How Do You Make Subway Tiles Look Modern?

How Do You Make Subway Tiles Look Modern?

Subway tiles, those iconic rectangles that have graced homes for over a century, offer timeless design and versatility. But how do you keep them feeling fresh in today's modern landscape? This guide isn't about abandoning their classic appeal; it's about unlocking their potential for reinvention. We'll explore how to transform these familiar tiles into a statement piece that complements your modern aesthetic. Get ready to discover a world of color, texture, layout ideas, and complementary design elements that will breathe new life into your subway tile project.



Modern Through Tile Choice 

While the classic white subway tile remains a beloved choice, modern design craves a bolder statement. This section dives into the exciting world of tile choices beyond the traditional white. We'll explore how color, texture, and even size can be leveraged to transform your subway tile project from timeless to trendsetting, perfectly complementing your modern aesthetic.

Color Beyond White 

While white subway tiles remain a popular and versatile choice, consider a bolder approach for a truly modern statement. Explore a world of color possibilities that can completely transform the look and feel of your space.

Deep Drama

Embrace the power of dark and dramatic tones like navy blue or charcoal gray. A deep blue subway tile backsplash creates a sophisticated and luxurious ambiance, perfect for a modern kitchen. Imagine the way the tiles reflect the light, adding depth and dimension to the space. Charcoal gray subway tiles can add a touch of urban chic, especially when paired with stainless steel appliances and white countertops.

Playful Pops

For a touch of personality, explore vibrant and playful colors. Emerald green subway tiles can add a touch of nature-inspired luxury, while mustard yellow tiles can inject a burst of sunshine and cheerfulness. Don't be afraid to experiment! Consider using colored subway tiles for an accent wall or a small backsplash area, allowing them to be the focal point while keeping the overall space balanced.

Metallic Marvels

Add a touch of glamor and sophistication with metallic subway tiles. Imagine the way brushed nickel subway tiles shimmer and reflect light, creating a visually captivating backsplash. Consider using metallic tiles in a herringbone pattern for added visual interest, or incorporate them as a border around a field of white subway tiles.

Beyond the Glossy Sheen 

Glossy subway tiles are undeniably classic, but the world of texture offers exciting possibilities for a modern aesthetic. Explore the following options to add visual interest and depth to your space:

Matte Tiles

Opt for matte subway tiles for a more contemporary, understated look. The absence of shine creates a subtle and sophisticated feel, allowing other design elements in your space to take center stage. Matte subway tiles pair beautifully with natural wood countertops and brushed nickel hardware for a warm and inviting modern kitchen.

Textured Tiles

Move beyond the smooth surface and explore subway tiles with a unique texture. Wave subway tiles, with their gentle undulations, add a touch of movement and visual interest. Subway tiles with a handmade aesthetic, featuring slight variations in size and texture, create a truly artisanal feel, perfect for a modern farmhouse kitchen.

Statement-Making Tiles 

Ditch the standard 3x6 inch subway tile format and embrace a world of possibilities! Larger format tiles offer a fresh take on the classic subway tile, creating a clean, minimalist aesthetic that perfectly complements modern spaces. Here's how to leverage these statement-making tiles:

Sleek and Streamlined

Opt for a uniform size, like 4x8 inches or even larger, for a sleek and streamlined look. These larger tiles minimize grout lines, creating a seamless visual expanse that feels modern and sophisticated. Imagine a monochromatic white kitchen backsplash with oversized white subway tiles – the clean lines will instantly elevate the space.

Dynamic Mix and Match

Feeling adventurous? Why not mix and match smaller and larger subway tiles for a dynamic layout that adds visual interest? This approach can be particularly effective for creating a modern accent wall. For example, consider using a combination of 3x6 inch and 6x12 inch subway tiles in a staggered pattern or a herringbone layout. Play with color as well – perhaps using a bold accent color for the larger tiles against a backdrop of classic white subway tiles.


Remember: With larger format tiles, precise installation is crucial. Ensure your walls are properly prepped for a flawless final look.

