Stylish Ways To Modernize A Shower Using Subway Tile

Have you ever wondered why subway tiles have that name? The term makes reference to the tiled walls of New York subway stations from the early 20th century.

subway tile shower

The style became so popular because it was considered attractive and easy to keep clean.

It remains a universally beloved style today. Subway tiles are widely used in bathrooms and kitchens, appreciated for their simple and classic elegance and also for their versatility.

In this article, we will consider the different ways that a subway tile shower can look beautiful and stylish using traditional subway tile. These tiles are used in unique layouts such as herringbone and stacked vertically, larger-sized subways tiles, and different colored subway tiles.

Traditional Subway Tiles that Complement any Design Style

Traditional subway tiles are beautiful in their simplicity. They complement many design styles.

Traditional Subway Tile

Subway tile shower designs are incredibly versatile and easy to adapt to a variety of styles. This eclectic bathroom combines elements of modern, industrial and traditional design.

Full bath with subway tiles and back frames

Traditionally laid white subway tiles have a beautiful and timeless look that goes with a variety of styles.

In this bathroom, subway tiles don’t only cover the walls of the shower enclosure but of the entire bathroom, establishing an elegant contrast with the stained wood ceiling.

In addition to the classic subway tile pattern, this shower also stands out thanks to other design elements such as the brushed brass plumbing appliances that bring more warmth to the room.

The combination of patterns, finishes and colors is very effective in contrast to the simplicity of the subway tile. 

Subway Tile with Hexagon Tile Floor

Consider combining the traditional subway tile wall of your shower with a different style tile pattern on the floor.

White subway tiles for shower - Cumberland St Townhouse by Ensemble Architecture

If you are using subway tiles on the shower walls, consider a different style for the flooring because it creates an interesting look to pair subway tile shower walls with an eye-catching and more graphical floor tile pattern as a way to make the enclosure stand out in the context of the bathroom.

This bathroom features a slate gray hexagonal tile floor as a contrast to the subway tile.

This unique floor set against the traditional style pedestal sink gives the bathroom a classical look with some modern flair.

It’s also nice that the shower fits in the corner of the bathroom and has a transparent glass enclosure which maintains an open feel throughout the room.

Subway Tile Shower with Historic Style

This shower from This Old House, tiled completely in subway tile, has a historic feel due to the mosaic floor using hexagonal black and white tiles.

Subway Tile Shower with Historic Style

Here is another example of a traditionally tiled shower using subway tile with a uniquely tiled floor.

Because of the classical pattern of the floor, this type of bathroom would fit perfectly within a historic house that has been updated to fit modern tastes.

Subway Tile Shower in Japandi Bathroom

This classic subway tile wall is featured in this bathroom with clean rustic style

Modern bathroom with subway tiles and walk in shower

As you can see, there are many different possible combinations and variations when it comes to subway tile shower designs. This bathroom combines the rustic simplicity of Japanese design and the functionality of Scandinavian style.

Japandi style combines natural materials, colors, and finishes in a very pleasant and welcoming manner.

We particularly like the grey concrete surface of the shower floor and the way in which it interacts with the warm wood elements.

The simple style of the subway tile wall allows the other elements in the bathroom to stand out.

Contemporary Minimalist Subway Tile Shower

The subway tile in this shower fits perfectly with the minimalist theme of the bathroom.

Contemporary Minimalist Subway Tile Shower
Credit: Robertsiegelarchitects

The style featured here is better-suited for a modern and contemporary style which is often defined by minimalism in both form and color.

The subway tile in this shower enclosure complements the other elements of the shower including the floating floor over pebbles and the chrome fixtures.

Many neutral tones have been used throughout to keep the space calm and uncomplicated.

Beveled Subway Tile

The beveled edge of these subway tiles is a slightly more modern look than traditional subway tiles which have no texture.

Beveled Subway Tile

There are also subtle design differences between different types of subway tiles which you have to take into consideration.

They may all look similar but they are not identical and these differences create different looks.

The subway tiles on the wall of this bathroom have beveled edges that highlight the pattern in an interesting way.

Herringbone Subway Tile

Double Herringbone Subway Tile Shower

This shower designed by Clearcut Construction, Inc. features subway tiles in a double herringbone pattern meaning that each direction uses a set of tiles rather than single tiles to achieve the look. 

