Subway Tiles – The Fascinating Story Of Their Versatility

The subway tile trend is strong and popular, especially in kitchens and bathrooms. Its history dates back to the early 1900s when the New York subway system was unveiled. It featured these beautiful walls covered in white 3”x6” tiles and it didn’t take long for interior designers to adopt the look when remodeling homes. Kitchen subway tiles are very popular and appreciated for how low-maintenance and easy to clean they are but also for their classic yet still quirky look and the thin grout lines, all of which are qualities that also make a subway tile bathroom look exquisite.

Installation is fairly easy and you could probably do it yourself. If you don’t know how to lay subway tiles, we can help with a few tips and ideas. There’s a bunch of patterns to choose from and a lot of designs you can create. You can mix and match different colors, pick a theme for your design or keep thing simple and go with a monochromatic and classical look. Either way, your new kitchen tile backsplash or wall should be ready to make a style statement in no time.

White subway tiles

Use as inspiration the elegant white subway tiles that actually stand at the base of this whole trend: the New York subway platforms. Sure, their look has changed over time but that initial impact is something that you can recreate in your home by keeping the decor simple and monochromatic.

White tiles, whatever their dimensions and shape are, look classical and are always versatileView in gallery
White tiles, whatever their dimensions and shape are, look classical and are always versatile
Pair a white subway tile backsplash with cabinetry in a light color to make a kitchen look more spaciousView in gallery
Pair a white subway tile backsplash with cabinetry in a light color to make a kitchen look more spacious
The countertop can be in a dark color such as black for a strong visual contrastView in gallery
The countertop can be in a dark color such as black for a strong visual contrast
White subway tiles can also provide a clean and elegant look in the bathroomView in gallery
White subway tiles can also provide a clean and elegant look in the bathroom

Beveled subway tiles

Beveled subway tiles, like the name suggests, have beveled edges and this gives the impression of a three-dimensional design. The tiles are appreciated for the play of light and shadow that they create but also for the fact that they add texture to the decor and that they stand out more than others. If you like the look, keep in mind that these tiles are a bit more difficult to clean that the regular kind and that can be an inconvenience in the kitchen.

Even if they're white, beveled subway tiles still stand out and add dimension to the decorView in gallery
Even if they’re white, beveled subway tiles still stand out and add dimension to the decor
It's easier to see the unique features of beveled tiles when accent lighting puts an emphasis on themView in gallery
It’s easier to see the unique features of beveled tiles when accent lighting puts an emphasis on them
Beveled subway tiles are a quirky alternative to the classical type, one which doesn't stray far from the originalView in gallery
Beveled subway tiles are a quirky alternative to the classical type, one which doesn’t stray far from the original

View in gallery

In bathrooms, beveled tiles maintain a simple look without being monotonousView in gallery
In bathrooms, beveled tiles maintain a simple look without being monotonous

Glass subway tiles

These tiles are obviously made of glass and that gives them a beautiful shine but also makes them heat and water resistant which makes them ideal for kitchen backsplashes, the area behind the sink and even the bathroom. There’s also another advantage: glass subway tiles come in every color imaginable, both solid and translucent

Glass tiles have a nice shine and look luminous no matter what color you decide to go with View in gallery
Glass tiles have a nice shine and look luminous no matter what color you decide to go with
Complement a glass tile backsplash with an LED light strip for a beautiful and eye-catching effectView in gallery
Complement a glass tile backsplash with an LED light strip for a beautiful and eye-catching effect
Glass subway tiles, even the classical white ones, look refined and sophisticatedView in gallery
Glass subway tiles, even the classical white ones, look refined and sophisticated
Take advantage of the shiny glass finish of the tiles to make the kitchen look brightView in gallery
Take advantage of the shiny glass finish of the tiles to make the kitchen look bright
Although glass can make a bathroom look cold and impersonal, it can also highlight some of its beautiful featuresView in gallery
Although glass can make a bathroom look cold and impersonal, it can also highlight some of its beautiful features

Marble subway tiles

Working with marble and exploiting its unique beauty and elegance is not easy. Still, it’s all worth the effort when the final picture starts to form. Even small tiles like those used in subway patterns can showcase this material’s beautiful veins and lines . Marble subway tiles come in various different finishes and color tones and their price varies according to the region of provenance and type.

It's important to properly seal the backsplash tiles in order to ensure their durability and long-lasting beautyView in gallery
It’s important to properly seal the backsplash tiles in order to ensure their durability and long-lasting beauty
Marble tiles don't come in very bold colors or solid tones and their delicate patterns are what makes them specialView in gallery
Marble tiles don’t come in very bold colors or solid tones and their delicate patterns are what makes them special
You can pair these tiles with other marble elements such as countertops or even floor tilesView in gallery
You can pair these tiles with other marble elements such as countertops or even floor tiles
In the bathroom, marble subway tiles add an unexpected touch of sophistication and luxuryView in gallery
In the bathroom, marble subway tiles add an unexpected touch of sophistication and luxury

Black subway tiles

Black may not be a very popular color when it comes to tiles or any kind. Nevertheless, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can take advantage of that and create a kitchen design that stands out and plays with contrasts in unusual and interesting ways. In addition, black is a very practical color that hides stains well and that makes it great for kitchen backsplashes.

