By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Subway tiles. You see them everywhere — in people’s houses and all over TV shows like “Property Brothers,” “Flip or Flop,” and “House Hunters Renovation.”
But there’s one place you’ll never see them — in my kitchen. And one other place — my bathroom. That’s because subway tiles remind me of actual subways — the oily, greasy, steamy, sooty, jam-packed subways of my New York city young adulthood.
A Pop of Glamour?
For me, subway tiles and the century-old subterranean transit systems they evoke are no way to add a pop of glamour to a kitchen or bath. Subway tiles
suggest grim, florescent-lit underground caves where once-shiny tiles are now chipped around the edges and held together by grout that’s been grimy for decades.
Some of the world’s undergrounds make a valiant attempt at art — Moscow’s is one. Other subways are relatively new and sleek — San Francisco’s. But most metro stations are battle scarred and antique. New York’s. Budapest’s.
Still, subway tile evokes a certain nostalgia for me. A 2015 visit to Budapest took me
on a sentimental journey back in time to my car-less youth as a twenty-something New Yorker. I caught a train at Budapest’s Oktogon station built in 1896 and there they were — the battered metal balustrades, the low ceilings — the subway tiles.
As a young, impecunious New Yorker, I needed to get where I was going fast and cheap. So I, along with millions of other New Yorkers, was happy to crowd myself, into shabby, pre-World War II subway stations and trains. Subway tiles — cheap, sanitized, institutional — were part of the commute experience, to be suffered through. Endured, not admired.
Trendy Subway Tiles
Avocado green appliances were a thing in the ’70s. Hollywood vanity lights made it big in the ’90s. Granite countertops (like mine) scream the 2000s. And now, subway tiles are all the rage. They’re popular today, but in 2030 will subway tiled walls look as dated and pathetic as an avocado kitchen range does in 2017?
More about home decorating at “Getting a New Kitchen? Here Are the Five Things I Like Best About Mine.” Also, “The Dracena Is Dead. Long Live the Dracena.”