Double Herringbone Subway Tile Shower

This shower features a herringbone design with a twist. The normal herringbone pattern is set at an angle and each tile is offset.

This design doubles each tile in the herringbone pattern. 

white bathroom with chevron subway tiles and brass hardware

When decorating with white subway tiles, there is always a risk of making the space look cold and austere so it is important to introduce a warm color or a material or a texture able to balance out the ambiance.

white bathroom with black cabinets wooden beams

This bathroom does this by adding a warm-colored wooden beam as well as the greige flooring. The small details of the wooden shower brush and the plant also help to warm up the space.

Herringbone Subway Tile Shower

Single herringbone-patterned subway tile from Straight Line Design.

subway tile shower

This is a lovely example of a single tile herringbone design. This bathroom uses grey floors, dark wood, and brass finish to contrast with the tile creating a traditional yet thoroughly modern bathroom.

This bathroom shows how subway tile with a herringbone design can work very well even in a small space.

Vertically Stacked Subway Tiles

Vertical Subway Tile Pattern

This shower of vertically stacked subway tiles comes from Dixon Projects. This is a thoroughly modern look because of the tile placement and the use of dark grout.

Vertical Subway Tile Pattern

One very modern way to use subway tiles is to stack them vertically rather than horizontally. This modern look is heightened by stacking the subway tiles directly on top of one another rather than offsetting them for a more traditional look.

Glass enclosed shower with vertically stacked subway tile

This puts an emphasis on the height of the space plus the vertical lines of the tile pattern align with the window frame creating a continuity of shape and line.

Large Subway Tile

Large subway tile is useful when you want a classic style with a twist.

Large Subway Tiles in a Small Space

This shower/tub combo uses large white subway tiles to create the look of space and light. 

subway tile shower
Lundin Fastighetsbyrå

Laying subway tiles can be tricky compared to other types of tile because they are small leaving more room for error. One solution is to use larger subway tiles.

These tiles have the same simple and uncomplicated look, but they have the advantage in that they are easier to install.

The bathroom in this example uses large subway tiles to perfection. This is a small bathroom, so small tiles with the many grout lines would make the space look too busy.

Instead the designer opted for the larger tiles to visually expand the space. The pops of color and plants add extra texture to warm up the space.

Colored Subway Tile

Originally, the tiles used on the walls of the New York subway stations were white with a glossy glazed finish and thin grout lines. While the pattern and the overall style were preserved as such, there is now a wide variety of color choices.

Green Subway Tile Shower

This bathroom from A Subtle Revelry uses sage green subway tile to bring a modern look to a traditional shape.

Green Subway Tile Shower

This shower, for instance, features sage green subway tiles which contrast with the dark frame and gold plumbing fixtures. You can even add an extra layer of vibrancy to your shower with a sprig of live greenery.

This tile color would work well in a historic or more modern home with rustic vibes.

Blue Herringbone Subway Tile

Consider how this elongated blue subway tile is used in this bathroom from Spotswood House. The blue subway tiles in a herringbone design on the back wall of the shower add high visual contrast to the rest of the bathroom.

Blue Herringbone Subway Tile

One idea when using colored subway tile when you think it might be too much in the whole bathroom is to visually differentiate the shower from the rest of the bathroom space.

You can use a vibrant colored tile like this dark aqua blue and contrast it with plain walls painted in a lighter color. You can also add interest to a bathroom decor through little things like the vanity hardware, the wall mirror or the lighting fixtures like this designer did with the gold fixtures.

Black Subway Tile in Transitional Bathroom

This example of black subway tile used in a shower comes from Better Homes and Gardens. Because of the variety of textural and architectural elements in the bathroom, this would work well in many styles of homes.

Black Subway Tile in Transitional Bathroom

Black tile definitely has a modern connotation, but in this context, you can see that it doesn’t always have to be that way.

With the natural textural elements such as the baskets and the flowers combined with the colorful kilim rug, it makes the bathroom more transitional in style.

Marble Subway Tile

Marble tiles add a luxe feel to your home. This bathroom from Carla Aston shows how marble tile can be modern and traditionally beautiful at the same time. 

Marble subway shower tiles
subway tile shower

Marble has been having a resurgence in popularity, but it has always been a popular bathroom element.

