Subway tile became an instant classic when it was introduced in NYC subway stations in the early 1900s. A century later, these simple, cheap, durable, easy-to-clean tiles are a go-to option for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and mud rooms that work in a variety of interior design styles, from industrial lofts to contemporary or period homes.
What Is Subway Tile?
Subway tile refers to simple 3x6-inch white ceramic tiles that are arranged in an offset running-bond pattern.
While the original tiles are still as popular today, subway tiles now come in a variety of sizes that mimic the original rectangular proportions, such as 1x2 or 4x8. Today's tile manufacturers offer old school subway tiles in a range of colors and materials such as glass or stone, and finishes that range from matte to glazed to high gloss.
And today's designers and DIY home renovators don't hesitate to tweak the classic look to suit their taste and whims, trading the standard staggered running bond pattern for neat contemporary vertical or horizontal stacks, or a herringbone pattern that introduces a bit of old world flair. By playing with the color of the grout, you can personalize the look further, using white tiles with high contrast black grout for an industrial feel; colored grout to create less contrast with colored tiles; or white on white to create a seamless look.
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Dark Gray Herringbone
In this spacious bathroom designed by South Bay Area, CA-based Cathie Hong Interiors, dark gray subway tile laid in a classic herringbone pattern on both the back wall and floor of this spacious bathroom adds depth and a seamless finish to the wall. The rest of the room is kept light and bright with white paint. Matte black plumbing fixtures and industrial-style sconces add polish, and a wood sink vanity adds a touch of warmth to the cool color scheme.Continue to 2 of 16 below.
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In this spacious kitchen remodel from South Bay Area, CA-based Cathie Hong Interiors, a matte navy subway tile backsplash adds a fresh, modern note of low key color and interest to an otherwise all-white space. Hanging pendant bulb lights and warm floating wood shelves add warmth. It's a fun twist on the trendy navy blue kitchen cabinets that have become a modern classic in recent years.Continue to 3 of 16 below.
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Glossy White Vertical
Maegan Blau at Blue Copper Design chose a glossy textured glazed white subway tile backsplash for this fresh, contemporary kitchen design. Laying the tiles in a vertical pattern creates a modern spin on the classic look and draws the eye upward. The tiles add subtle textural interest while blending seamlessly with the white painted wall and thick white floating shelves above, and still leave room for the blue-and-white ceramic tile finish on the eat-in peninsula to shine.Continue to 4 of 16 below.
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In this kitchen design by Ottawa-based designers Sacha and Melissa Leclair of LeClair Decor, a stylish built-in bar nook is lined with shiny black subway tiles in a classic offset running bond pattern that reaches all the way up to the ceiling. The black subway tiles mimic the white subway tiles used elsewhere in the kitchen, to add contrast while keeping the overall design cohesive. The dark color creates depth and interest and creates a room-within-a-room feeling that works especially well given the soaring ceiling heights of the kitchen.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Black and White Stripes
In this fun graphic guest bathroom from K Shan Design, subway tiles laid out in stripes of black and white create a dramatic statement without breaking the budget. A white shower curtain with large black dots amps up the punchy geometric style.Continue to 6 of 16 below.
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Ottawa-based designers Sacha and Melissa Leclair of LeClair Decor chose a textured white subway tile backsplash in their stylish, family-friendly remodel of this suburban kitchen. The glossy textured tile adds interest while remaining clean and classic, setting off floating wood shelves and shaker cabinets in warm gray tones. A vintage runner on the floor makes the kitchen look as polished as every other room in the house.Continue to 7 of 16 below.
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In this handsome kitchen design from Ottawa-based designers Sacha and Melissa Leclair of LeClair Decor, a backsplash made from bronze mirrored subway tiles adds an unexpected display of metallic flair and contrasts with the moody and masculine color scheme that includes cabinets in a mix of wood and black paint finishes, dark stone and medium-toned wood floors.Continue to 8 of 16 below.
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Dove Gray Glass
In this pretty bathroom design by Ottawa-based Sacha and Melissa Leclair of LeClair Decor, dove grass painted glass subway tiles create a subtle backsplash for the double sink vanity, adding subtle variation to the pale neutral color scheme. Silver toned plumbing fixtures, frameless mirrors and dark accents on the door pulls, picture frames and lighting add a light graphic note of contrast.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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Paired With Original Brick
At Hasbrouck House, an 18th-century Dutch Colonial stone mansion in Stone Ridge, NY, classic white subway tiles were used to finish one of the bathrooms. adding a clean, crisp look that coexists beautifully with the atmospheric original brickwork and gives the room an updated feel. White penny tiles on the floor and a pedestal sink with traditional silver plumbing fixtures and a floating glass shelf and vintage lighting complete the timeless look.Continue to 10 of 16 below.
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In another bathroom at Hasbrouck House, an 18th-century Dutch Colonial stone mansion in Stone Ridge, NY, classic white subway tiles are used throughout, including on the small staircase entryway, creating a cohesive look that is also easy to clean and maintain. Black bullnose capping adds a classic finish and a black hand railing fits seamlessly into the design.Continue to 11 of 16 below.
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For this cool neutral kitchen space, Orange County, CA-based Mindy Gayer Design Co. chose rich gray subway tiles in a classic offset running bond pattern to add interest while working seamlessly with the white cabinetry and glass and chrome accents.Continue to 12 of 16 below.
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In this transitional bungalow kitchen designed by Ottawa-based designers Sacha and Melissa Leclair of LeClair Decor, white subway tiles laid out in a herringbone pattern add a classic, timeless look that works like a charm with warm white oak flooring, white shaker kitchen cabinetry and a mix of neutral finishes and textures.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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In this kitchen backsplash by Hannah Tyler Designs, white subway tiles are used in a vertical offset pattern to draw the eye upward and create a clean, minimalist backdrop for a matte black exhaust hood and simple white floating shelves.Continue to 14 of 16 below.
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Orange County, CA-based Mindy Gayer Design Co. used classic white subway tiles in an offset running bond pattern in this modern farmhouse kitchen redesign in Napa. The all-white color scheme is punctuated with pops of black, from the hardware on the shaker cabinetry to the black grout around the subway tiles. A marble countertop in pale gray completes the timeless, on-trend look.Continue to 15 of 16 below.
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Black Grout Bathroom
In the same home redesign in Napa, Orange County, CA-based Mindy Gayer Design Co. used the white subway tile with black grout combination that she used in the kitchen for a floor-to-ceiling surround for the classic black-and-white clawfoot tub and shower combo. Choosing the same tile for kitchens and bathrooms is economical and keeps the overall look of the home cohesive. By choosing a versatile and unassuming classic like subway tile, you also leave yourself the option to easily mix in other patterns to personalize each space. Here, pretty ceramic pattern floor tiles add interest to the black-and-white color scheme.Continue to 16 of 16 below.
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Beige Subway Tiles
In this kitchen design from Laura Brophy Interiors, beige subway tiles are a twist on classic white that complement the pale oak flooring, and work especially well with the color palette of off-whites, blues and grays. Natural textures like marble countertops and woven island seating help create a livable, cohesive kitchen and living space.