Types of Subway tiles [And How to Lay them]

subway tiles


glass subway tiles

Large blue glass subway tile used as a backsplash in a kitchen

​When you think of a bathroom tile or a kitchen counter backsplash, you probably think either of simple square tiles or those rectangular, brick-shaped tiles. The latter type is called a subway tile and gets its name from the fact that it first appeared in the New York subway stations.

​We might not often think of public transportation as inspiration for interior design and décor, but the public loved the neat, attractive look of these tiles, and they’ve been popular additions to bathrooms and kitchens ever since.

Any hardware or home improvement store will probably offer the subway tile in a variety of materials, from ceramic to glass to porcelain to wood-inspired or even granite or marbled designs.

​The variety of colors and hues makes it a popular choice for designers looking for something a bit more structurally bold than classic square tiles. They have the same sleek essence of square tiles, together with the option to contrast or blend with the surrounding grout, but there’s something special about subway tiles.

Due to its rectangular design, typically about 3 by 6 inches, the subway tile can be laid in a variety of ways.

High-end designers and fashion-forward homeowners alike have been experimenting with different designs that these neat little rectangles can make up. Here are some of our favorite subway tile patterns:


classic orthogonal

​Image credit: The Subway Tile Outlet

A classic, side-by-side pattern of subway tiles can never go wrong! Using a neutral color palette is a great way to open up the room and do the job of creating a neat backsplash without too much crowding or worrying about clash.

​If you want a bit more excitement than classic square tiles, subway tiles will let you have the same simple effect while maintaining those pleasing perpendicular junctions. But if you crave something a bit more modern and geometric, there are plenty of nontraditional ways to lay down subway tiles.


herringbone pattern

Image credit: Amazing Tile

Subtly shifting each tile to make a slight angle creates a beautiful herringbone pattern as each tile fits against each other. It still maintains the idea of that neat orthogonal design, with a fun criss-crossing pattern to make things a little more exciting.

​Since the herringbone style can look a bit busy or crowded, we wouldn’t suggest it for a whole bathroom wall — they say that less is more, and we think this pattern would make a perfect countertop backsplash!



Vertical Pattern

​Image credit: Apaldenda

You’d be surprised how this fun arrangement can create kind of a topsy-turvy feeling! We’re so used to seeing things in landscape style, with long, horizontal expanses taking precedence over taller structures.

​Swim against the current with a fun, vertical layout if you’re looking for a change! Keeping the color pattern neutral will help neutralize the dizzying effect you might get by looking at them.




Bold Sizes

Image credit: Luxury Flats in London

Humanity is fascinated with replication and reproduction, so it’s probably no surprise that plenty of variations of the classic 3 by 6 subway tiles have emerged over the years.

​These large and in charge tiles are a bit taller than typical subway tiles, but as you can imagine, they’re typically available in versions that are proportionally a bit larger as well as longer horizontally. Big, bold tiles look especially beautiful when surrounding by a contrasting shade of grout, and tend to look most satisfying in a non-neutral color with a smooth, glossy finish.


Narrow Sizes

Image credit: John Bridge

Long, skinny subway tiles can be overlaid in ways that create interesting effects, such as slightly off-centered as pictured above, or even in a herringbone arrangement if you want a really strong look!

​These make great floor tiles or shower tiles, and as above with the bold-sized tiles, can be really complemented by a contrasting grout, but of course, you can feel free to mix and match any size, shape, and color pattern combination that you feel best suits the space.



Subtle, Shifting Hues

​Image credit: Houzz

If stark, bold contrasts aren’t your style, consider a gradient effect that offers slight, subtle variation in the color scheme of your walls. Playing with monochromatic shades is a great way to keep the effect understated enough so it doesn’t take over the entire room and throw off the rest of your design, but gives the backspace, floor, or wall spaces just enough dimension to keep things interesting.

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