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9 Retro Metro Styles

Inspired by the iconic architecture of the Parisian metro system, metro tiles (or subway tiles for our North American friends) are a sure-fire way to liven up the décor of any property. Metro tiles have exploded in popularity in recent years as a bold interior design option and have become key design features everywhere from Shoreditch’s hippest bars to our own bathrooms and kitchen splashbacks.

Metro tiles are a wonderfully versatile option that can add a show stopping additional element to almost any aesthetic style. Due to this versatility, experts agree that metro tiles are well on their way to become a design classic that will not look dated in ten years’ time. You can pair them with some industrial-chic Edison lights to create the ultimate ‘retro metro’ space, or opt for an ultra-modern look by minimising the spaces between the tiles and use as little grout as possible.

Different ways of laying metro tiles contribute towards drastically different looks for a bathroom or kitchen space. Here are nine of our favourite metro tile styles to help you decide which style is best for you.

1. Offset

This incredibly popular look is the original metro tile layout and can be traced directly back to the Châtelet metro station in Paris. Flooding the gaps between the tiles with white grout creates a stunning bold look that recalls the height of art deco architecture and is sure to linger long in the memory. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the offset pattern is your favourite interior designer’s go-to solution for solving tricky layout problems – the pattern creates the illusion of consistency even when some tiles need to be cut in irregular sizes to make space for an awkward wall or corner.  Despite its ubiquity, the offset pattern still has the ability to truly take the breath away when utilised creatively. A true design classic that will never go out of style.

2.  Vertical offset

 Photo Credit:  Design Hunter Photo Credit:  Design Hunter

Far less common than its horizontal counterpart, the vertical offset pattern is the perfect layout choice if you want your metro tiles to truly stand out from the crowd. Combining this pattern with a daring colour scheme creates a simply unforgettable look. For an ultra-trendy uber-modern aesthetic try utilising the vertical offset metro layout with a lavender pallet, our tip for the hottest colour of summer 2018. This type of layout is also perfect for narrow spaces and loft bathrooms due to the way the vertical offset pattern tricks the eye into believing the ceiling is higher than it actually is, thus creating the illusion of space.

3. Diagonal offset

 Photo Credit:  Saghar Roya Photo Credit:  Saghar Roya

For those who want to push the boundaries of classic design without straying too far out of the box, the diagonal offset style is the perfect meeting point between the classic traditional offset and the ultra-modern vertical style. This layout is a favourite of kitchen designers as the gradient of the tiles draws the eye back down to the countertops’ level. Whilst it can be a little more difficult to install than the traditional offset design, this is a clever twist on a classic that adds intrigue to your kitchen walls and backsplashes. Combine with an elaborate stone countertop or unusual island design to create a striking new look for your kitchen.

4. Straight set

A more modern design that still wouldn’t look out of place in a traditional home, the straight set layout shows how even a slight variation on the classic metro tile layout can create a remarkably different aesthetic. This style can be simply stunning if paired with the right kind of wall. We would recommend building a single colour block to add a vibrant splash to an otherwise subdued bathroom. Alternatively, matte black metro tiles combined with white grout create a bold monochromatic look. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the straight set layout is not appropriate for every room: if a wall is not wide enough to fit in the entire pattern, the tiles on the end will have to be cut down and this can throw the whole room’s look off-kilter.

5. Vertical straight set

 Photo Credit:  William Morris-Julien Photo Credit:  William Morris-Julien

The ideal design solution for a narrow space, a vertical straight set design can visually widen a room and make it look more appealing to the naked eye. When combined with bold coloured metro tiles this can create a stunning modernist aesthetic that can breathe life into even the most unloved of spaces. Despite its contemporary reputation, the design capabilities of a vertical straight set layout were actually commonly utilised by Georgian designers. They would use a vertical straight set pattern on new window installations to emphasise the huge increases in window height since the Victorian age and to demarcate a clear visual difference between the two eras. Here’s a top tip: combine a straight set metro tile lay out with a few strips of vertical trim to create a magnificent waterfall effect in your space.

6. Crosshatch

 Photo Credit: Topps Tile Photo Credit: Topps Tile

Inspired by the vibrant patterns of African textile design, a crosshatch metro tile layout brings a real sense of dynamic joviality to any habitable space. If you want to really accentuate the pattern of the tiles opt for darker grout, whereas if you’re after a subtler texture use a light grey grout to create a more natural effect. This style will also save you time and money in the construction phases as it does not require any tiles to be cut down or altered in any way.

7. Herringbone

 Photo Credit:  nicola penny | time and toast Photo Credit:  nicola penny | time and toast

Based on the popular fabric pattern (itself inspired by fish skeletons believe it or not!), a herringbone metro tile layout is a fun way to bring some outlandish patterns into your home. Bringing some real vibrancy to your kitchen or bathroom space this metro tile style allows you to be a bit more daring in your design choices. Luckily the long-lasting influence of herringbone in the fashion world means that you can sleep easy knowing this pattern will never go out of style.

8. Running bond

 Photo Credit: Angela Flournoy Photo Credit: Angela Flournoy

A true test of your installer’s ability, a running bond pattern is probably the most difficult metro tile pattern to install. Each row shifts between a vertical and horizontal tile in an alternating herringbone pattern, so that no two same tiles touch each other; this requires some tiles to be cut down into small squares whilst others remain their usual size. A running bond pattern is one of the less commonly found metro tile layouts. As such, if you were to opt for this style your space would truly stand out from the crowd.

9. Vertical herringbone

Resembling the weaves of fibre in a rope, a vertical herringbone layout creates some seriously breath-taking geometric patterns in your kitchen or bathroom. Equally stunning when used on floors or walls, this is an incredibly adaptable style that truly takes metro tile design to the next level. A real favourite of bathroom designers everywhere, this is a classic and classy layout that can slot seamlessly into both traditional and contemporary styles.

Picking the right style

These are some of the most popular ways in which you can lay out subway tiles. The options to cut your tiles and choose different colours, materials and types of grouting mean there’s an almost infinite range of possible permutations for you to choose from. As such it’s really worthwhile speaking to an expert who could help you find the perfect pattern for your space.

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