Usually, black subway tiles are paired with white grout in order to create a visual contrast View in gallery
Usually, black subway tiles are paired with white grout in order to create a visual contrast
it can be interesting to mix and match various shades of black or to choose a material or finish that highlights the color's beautyView in gallery
it can be interesting to mix and match various shades of black or to choose a material or finish that highlights the color’s beauty
Complement a black subway tile backsplash with black appliances, countertops or furniture accentsView in gallery
Complement a black subway tile backsplash with black appliances, countertops or furniture accents

Gray subway tiles

Gray is a neutral color, the marriage between black and white, two timeless colors, so very different from one another. Some consider this color dull and boring without considering how elegant and stylish it can look in the right setting. We love the look of gray subway tiles paired with white grout. They make spaces feel unexpectedly warm and welcoming.

Gray bathroom tiles are an interesting and practical choice which pairs well with small and vibrant color accentsView in gallery
Gray bathroom tiles are an interesting and practical choice which pairs well with small and vibrant color accents
Consider gray subway tiles in the shower to maintain an open and airy look without relying on whiteView in gallery
Consider gray subway tiles in the shower to maintain an open and airy look without relying on white
In the kitchen, gray subway tile backsplashes go well with stainless steel appliancesView in gallery
In the kitchen, gray subway tile backsplashes go well with stainless steel appliances

Blue subway tiles

Blue is the color of the sky and is often also associated with water, peace and tranquility. It’s a color that can be both vibrant and soothing and with many different variations that can really make a space stand out. Blue is only a mainstream and boring color if you let it be. There are many ways to avoid that when decorating and one of them has to do with subway tiles which can make any color look beautiful and sophisticated.

These blue subway tiles extend the kitchen backsplash all the way up to the ceiling and establish a beautiful focal pointView in gallery
These blue subway tiles extend the kitchen backsplash all the way up to the ceiling and establish a beautiful focal point
Blue and white look great together but they often need a warm color to balance them outView in gallery
Blue and white look great together but they often need a warm color to balance them out
Darker shades of blue have a deep and mesmerizing look and they pair wonderfully with woodView in gallery
Darker shades of blue have a deep and mesmerizing look and they pair wonderfully with wood

Yellow subway tiles

Yellow is a bright and cheerful color and a perfect choice for spaces like the kitchen. There aren’t that many ways in which you can introduce a color into the kitchen but those that are available can be exploited in a lot of creative and beautiful ways. For instance, a yellow backsplash can look amazing and to make it even more stunning you can use subway tiles.

You can use white as the main color and the yellow backsplash can match a few smaller accessories in the roomView in gallery
You can use white as the main color and the yellow backsplash can match a few smaller accessories in the room
If you don't want the yellow backsplash to be the focal point of the space, make it blend in View in gallery
If you don’t want the yellow backsplash to be the focal point of the space, make it blend in
A beautiful shade of yellow isn't your only way of making a backsplash look amazing. You can also rely on patternsView in gallery
A beautiful shade of yellow isn’t your only way of making a backsplash look amazing. You can also rely on patterns

Pattern options: herringbone tiles

There are several patterns to choose from when installing subway tiles and this is one of them. The herringbone pattern is commonly used when installing wooden flooring but can look just as beautiful on walls. It’s a good option when working with pain white tiles, a way to avoid creating a monotonous decor and of allowing the subway tiles to stand out in a subtle and efficient way.

Herringbone tile backsplashes don't need bold colors or prints to stand out and look beautifulView in gallery
Herringbone tile backsplashes don’t need bold colors or prints to stand out and look beautiful
View in gallery
This is a pattern that looks nice in traditional and mid-century modern interiors
You can also use the herringbone tile pattern in the bathroom to add an unexpected twist to the designView in gallery
You can also use the herringbone tile pattern in the bathroom to add an unexpected twist to the design

Offset tiles

This could very well be the most commonly used and most popular pattern of all when it comes to subway tiles. It’s easy to work with, easy to install, easy to clean and simply practical and efficient in general. It looks good in a lot of different settings and in combination with just about any color or type of space.

Offset subway tiles maintain a clean and simple look but are not as minimalist as straight-line tilesView in gallery
Offset subway tiles maintain a clean and simple look but are not as minimalist as straight-line tiles

The diagonal offset pattern

This is more or less the same thing as the offset tile pattern but with a twist. It’s an interesting variation of the design, a sort of hybrid between the offset and herringbone patterns. Installation is a bit more tricky although not overly difficult. It’s a style that proves you can be creative and completely change the look of a tiled wall without actually modifying its structure and without relying on color or material to take the spotlight.

The pattern of the tiles in interesting enough to not require the use of busy color combinations of printsView in gallery
The pattern of the tiles in interesting enough to not require the use of busy color combinations of prints

Straight set tiles

This is a very simple and straight-forward pattern. It has clean lines and it actually puts an emphasis on the space between the subway tiles and the grout rather than on the tiles themselves. You can take advantage of that and create all sorts of interesting combinations of colors and play with the contrasts between them or you can use the minimalism and freshness of white on white to create a sleek and contemporary design.

This pattern is simply perfect for modern and contemporary kitchens and bathrooms View in gallery
This pattern is perfect for modern and contemporary kitchens and bathrooms
The straight lines highlight the proportions of the walls and frame the room in a unique wayView in gallery
The straight lines highlight the proportions of the walls and frame the room in a unique way

Vertical tiles

There’s not much to this really…it’s the offset tile pattern with one exception: the tiles are arranged vertically instead of horizontally. This strategy can be useful if you want to make a small room seem larger by giving the impression of a higher ceiling or if you want to simply stay away from the mainstream horizontal subway tiles and try something a bit more interesting yet equally simple.

You should emphasize the vertical lines with a contrasting combination of colorsView in gallery
You should emphasize the vertical lines with contrasting colors