When 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.
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#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.
Above: 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.
Above: 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).
- To learn more about coordinate colors, click here to read our Foolproof Guide — Five Steps — to Choosing Bathroom Color Successfully
Turning corners when you have liner tiles:
So 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*
When 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.
Above: Heidi’s 1940s bathroom, how the corner turns. From the uploader.
Above: 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:
Above: 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…
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.
Above: 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.
And 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.