The style evolution of the mountain cabin has thrown me, as you know. The original intent of modern Scandi was thwarted by Brian’s all of a sudden need for a cozy cottage. So amongst many other decisions, I poured over whether to stack or stagger the tile in the bathroom designs, which led me to larger questions. Some of which included: Is stacking the new stagger? Is stacking a 2018 style that will be dated in 2028? Is staggering only okay in traditional homes? Is staggering done all together or will it be classic forever? Is staggering a stack even weirder or if it’s done really well, is it creative and artful and genius? Do you need to choose stack or stagger throughout your whole house? Do you have to be pro-stack or pro-stagger for your entire life?? Clearly, I was spiraling, I know, but these are things that go through the mind of insane people that are remodeling and making roughly 52,000 decisions about the DOUBLE design of five bathrooms (double because of the I Design, You Decides).
What did we end up doing? Well, you’ll see at the end. But first, for those of you curious about what all this talk about stacked/staggered/staggered stacked even means, let’s dig into it:
It’s my personal belief that you shouldn’t put a finish in a house that might not have existed when the house was made. This is a rule that can ABSOLUTELY be broken, but if you aren’t a confident designer and are afraid to make a permanent wrong decision, it’s a good guide. For instance, don’t use a glass mosaic tile in a Victorian home. In general, I’d say to be careful to put something that wasn’t invented yet in an older home. For this reason, I staggered the tile in our 1920s English Tudor. Was this the right thing to do? It’s design, not science so there are few absolute rights and wrongs, but it’s what felt appropriate, beautiful and timeless.
I think you can safely say houses before 1950 were mostly staggered, not stacked. Mine, above, is a basic brick (or running bond), which is usually what you see when you see a standard subway tile. Here are some other examples of the installation:
This bathroom by Office of Architecture is pretty traditional with its black-and-white hex floor (and overall palette) paired with a basic brick orientation of the wall tile, but the matte black faucets and sconces usher it more into “modern” territory. So the lesson here is that you can def go more classic with an “expected” subway tile installation if you are nervous about switching things up too much, but you can freshen things up with other finishes.
A longer tile in a traditional staggered brick does feel a bit more modern though like in this bathroom by Elena Calabrese. Standard subway tiles are 3″x6″ (these appear to be about 3″x12″) so adjusting that ratio freshens the classic install a bit.
Next up is the hipper, younger sister to the staggered brick—the horizontal stack.
Using a simple, flat white subway (or elongated subway like the one in this bathroom) tile is a VERY contemporary look, that is unless…
…you use a handmade, artisan tile like this one in a bathroom by Barbie Palomino. I’m pretty sure you could use a rough, organic tile like this in ANY installation and it’ll always feel Old World (in a good way) and classic, so if you like the stacked horizontal look but are afraid of leaning too modern, this is a GREAT tile to use to pull it right back to feeling less trendy and more traditional.
This shorter tile is pretty interesting. There’s something about it that doesn’t feel super contemporary like the elongated version two photos up. In this ratio, it actually comes off more like a cool windowpane grid (except, obviously, not square). If it was paired with a super sleek vanity or pedestal sink, it could lean more modern, but the more rugged wood vanity really balances the look. I think that’s mostly key to make sure you’re not creating a space that will feel incredibly dated and feel very “2018” in five years.
Ugh there’s so much to like about this bathroom by the super talented Amber Interiors. Those mirrors. The satin brass wall-mount faucet. The floating wood vanity with notched out hand pulls. That matte tile. IT’S ALL SO GOOD. This horizontal stack works particularly well here because it speaks to the warm modern vibe of the space. It’s not a perfect, clean install (probably because the tiles are handmade and purposefully a little wobbly), so that automatically strips back some of the precise contemporary feel and makes it more approachable (i.e. the “warm” part of the “warm modern”) while the overmount sink, faucet, mirrors and cabinet design are obviously the “modern” part of that equation.
Okay, now I’m convinced that a rugged subway-esque tile is the key to nailing the horizontal stack without feeling overtly “modern.” Otherwise, it comes off a little “hotel” or “commercial.” (This actually happens to be commercial—it’s the test kitchen for Bon Appetit but it def feels like it could be in someone’s home.)
Next up is talking about the vertical stack, which we’ve used a few times in the mountain house already (in different variations…stick around for the end of this post to see what we mean). It definitely still feels more modern as compared to a classic staggered brick, but there’s something about it that feels fresh and modern without being starkly contemporary.
This is one of those images that makes hearts pound. OMG IS IT GOOD. We’ll let you catch your breath from the excitement rush. Okay, good? Let’s keep going. We’ve shared this bathroom by Decus Interiors in Australian a few times already for different blog purposes and while it would have probably been stunning with a staggered brick install of the tile (or even a horizontal stack), the vertical stack feels a little more unexpected and refreshing. Plus, it also draws the eye right up to that yummy brass showerhead (and then right back down to that equally yummy stone).
It’s basically a design crime to not draw attention to tall ceilings, which is what the vertical stack tile does in this bathroom (by Australian firm Architects EAT).
Also from Amber Interiors, something that jumps out about this image (and others like it) is if you have a slender vertical wall to tile, the vertical stack is a home run. It fills the space and makes everything look taller. If you only have a squat backsplash to tile (like imagine in a standard kitchen with cabinet uppers), unless your tile is really small/short, you don’t really get the best visual bang for your buck because you will probably have, at most, two rows of tiles. This look works best in, like we said, a taller space or nook where you can fit in multiple rows.
