Subway Tile Typography Steps into the Light

Familiar to every NYC subway rider, mosaic tile typography runs the gamut from simplistic to museum-worthy.

When it comes to flooring upgrades, a growing number of New York City renovators are choosing to say it with tile.

The MTA may be a disaster, but it gets at least one thing right: mosaic tile murals. With icons of Bronx history, underground gardens, portraits by Chuck Close and abstract celestial scenes rendered in tile, it’s no wonder New Yorkers appreciate the art form and want to see it post-commute, too. Tile typography has long been used for lettering in front of buildings and businesses, but in the past few years, the old school pharmacy or historic hotel entryway mosaic has found new life in residential and restaurant projects. Here’s what you need to know when using tile to create text or images in your own home:

Explore Your Options

The addictive Instagram account I Have This Thing Wih Floors for years has chronicled good floors, including many a mosaic. Scroll through to get a better sense of what’s possible with hexagon, penny and square tiles. Start thinking about shadowing for letters or whether you’d prefer a more abstract pattern.

Define the Entry

Spell out a greeting, mark your address or add a little panache to an otherwise unexciting entry. The Brownstone Project made the incredible “Brooklyn” mosaic (top image) for one building’s vestibule. It’s a show-stopper that’s also practical. Hardwoods can’t handle muddy boots and dripping umbrellas the way tile can.

Consider the Bathroom

SICIS creates high end and elaborate mosaic murals for clients all over the United States, Middle East and Europe. At an inaccessible price point for most, the work provides a reminder everyone could use: The bathroom is an ideal place for a mosaic mural, since it requires tiling anyway. Plus, a mosaic mural adds artistic intrigue to a space where humid conditions preclude hanging most artworks.

Tile typography doesn’t need to be complicated to add personality—and a little whimsy—to an otherwise boring floor.

Determine What You Can DIY

This gorgeous tiled mosaic by Sideshow Design Co. took over 120 hours and required 5,000 porcelain pieces, each one hand cut. If that’s what you’re looking for, bring in the experts. But using penny or hex tiles in alternate colors—like this “Hi!“—is definitely something you could DIY. Here are some great tips on how to do exactly that with tiles you can easily purchase at a big box store.

Weigh the Pros, Cons of Getting Personal

While it’s nice to come home to an entryway with your last name set in tile, you will want to carefully weigh such a personal permanent addition. Is it your forever home or somewhere your family will grow out of in a few years? Can you live with “Welcome” or the address number instead, since that’s something a future owner would also appreciate?

Don’t Forget The Classics

While the punchy greetings rendered in tile feel very of the moment, there are ways to seamlessly blend new tiling into historic homes. American Restoration Tile is a great resource for typical patterns, colors and tile sizes from different eras. The company offers custom mosaics and help with historic restorations.

Installed in 1985 to commemorate the life and influence Beatles frontman John Lennon, Central Park’s IMAGINE installation may be New York City’s most iconic mosaic tile message.
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