Vern Yip: What’s next after white subway tile?

April 19

Everywhere you look, in practically every American neighborhood, there is a visible thread of continuity that once culturally galvanized us: white subway tile.

It seemed that everyone, at one time, agreed that white subway tile (whether plain, crackled or hand-molded) was the clear, de facto choice for any renovation requiring wall tile.

As a result, for the past decade, it multiplied faster than rabbits. White subway tile, after all, was considered that magical combination of being both fresh and timeless. Now, after a decade of near-universal agreement that it would never go out of style, there are distinct rumblings for fresher alternatives, prompting design enthusiasts and weekend warriors to ponder: What’s next?

As it turns out, there’s a lot to talk about because there isn’t just one answer. As homeowners have steadfastly moved toward embracing individuality, and tailoring their homes to fit their specific functional and aesthetic desires (in lieu of accepting a “no-fail” standard), the demand for a broader spectrum of tile sizes, shapes and colors has dramatically risen.

Luckily, industry innovations in manufacturing — and increased accessibility to global artisans and materials — have translated to a never-before-seen array of new, beautiful tile offerings.

“Advancements in technology and our processes have allowed us to push the limits of what is possible with tile,” said Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of marketing for Emser Tile, one of the nation’s leading tile resources. “From intricate mosaics to thinner, large panel formats to easy-maintenance porcelains and ceramics that look identical to natural wood and stone, the options we can offer have never been greater.”

The dizzying array of options in the marketplace certainly underscores that there is seemingly something for everyone and for every style.

So for those feeling lost in a post-subway tile world and looking for direction, what is the latest and greatest? Though there may be limitless, new tile options, trendsetters are helping to advance a few ahead of the pack.

Whether you’re contemplating a renovation, or happen to be building from scratch, here is some insight into the most exciting tile developments to assist you in making your kitchen and bath spaces perfectly tailored to you:

Color: It’s hard to imagine that white tile will ever go out of style. After all, white typically signifies cleanliness, a quality most of us unequivocally seek for our bathroom and kitchen spaces.

More and more, however, other tile colors have been surging. Warmer toned neutrals, in particular, have risen dramatically in popularity. Warm gray, which has dominated the paint space for years because of its chameleon-like ability to accommodate any style, has now become a hot tile color as well.

Even having it incorporated into the veining of marble tile, or ceramic tile that emulates marble, is popular. Shades of beige, last seen many decades ago, are also in demand but in updated tones, new shapes and with new textures which up their freshness factor and add visual interest.

And for those wanting more definitive hues, a wide breadth of blue and green tiles (navy, turquoise, emerald and olive are sought after), in line with the blue and green kitchen cabinet and bathroom vanity trend, are available to infuse a pop of color as an accent or to help create a bolder, monochromatic look through an overall application.

Pattern and shape: Of all the areas of change, shape and pattern are perhaps the most visually impactful. Though the timeless rectangle (which gives the subway tile its identity) installed in a classic “brick pattern” will never be retired, newer shapes and patterns are helping to redefine the next generation of bathrooms and kitchens.

From simple hexagons, diamonds and triangles to more intricate arabesque and lantern shapes, creating a bold design statement through tile has become a practical way to simultaneously introduce art and durability.

In fact, intricate, full-room installations, showcasing honeycomb, herringbone and fish-scale tile patterns, have been dominating the Pinterest pages and Instagram postings of many design influencers. And in virtually every shelter publication, the presence of expansive top-to-bottom tile installations, featuring graphic shapes and overall patterns, further underscores that all-encompassing tile has emerged as one of today’s biggest interior design trends.

Size: As it turns out, bigger really may be better, especially when it comes to tile. Dramatically bigger tiles (imagine one big enough to cover your entire kitchen island) have begun to alter how and where it can be used.

At Emser Tile, large porcelain panels (each one measures 63 by 126 inches) in looks that are virtually indistinguishable from natural stone, represent one of their biggest areas of growth.

“The large panels have a thinner profile, which allow for more creative designs and installations,” Villanueva-Heras said.

“Additionally, the dramatically bigger size means that grout lines can be greatly reduced, or possibly eliminated, leaving you with an expansive, seamless surface,” she added. “This makes porcelain panels an excellent option for floors, walls, countertops and even islands that incorporate beautiful waterfall edges. You can even install them over existing surfaces for an easy way to remodel a home.”

The days of cookie-cutter kitchens and bathrooms are, gratefully, behind us. Embracing our individuality has seemingly supplanted our desire to have what the neighbors have.

Like a suit that’s been tailored specifically to your body, bathrooms and kitchen designs are now being tailored to uniquely support us and reflect who we are and what visually delights us.

And, judging by the endless variety of what’s available, the tile industry is fully on board. Undoubtedly, there is life after white subway tile.

Vern Yip is a TLC/HGTV interior designer and host and author of the book “Vern Yip’s Design Wise: Your Smart Guide to a Beautiful Home.” Originally from McLean, Va., Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (all @VernYipDesigns). He writes occasionally for The Washington Post.

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