Of note here: the orientation change in the nooks. It helps to distinguish those little areas (but if you don’t want to call attention to them, you could easily keep the vertical stack going through them as well…it’s all about what you want!).
See how different it looks depending on the tile? This, by Lotta Agaton Interiors, is a very pristine install with a sleeker tile than the previous and absolutely feels more modern. Using a tall and skinny tile (which we’re loving right now) also makes it feel more special and high-end than a traditional 3″x6″. Also of note is taking the same tile and switching up the install on the floors (smaller tile with more grout also = less slippery…though more upkeep in making sure grout stays clean).
If you just LOVE the classic, familiar feel of a staggered subway but want to shake it up, you can also totally stagger a vertical (or double stack and stagger like we did in the mountain house upstairs guest bath…scroll down to see what we mean). That little shift automatically makes it a little more traditional and in a hand-glazed tile like this one from Equipe, it’s really not THAT far of a cry from staggered brick, just with a bit of an updated twist.
And finally…the lovechild of vertical and horizontal stacks…the crosshatch/parquet pattern…
Like the staggered brick, the crosshatch can look both super traditional (like classic parquet wood floors) and “newer,” depending on how you pair it. Caitlin Wilson’s bathroom here absolutely leans more elegant but it shakes up the typical white marble + white cabinet + white subway tile look that we’ve all seen time and again. It’s also a great way to add pattern to a neutral, simple bath without going overboard with textiles or a stone with a ton of movement.
Here’s a take on crosshatch, but with a running stacked vertical. Oh, and it’s staggered. It’s basically EVERYTHING all in one place, perfect for the indecisive! (Except, we have to imagine you’d have to be pretty decisive/confident to pull the trigger on this pattern. It’s cool, but it’s not for the faint of heart.)
If you’re into the skinnier tile, you’ll have to triple or quadruple stack it to get the alternating square shapes consistent with parquet like Katie Monkhouse did here. It’s a bit of a busier look, but it still feels fresh and timeless all at once. As long as you don’t add a printed wallpaper and a print-heavy floor or other tile/textile prints, it does a lot of the stylistic heavy lifting.
Okay, so now for what we’ve done in the mountain house. We used “subway” tile in three bathrooms—the powder, master bath (which we haven’t shown the design process yet for but it’s in progress and coming atcha soon), and the upstairs guest bath. We didn’t go the route of staggered brick in any, instead opting for something that felt a little more in line with the modern-Scandi-mountain look we’re going for (the “rustic” part that Brian so badly craves comes in in other elements like the floors and other parts of the home, so don’t worry, he hasn’t been forgotten). We thought it would be fun to remind you of what we’ve done but show it side-by-side with a traditional subway tile pattern so you can see the difference the installation makes to the look and feel of a room.
Here’s the master bath:
The vertical stack definitely feels cleaner, sleeker and less busy, which lets the killer lighting and brass accessories really shine. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the staggered brick, but with such a skinny tile, it creates so many lines that can be distracting to the eye.
Here’s the powder bath. We’re still possibly tweaking this design after you guys were gung-ho about us swapping out the pendants, floating vanity and oval mirror from the other option from the I Design, You Decide, but the tile itself won out. Just like in the master bath above, the vertical stack just feels cleaner and sleeker.
And in the upstairs guest bath, yup, you guessed it…cleaner and sleeker. Because the tile was super skinny (it’s one inch wide), Julie thought to take it and double stack it (and stagger it) and we LOVE IT. You guys seemed pretty pumped about it, too, when we revealed this design plan on the blog a few days ago.
With this tile, the staggered brick would be A LOT of look, and keeps it all more traditional. The vanity is already pretty transitional, so the directional change we went with keeps everything more in that “modern mountain” space we’re going for.
There are a ton of different installations you can do with subway tiles (more than just vertical stacked, horizontal stacked, crosshatch), so we put together this quick cheat sheet of some terminology/ideas in case you’re struggling with thinking outside the box for a project you’ve got going on. Which is your favorite?
Now that you know all about crosshatch, diagonal herringbone, off-set running bonds and double stacked vertical staggers…it’s time for some tile. We rounded up some of our favorites from the brands we’ve been pulling regularly for the mountain house and the Portland project, as well as some more budget versions from a big box store like Floor & Decor that is more accessible.
1. RC1 Crackle | 2. Architect’s Palette Blueprint | 3. Bright White Ice Beveled Ceramic Wall Tile | 4. Pyrite | 5. Dolomite Bianca Mosaic | 6. Rice Paper | 7. Arcilla Trim Bullnose in Azul | 8. Vintage Rose Subway | 9. Salluto Field Tile in Nero | 10. Solid Rectangle in Stone | 11. Rack Mosaic in Linen | 12. Ocean Honed Marble Tile | 13. Gypsum | 14. Finesse Bright White Ceramic Wall Tile | 15. Solid Rectangle in Federal Blue | 16. Tusk | 17. Weathered White Subway | 18. S14 Satin | 19. Solid Rectangle in Black | 20. Bright White Ice Ceramic Bullnose | 21. Architects Palette Blotter