The two classic ways to use decorative liner tiles — aka sizzle strips or listello tiles — in kitchens and bathrooms

liner tileWhen I published the story about all the New Old Stock liner tiles discovered and for sale (<– more being listed daily), a newsletter subscriber popped up and asked, “What are liner tiles?” Oopsy, let’s not let these archaic — yet truly useful — relics of midcentury interior design fade from memory or from use. To ensure everyone is grounded, I went through the RR-archives and identified the two principal ways that liner tiles were used in kitchens and bathrooms during the mid-20th century. 

#1 Most common way to use liner tiles — One row below the top field tile:


As demonstrated in Stacy’s gorgeous pink bathroom above: The single-most common use of decorative liner tiles back in the day was to place them right below the first square field tile.

green-retro-bathroomAbove: Amanda made this mint green and pink bathroom from scratch using tile readily available from Daltile. It’s easier — and if you are buying new, cheaper — to find solid color deco tiles, so she went this route.

vintage bathroomAbove: Kristen and Paul went the solid route, too, in their aqua-and-black bathroom remodel.

Of course, looking at the photos in this first section, you can easily see that the key to using deco tiles successfully in this way is to coordinate their color with color of your bullnose and other trim pieces like edging tiles. If there is a third color in the liner tile, use that color (exactly, or a tone of of it) for the wall. Finally, for design success, pull all the colors together in your major pattern piece(s).

pink-bathroom-gray-trimYou can also use this design/install method sans contrasting bullnose. Above: Todd’s original 1950s pink bathroom, which features subtle gray decorative liner tiles. From the uploader. 

Turning corners when you have liner tiles:

sizzle-stripsSo turning corners with the liner tile can soon get tricky and make your head explode trying to figure it all out. Based on what I’ve seen historically, the photo above shows how this was generally (often?) done — especially when there was a full-sized tub space to continue into. Scrutinize this bathroom from our reader uploader of 171 bathroom tile photos: See how the five field tiles in that one column along the turn have been trimmed? That is what was required to ensure full tiles along the top row inside the tub/shower enclosure and in the main part of the bathroom. However, I think they maybe made the wrong decision; I think they should have kept all the outside field tiles trimmed and instead trimmed the inside one. But then… maybe now. What do you think? Can you even follow this? Tiling a bathroom — and all the mathematical / design decisions involved — is chaos. *head explodes*

trim-tileWhen there’s a completed recessed shower, you can do this — that is, stop the liner tile, trim out the entry with your field tile — then continue the deco tile higher inside the shower. Todd’s bathroom, from the uploader.

turn corner tileAbove: Heidi’s 1940s bathroom, how the corner turns. From the uploader.

vintage yellow kitchenOnce you know this rule, you may then decide to deviate from it.

vintage yellow kitchenAbove: In her 1940s-style kitchen remodel, Carolyn did not want to “lose” the pretty decorative trim tile underneath her cabinets, so instead she ran it in one horizontal line — looks fine! Note, Carolyn found the New Old Stock decorative liner tiles first — via a story we published here — we are all over these finds when we find them. Then, she had the burgundy trim tiles made by B&W. B&W — with its longtime, authentic retro color selection — #1 go-to!

#2 — Second-most common method for using liner tiles:

vintage-blue-wall-sinkAbove: In Kate’s story about the 6 colorful bathrooms in the Comer House, we see the second-most common way that decorative liner tiles were used back in the day…

blue-and-white-liner-tile…immediately under the bullnose tile.

mint-green-retro-sinkdecorative-vintage-liner-tileAbove: Another bathroom in the Comer House.

In both of these examples from the Comer House, the liner tile is an almost subtle bridge between the field tile and the bullnose. It’s complementary — not a blatant contrast.

1959-bathroomAbove: Variation on this theme: The bullnose tile is a 4×4, rather than a 2×6. From J D Log’s 1959 bathroom — yowza fun, from the uploader.

–> Personally, if I were going to spend the money on decorative liner tile, I would go with our first method — putting it one full field tile down from the bullnose. I think it has more visibility there. That said, this second method clearly was used and certainly is lovely.

midcentury bathroomAnd dig this one, above: Roundhouse Sarah her parents Caroline and Robert create this new bathroom. Kinda genius: They used a crazy quilt of New Old Stock vintage liner tiles (also collected from one of our stories) to outline the subway tile right below the bullnose. Using a contast deco tile like this in a single-color tile bathroom (that is: the bullnose is not a contrast color) was also done, I think.

So there you go: The two classic ways to use liner tiles.

Click here to see all our stories mentioning liner tiles.

  1. Kathy Luecke says:

    I’m trying to find a toilet tant lid for a turquoise crane toilet also some towel bars for the sink any ideas where I might locate?

  2. peggy says:

    I need to replace some tiles and cannot find them. I have the blue in
    #2. Do you know where I can purchase them?

  3. Joe Felice says:

    “Listello” is the Italian word for them, but I’ve always heard the American “listel.” I usually call them “pencil tiles.” Maybe this all depends on the part of the country?

  4. Skye says:

    They should have trimmed the tile in the corner so they didn’t have to trim the tile next to the trim piece. You can see in the pic they already had to cut it in half – why not just cut off the additional 1/4″ instead of taking all the extra time to cut another line of tiles down by only 1/4″?

    Thanks for showing some blue bathrooms, my 1951 house has a mixture of the aqua and that more baby-blue color in the upstairs bath. No cute trim tile though 🙁

  5. Carol says:

    Todd’s pink and grey bathroom is glorious! I love them all and I wish I could just move all my bath gear into Caroline and Robert’s bathroom. I know it’s all white but it has character with the different size tiles, sizzle strips (and they sizzle in this bath), and accent colors. I was nuts about this bathroom when it first posted. I think that orange and blue bath could make me a truly happy person. Who could possibly be unhappy getting ready there in the morning. I am so sold on retro bathrooms.

  6. ah says:

    My 1944 yellow bathroom has yet another variation on the one tile down schema. The bullnose is a more saturated hue of the field tile. The sizzler strip is the same color as the bullnose. Subtle yet gorgeous.

  7. Steve H says:

    We just retiled my parents bathroom in white/black/pink and I’m so thankful there were no up/down corner turns. It was hard enough just rounding up all of the necessary pieces, to say nothing of trying to convince the installer that, yes, we really did want 4×4 tile. He kept saying “Oh no, you don’t want that. It looks so 1950’s”.

  8. Robin, NV says:

    I hadn’t considered the difficulty of turning the corner with the liner tile. Eek! Way too hard to think about this early in the morning.

    1. Kate says:

      Tile layout on a wall is really difficult! Especially if there are a lot of corners to turn. The layout for the wall tile in my pink bathroom took me 2 solid days to figure out, and I didn’t even use a liner tile!

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