17 Subway Tile Ideas That Are Far From Boring

By Maria Sabella
Maria Sabella
17 Subway Tile Ideas That Are Far From Boring

Subway tile is a timeless classic. Popular in kitchens, bathrooms, and anywhere else that uses tile, the rectangular tile has become a design icon with a history dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century. The white tile was first used in New York City subway stations, which is why it’s called subway tile. The glazed rectangle-shaped wall covering was a practical choice as it was easy to keep clean and its glossy white surface reflected light well to brighten the dark subways.

Today, subway tile goes beyond the traditional running-bond look and is available in countless colors, materials, and finishes. You can use different grout colors, play around with placement to create unexpected patterns, mix it with other types of tile, or pair it with a bold paint color for dramatic impact. If you think plain subway tile is boring, think again—we’re sharing stunning subway tile ideas that put a modern twist on the classic design.

01 of 17

Create a Chevron Pattern

kitchen makeover with white herringbone subway tile backsplash, white shaker cabinets, black stools, windows and appliances

Ryan Bent

Have fun with subway tile arrangement and use a chevron design. This is sometimes also referred to as a herringbone pattern when the tiles are positioned at 45-degree angles. The pointed design helps draw the eyes up, highlighting the vintage-style wall sconces and a wood plank covered ceiling in this kitchen.

02 of 17

Pair it with Natural Wood

Various objects at shelves on green tile wall in kitchen

Adam Albright

Glossy green subway tile arranged in a traditional running bond pattern pairs beautifully with natural wood floating shelves in this modern kitchen. Its vibrant color modernizes the tile’s classic arrangement and extending it all the way to the ceiling infuses the space with fresh energy and a big dose of color.

03 of 17

Black Subway Tile

Interior of kitchen with pendant light hanging over island

David Greer

Switch things up and go for black subway tile and white grout to make a bold statement. Here, light grout accentuates the tile’s rectangular shape while white cabinets brighten the space and add contrast. A set of bright floating shelves pops against the dark wall covering.

04 of 17

Combine Tile and Wallpaper

Bathroom with subway tile half way up the wall and an ornate wallpaper the ret of the way to ceiling.

Jay Wilde

Create a layered aesthetic by pairing classic white subway tile on the walls with an ornately detailed wallpaper and a small-scale tile on the floor. It’s an easy way to dress up classic white subway tile and prevent it from looking boring. It also gives the room an eclectic feel while maintaining a neutral color palette.

05 of 17

Use an Accent Tile

Kitchen with rustic hood and artistic backsplash tile accent.

Kimberly Gavin

A patterned subway tile adds a decorative accent above the stove in this rustic kitchen. It provides subtle contrast to the surrounding plain white backsplash and softens the appearance of the wood cabinets and black stone countertops.

06 of 17

Juxtapose It with Bold Wallpaper

1930's bathroom with white subway tile and colorful blue/green wallpaper on walls

Brie Williams

A traditional white subway tile gets a contemporary makeover when juxtaposed with a bold bathroom wallpaper. The glossy white lower half of the bathroom balances out the busyness and vibrancy of the wallpaper, mixing the modern and the classic in a seamless and elegant fashion.

07 of 17

Subway Tile with a Border

Interior of bathroom with shower cubicle

Marty Baldwin

Add visual interest and break up a wall of plain white subway tile by incorporating a colorful border made up of small mosaic-style tiles. The blue square tiles in this bathroom contrast the subway tile in size, shape, and color, and tie in the blue accents for a cohesive look.

08 of 17

Tile the Range Hood

Kitchen with open shelving and range hood with subway tile on it.

Jay Wilde

A range hood is an unexpected kitchen element to cover with subway tile, which instantly makes the basic tile look more special. It blends in seamlessly with the backsplash, and its classic arrangement creates subtle contrast to striped pattern of the shiplap-covered ceiling.

09 of 17

Highlight a Walk-In Shower

master bath with navy tile and marble shower, marble sink tops with lucite bases and oriental rugs on hexagon tiled floor

Annie Schlechter

Dark subway tiles help highlight this stunning walk-in shower and tie in the charcoal gray walls. The dark tiles pop against the crisp white trim, while a vintage-style rug alongside brass and acrylic pedestal sinks bring a note of elegance to the space.

10 of 17

Use Vertical Subway Tiles

gray bathroom with white tile
Adam Albright

Modernize subway tile with an unexpected placement, such as this vertically arranged bathroom tile. It helps draw the eyes up and extends the height of the bathroom walls, which is a great trick for small bathroom spaces.

11 of 17

Black and White Bathroom

Bathtub against wall in bathroom

Jay Wilde

This black and white bathroom layers a traditional white subway til with a bold patterned black and white floor tile for a timeless effect. White subway tile can easily look boring and sterile, but only using it halfway up the wall and setting it against a more dramatic tile keeps it fresh.

12 of 17

Marble Subway Tile

Kitchen sink with black cabinets and tile on the wall with windows.

Jay Wilde

Marble subway tile is a fun way to add a luxury material into your kitchen, and the cost for marble tile is typically much lower than for countertops. Opt for this look if you want a classic aesthetic with a little more dimension than plain white tile.

13 of 17

Large-Scale Subway Tile

Various objects arranged on shelves in kitchen

Brie Williams

An oversized subway tile backsplash extends to the ceiling and provides an uncluttered backdrop for floating shelves in this kitchen window space. Go for a large-scale tile to avoid a busy look, especially when the rest of the space is busy and detailed.

14 of 17

Green Subway Tile

Bathroom vanity with a green tile shower to the left of it.

Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Green subway tile defines a luxurious walk-in shower and enlivens this otherwise all-white bathroom. Use colorful subway tile as a color blocking trick to section off different areas within a bathroom, creating contrast and visually assigning a function to each.

15 of 17

Farmhouse-Style Kitchen

Farmhouse style kitchen with tan shiny tile backsplash.

Edward Gohlich

Beige subway tile adds warmth to this farmhouse-style kitchen. Its glossy texture works well with the room’s light and bright aesthetic, helping bounce light around. The tile color is the perfect complement to the wood planked ceiling which is painted a fresh shade of light blue for an illusion of bringing the outdoors in.

16 of 17

Colorful Subway Tile

close-up of white kitchen cabinets with fiesta dishes on shelves, black countertop and green subway tile backsplash

Adam Albright

If you have open shelving in your kitchen, consider the colors of the items on display when choosing your backsplash to enhance a color scheme. Here, white cabinets are a neutral backdrop for vibrant dishes and glassware, and a green subway tile backsplash brings depth and integrates a non-permanent display feature such as dishes in an intentional way.

17 of 17

Keep it Neutral

Crockery with decor on shelves on wall at home


Glossy beige subway tile adds a hint of color and a ton of warmth to this small but functional kitchen corner. A neutral color palette prevents the nook from looking cluttered while creating a soft aesthetic and allowing the glazed ceramic tiles and rustic wood corner shelves to shine.

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