanco 10X20 (Available online & in-store)

Classic and timeless metro tiles

The white metro tile never looks outdated. It can have either a modern or traditional look and, as such (together with its other advantages), it is a reliable choice. Ideal for a rustic, country-style kitchen or timeless bathroom.  

A bevelled edge metro tile, laid in a brick pattern for the backsplash will provide traditional character. For a more clean line and contemporary look, use colour and feature a herringbone pattern.

 

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Malaga Acero 25X44.3 (Available online & in-store)

Elegant & contemporary metro tiles

In recent years, grey metro tiles have gained popularity, both in the décor of kitchens and bathrooms. It’s a neutral yet characterful colour choice and will never look dated. 

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Mediterraneo Calpe Black 7.5X30 (Available in-store)

Avant-garde & industrial metro tiles

Colour is an ideal medium to express architectural styles such as industrial and loft living. Black and metallic metro tiles are difficult to beat in this case. The combination of a traditional shape with an unusual colour and reflective properties is both functional and visually appealing.

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Retro Cielo 10X20 / Cielo Rosa 10X20 / Cielo Verde 10X20 (Available in-store)

Neutral coloured metro tiles

Soft pastel shades of blue, green and pink are considered neutral colour choices in home décor. Their ability to fade into the background and frame a space makes them the ideal choice. These colours are ideal for metro tiles, where a slightly more edgy approach is preferred.

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Mediterraneo Calpe Nieve 7.5X30 (Available online & in-store)
Mediterraneo Calpe Grass 7.5X30  (Available in-store)

Pops of colour

For statement interiors and for small areas of application (like a fire surround), let your imagination run riot. Colourful metro tiles almost resemble Lego and have a ludic character. For more daring hues, it’s recommended to restrict their use to smaller controlled areas of the wall. 

#5 Metro tile finish: matt or gloss 

The choice of matt or gloss finish has a significant impact on the final effect of the metro tile. Gloss finishes, as a rule, make a space appear larger and thus are appropriate for smaller areas such as bathrooms. However, the matt tile hides dirt better and provides a better grip in areas like the bathroom. It might be a consideration if you have small children. However, counter-intuitively, matt tiles are more difficult to keep clean. A damp cloth is usually enough to restore a glossy underground tile to its pristine state. 

 


Matt tilesGloss tiles

  • Hide dirt better
  • Make a space appear larger
  • Provide grip in areas like the bathroom
  • Appropriate for smaller areas
  • Harder to keep clean
  • Easier cleaning and maintenance

 

Final selection 

When you’ve narrowed down your metro tile selection to a few candidates, get some actual samples to compare and contrast. Remember that you can order samples of a wide range of products directly from our online store. You can also make an appointment to visit your nearest store and check the tiles in person before making your purchase.

As a general rule, we recommend that you inspect the tile’s quality once you’ve received the sample.

Here’s a checklist of things to look for:

☑ Checklist

  • The colours should be clean and crisp.
  • The finish should be free from imperfections and dimples.
  • The edge, on the other hand, should be straight and sharp.
  • Packaging is also important as the tiles must be carefully protected on delivery. 

FAQs 

Finally, in case you still have questions about metro tiles, we’ve included some frequently asked questions and recommendations.

The grouting you choose is as important as the metro tile. And it is subject to the same vagaries of fashion and trends in interior design. Dramatic contrasts between the tile and the grout are no longer as popular as they were a few years ago. Nowadays, it's all about nuance and subtlety. So, off-white with white, light grey with darker grey, etc. will look great over time. 

In small spaces, every detail counts, as they make an enormous difference to the overall look. An edge trim or profile will provide a clean finish to the surrounds of those splashbacks that do not reach the bottom of wall cabinets or end walls. A trim is also recommended for exposed corners, where two tiled walls meet. The depth of the trim is determined by the thickness of the tile. Consult with your tile provider for further information. As a general rule, it’s better to leave a little wiggle room, say 2mm.

  • Ensure that the wall substrate can support the weight of the metro tile. Metro tile weight between 13 and 15 kg per sq. Meter. 
  • Establish the centre line of the area to be tiled using a spirit level. Then, dry lay the tiles along the wall, starting from that line to ensure minimum tile cuts. 
  • After mixing the adhesive according to the manufacturer’s instructions, start applying it with a notched trowel from the middle of the wall working outwards. Begin with a 1-meter long stretch, two tiles in height.  
  • With a twisting motion, press the underground tiles into place. Special tile spacers should be used if a brick bond pattern is desired. Otherwise, standard spacers on all sides will do. 
  • Open edges should be provided with a metal or plastic edge trim, appropriately sized. 
  • For straightforward cuts, use a score and snap tile cutter. Irregular cuts (around plugs) will require tile nippers. Score and snap the tile edges to achieve the desired shape. 
  • Leave the adhesive to dry overnight. Remove the tile spacers, then mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Next, apply it at a 45° angle with a rubber squeegee. And finally, make sure the grout goes well into the gaps. 
  • After 15 minutes, remove the excess grout with a damp sponge from the tiles’ surface. Make sure to avoid the grout line. 
  • After 30 minutes, buff the tiles with a soft, non-abrasive cloth, till they shine. 


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