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.
01 of 27
Mix Old and New
Classic subway tiles with black grout add a crisp feel to the backsplash of this kitchen renovation from Leanne Ford Interiors that blends vintage and modern elements to create a homey, nostalgic, livable feel.Continue to 2 of 27 below.
02 of 27Continue to 3 of 27 below.
03 of 27
Gloss It Up
A glossy textured glazed white subway tile backsplash adds luminosity to this modern kitchen from Blue Copper 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 27 below.
04 of 27
Accent With Black
In this kitchen design from Ottawa-based Leclair Decor, a 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 27 below.
05 of 27Continue to 6 of 27 below.
06 of 27
Pair With 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. The clean, crisp brick-shaped tiles coexist beautifully with the original brickwork and to give 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 7 of 27 below.
07 of 27
Line the Staircase
In another bathroom at Hasbrouck House, classic white subway tiles line the small staircase entryway, creating a cohesive look that is also easy to clean and maintain. Black bullnose capping around the edges adds a classic finish and a black hand railing fits seamlessly into the design.Continue to 8 of 27 below.
08 of 27
Try a Herringbone Pattern
In this spacious bathroom designed by 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 9 of 27 below.
09 of 27
Add Horizontal Stripes
In this graphic guest bathroom from K Shan Design, subway tiles laid in thick 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 black-and-white style.Continue to 10 of 27 below.
10 of 27Continue to 11 of 27 below.
11 of 27
A textured white subway tile backsplash is an easy choice for this family-friendly suburban kitchen remodel from Leclair Decor. The glossy textured tile adds interest while remaining clean and classic, setting off floating wood shelves and Shaker-style cabinets painted in warm gray. A vintage runner on the floor makes the kitchen look as homey as every other room in the house.Continue to 12 of 27 below.
12 of 27
Use a Matte Navy Finish
In this spacious kitchen remodel from Cathie Hong Interiors, a matte navy subway tile backsplash adds modern, understated 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 13 of 27 below.
13 of 27
Accent with Gray
For this cool neutral Orange County, CA kitchen space, Mindy Gayer Design Co. chose rich gray subway tiles in a classic offset running bond pattern for the ceiling-height backsplash behind the stove that works seamlessly with the white cabinetry and glass and chrome accents.Continue to 14 of 27 below.
14 of 27
Go for the Bronze
In this handsome kitchen design from Leclair Decor, a backsplash made from bronze mirrored subway tiles adds an unexpected display of metallic flair. The bronze tiles add relief to the moody color scheme that includes cabinets in a mix of wood and black paint finishes, dark stone, and medium-toned wood floors.Continue to 15 of 27 below.
15 of 27
Pair With Farmhouse Elements
Vintage-style dark wood and metal farmhouse open shelving mounted on a subway tile backsplash, butcher block countertops, and simple white Shaker-style cabinetry creates a nostalgic feel in this kitchen renovation from Leanne Ford Interiors.
Continue to 16 of 27 below.
16 of 27
Opt for Glass
Dove gray painted glass subway tiles create a subtle backsplash for the double sink vanity, adding subtle variation to the pale neutral color scheme in this bathroom from Leclair Decor. Silver-toned plumbing fixtures, frameless mirrors, and dark accents on the door pulls, picture frames and lighting add definition.Continue to 17 of 27 below.
17 of 27
Off Set Vertical Stacks
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 18 of 27 below.
18 of 27
Contrast With Colored Cabinets
Simple white subway tiles and white quartz countertops allow the robin's egg blue upper and lower cabinetry to take center stage in this L-shaped kitchen from Cathie Hong Interiors.Continue to 19 of 27 below.
19 of 27
Go All White
In this transitional bungalow kitchen from 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, Shaker kitchen cabinetry, quartz countertops, and white leather bar stools.Continue to 20 of 27 below.
20 of 27
Follow the Curve
Pale gray handmade subway tiles with pale grout hug the curves of this sculptural oven hood in a kitchen designed by Leanne Ford Interiors.
Continue to 21 of 27 below.
21 of 27
Mix with Patterned Tiles
Choosing the same tile for kitchens and bathrooms is economical and keeps the overall look of the home cohesive. 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, adding interest with ceramic patterned floor tiles.Continue to 22 of 27 below.
22 of 27
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.Continue to 23 of 27 below.
23 of 27Continue to 24 of 27 below.
24 of 27
Lay a Floor-to-Ceiling Backsplash
A countertop-to-ceiling backsplash in this traditional Victorian kitchen remodel from Leanne Ford Interiors makes it easy to throw spaghetti at the wall and clean it up afterward. Paired with penny tile flooring, the room feels updated and fresh while maintaining the original character of the home.Continue to 25 of 27 below.
25 of 27
Kate Marker Interiors used a gray subway tile in a herringbone pattern above a pantry sink to distinguish it from the backsplash in the main kitchen, adding patterned tiles on the adjacent walls and navy cane-front cabinetry with gold-toned hardware for contrast.
Continue to 26 of 27 below.
26 of 27
Stacked rather than staggered oversized white subway tiles with dark grout give this kitchen a clean and contemporary feel. Warm wood and golden-toned metal finishes add warmth. The dark grout looks modern but it also is easier to clean than conventional white.Continue to 27 of 27 below.
27 of 27
Tile the Arches
In this kitchen from Whittney Parkinson Interiors, subway tile lines the arches above the countertop prep space on either side of the stove to add texture while making it easy to wipe clean.