Charley Harper Subway Tiles | Design Stories

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Charley Harper Subway Tiles 

Design Stories Series: Featured projects from Motawi’s design department


Charley Harper for Installation (Cream)

Charley Harper for Installation, our 3x6 subway art tile line.

Charley Harper for Installation, our line of 3x6 subway tiles featuring the whimsical wildlife artistry of Charley Harper, is a popular choice for clients’ home tile projects. Here’s a closer look at how this collection came to be, courtesy of our design department:

Motawi began working with the Charley Harper Art Studio in 2012 to adapt the vibrant, midcentury-style designs of this Cincinnati artist (1922–2007) for ceramic tile. Harper’s bold colors and lighthearted scenes quickly captured the hearts of our customers and designers.

4x4 Male Cardinal 6x6 October4x8 Blue Jay
 A few of our earliest Charley Harper art tiles — still some of our most popular!

The Challenge

As our new Charley Harper art tiles were introduced to customers, design clients started requesting them for their home projects. At the time, the only way to accomplish this was with collage-style layouts that could accommodate the various tile sizes. However, increased demand got our designers thinking about what a line of Charley Harper tiles intended specifically for projects/installations might look like.

Charley Harper Collage

A collage-style design with Charley Harper art tiles

The brainstorm led to an idea that had everyone smiling: Charley’s critters, peeping, popping and peering atop traditional subway tiles, lending a little magic to this utilitarian style.

“Subway tiles are timeless; we see them everywhere from Victorian bathrooms to contemporary kitchens,” said Senior Project Designer Morrin McGunagle. “Charley Harper’s imagery adds a playful touch to the classic subway design.”

The Design Process

Motawi designers pored over Harper’s artwork and created a paper mockup of a subway tile backsplash. Some of their first drafts, like the Cardinal Couple, were instant favorites that stayed virtually unchanged. Others went through a few iterations: Our 3x6 Owlet, for example, evolved from a trio of baby birds into a single, solitary snoop peeking from one side.

Charley Harper for Installation Mock-Up 

A paper mockup of Charley Harper’s designs on 3x6 subway tile shapes.

Charley Harper Cardinal Couple Charley Harper Owlet

Original drawings of the Cardinal Couple and Owlet for 3x6 subway tiles.

The Final Product

After much testing and prototyping, we hatched our new collection! Charley Harper for Installation boasts 10 different animal designs and four colorways to choose from: Cream, Ice Blue, Storm Blue and Light Sand. We were honored when Interior Design magazine recognized the line as a finalist their Best of Year Awards in 2019.

Charley Harper for Installation (Cream)Charley Harper for Installation: 3x6 subway tiles in Cream

Charley Harper for Installation (Ice Blue)

Charley Harper for Installation: 3x6 subway tiles in Ice Blue

Charley Harper for Installation (Storm Blue)

Charley Harper for Installation: 3x6 subway tiles in Storm Blue

Charley Harper for Installation (Light Sand)

Charley Harper for Installation: 3x6 subway tiles in Light Sand

Charley Harper for Installation (Cream Cardinals)

The 3x6 subway tile dimensions revealed new design possibilities. Check out these Charley Harper Cardinals flying in a new formation!

“Charley Harper tiles can brighten up any space,” said Morrin. “Designing with them is fun because we can be clever with the placement of the different animals. We might suggest a Chipmunk to peek out from under your window, for example.”

The biggest thrill, as always, comes from observing these tiles in their natural habitats: clients’ homes! The look is classic, current and fun, just as we hoped.

Charley Harper Subway Tile Backsplash

Calling all midcentury fans! We love the spunky yet sleek look of this kitchen backsplash. (Pictured: Cream colorway)

Bring the outdoors in! Charley Harper subway tiles complement this home’s natural setting. We think these are perfect for cottages and lake houses. (Pictured: Cream colorway)

Charley Harper subway tiles look lovely in transitional and Craftsman homes, too! (Pictured: Ice Blue and Light Sand colorways)


More Information

Motawi tiles for home projects/installations like these are made-to-order. Interested? Contact our friendly design department: or 734-213-0017. Whether you are ready to order tile for your project, looking for a designer or wondering where to begin, our designers are happy to help!

See our full line of Charley Harper for Installation tiles here.

See all Charley Harper tiles, including solo art tiles for individual display, here.

Motawi catalogs are available to download here.

Browse our portfolio of design project photos here.

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