You can see it in bathrooms from the 19th century all the way up to the present time because it is timeless and always beautiful.

Subway Tile Showers Complement Any Style

Walk in shower with subway tiles and storage niche

White subway tile shower with glass door enclosure and slate gray tile floor.

I hope that you have seen some possibilities that inspire you to utilize subway tile in your own home. Subway tile can be used in casual or more formal settings depending on the contrasting elements you use for your other bathroom features and colors. It can also work with any style from traditional to modern.

This tile has a long history and will always be used because of its simplicity, beauty, and adaptability. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Are subway tiles still in style?

This style of tile has been known and loved for over one hundred years because of its simplicity and ease of use. This very quality is what makes it a long-lasting style which will continue for many years to come.

If you feel like white subway tile is too overused at the moment but you still like the shape and style, consider laying the tile in a new way like the herringbone or using a different color tile like green or blue. 

How much does it cost to tile a shower using subway tile?

This anwer definitely depends on the size shower and the complexity of the area, for example, is there a bench in your shower or a niche for shampoo and soap that will need to be tiled.

You need to consider the cost of the tile and the grout and the cost of installation if you are not going to tackle this project yourself. According to Home Advisor, the average cost for this kind of tile is between $7-$13 per square foot with grout and sealant adding around $1.50 per square foot. Installation ranges from $40-$150 per square foot. 

How do you clean a tiled shower?

Using gravity as your friend, begin at the top and work your way down by spraying your tile cleaner of choice at the top and go toward the bottom. Allow the tile cleaner to sit on the tiles for at least 5 minutes to give it time to work. After this, you can begin scrubbing.

Depending on the porousness of your tile and grout, you may want to use a softer brush to clean with. There are also options for DIY/green cleaning materials if you prefer that. 

Can you tile over tile in a shower?

Yes, in fact you can tile over tile, even in a shower. However, you want to make sure of a few things first. You want to make sure that your surface (the first layer of tile) is clean, dry, and mold free. You also want to make sure that it is completely flat to avoid any issues installing your new tile. 

What kind of adhesive should you use on shower tiles?

The adhesive you use to attach your tile is very important for the longevity of your shower. The most popular two options for adhesive are thinset mortar and epoxy mortar.

Thinset mortar is often used by many DIYers because it is inexpensive and takes a relatively long time to cure making it easier to work with. This type of mortar should not be used on large and heavy tiles as it cannot handle the weight over the long term.

Professional tilers use epoxy mortar because it is more durable but it dries more quickly making it difficult for an amateur to work with. 

Can you use peel and stick tile in a shower?

It is not a good option to use peel and stick tile in the shower because of the water and humidity. No matter how durable they say they are, they will not hold up in the shower. 

What size subway tile for shower?

Classic subway tile 3 inches by 6 inches but as this article has made clear, there are larger options available as well as ultra slim. The size you choose depends on the look you want.

If you want a more classic look, choose the standard size white subway tiles. If you want a more modern look, the larger or the slimmer would be a better choice. 

How do you choose grout color for a subway tile shower?

Beyond which color and size subway tile you use, the grout you choose is the next most important factor in achieving the look you want.

You can either choose the same grout with a similar tile to minimize contrast or choose a grout and a tile that are completely opposite to maximize contrast.

Between these two extreme options are infinite possibilities.

A few things to keep in mind while choosing is that even if white grout seems like a classic choice, this option definitely shows the most coloring because of age and mold.

If you like light colors it might be better to choose a light greige or gray rather than white to minimize this.  

What size spacers should you use for subway tile?

The amount of spacing you have between tiles depends on the construction of the subway tiles and the look you want.

A thin grout line creates a more subtle look while a thicker grout line draws more attention to the lines in between the tiles. 1/16” spacers are frequently used with standard size subway tiles, but if you want a larger groutline, 1/8” spacers are common too. 

How should I tile a shower using subway tile?

Tiling a shower using subway tile is not very different from tiling a shower with any other traditionally shaped tile. First, decide what color and style you want for your subway tile and grout.

Then, calculate how much of your shower/bathroom you need to tile and then gather the correct amount of materials. Lastly, find a guide to help you through the actual tiling process.

Be kind to yourself through the process, and if it becomes too much for you, call in a professional to help you finish your bathroom project.