Breaking Away from the Rectangle 

Subway tiles have long been synonymous with rectangles, but what if you crave a more distinctive look? This section dives into the exciting world of non-rectangular subway tiles, shapes that can add a touch of personality and visual intrigue to your modern space.

Elongated Hexagons

Step away from the ordinary with elongated hexagons. These tiles, with their six elongated sides, offer a subtle departure from the traditional rectangle while maintaining a clean, geometric aesthetic. They can be arranged in a classic brick pattern for a timeless look, or utilize a honeycomb layout for a more dynamic and modern feel. Imagine a honeycomb pattern in a beautiful emerald green shade, creating a visually captivating backsplash that complements your modern kitchen.

Chic Chevrons

Embrace a touch of Art Deco flair with chevron-shaped subway tiles. These tiles, resembling a series of connected v-shapes, create a sense of movement and dynamism when arranged in a chevron pattern. For a modern twist, consider using a vertical chevron layout, adding visual height to your space. Experiment with color as well – imagine a bold black chevron pattern against a backdrop of crisp white walls for a truly statement-making accent wall in your bathroom.

Textured Fish Scales

Incorporate a touch of the sea with fish scale subway tiles. These unique tiles, featuring a subtle wave-like form, add a layer of texture and visual interest to your space. Fish scale tiles can be arranged in a traditional overlapping pattern for a classic look, or explore a herringbone layout for a more modern aesthetic. Consider using a metallic fish scale tile in a soft gold finish for a touch of glamour in your bathroom shower.

Remember: When using non-rectangular tiles, planning your layout is crucial. Create a template beforehand to ensure a flawless and visually balanced installation.



Modern Through Layout and Grout 

Move beyond the classic brick pattern and white grout for a truly modern take on your subway tile project. This section explores how layout and grout choices can elevate your design from timeless to trendsetting.

Experimenting with Layouts 

The iconic brick pattern, while undeniably charming, isn't your only option. Explore a world of creative layouts to add visual interest and a touch of the unexpected. Here are some exciting possibilities:

Sophisticated Herringbone

The herringbone pattern, with its zig-zag formation, creates a sense of dynamism and movement. This layout is perfect for adding a touch of sophistication to your backsplash or shower walls. Consider using contrasting grout colors to further emphasize the herringbone design, creating a bold statement piece.

Sleek Vertical Stacks

For a modern minimalist look, consider stacking your subway tiles vertically. This layout creates a sense of height and adds a clean, streamlined aesthetic to your space. Vertical stacks pair beautifully with larger format tiles and can be accentuated with dark grout for added definition.

Intricate Basket Weave

Feeling adventurous? Why not try a basket weave pattern? This intricate layout involves alternating horizontal and vertical tiles, creating a visually captivating design element. While it requires more planning and precision, the basket weave pattern is a surefire way to make a statement in your modern kitchen or bathroom.

Choosing the Right Grout Color 

Grout color plays a surprisingly significant role in the overall look of your subway tile project. While white grout complements white subway tiles for a clean, classic aesthetic, consider venturing beyond the expected. Darker grout colors, like charcoal gray or black, can add definition and visual interest, especially when paired with larger format tiles or bold tile colors.

Think of grout as a design element in itself. Experiment with contrasting grout colors to highlight your chosen layout pattern, or use grout that matches the tile color for a seamless, unified look.

Narrowing the Grout Lines 

For a truly modern minimalist aesthetic, explore ways to minimize the appearance of grout lines. This can be achieved by using rectified tiles, which have precise edges that allow for smaller grout joints. Alternatively, consider using grout colors that closely match the tile color. This creates a seamless, unified appearance, where the focus is on the beauty of the subway tiles themselves.


Modern Through Design Elements 

Your subway tiles are just one part of the design orchestra. To create a truly modern symphony, it's crucial to consider how they interact with other design elements. This section explores how hardware, lighting, material choices, and even shelving can elevate your space and make your subway tiles sing.

The Finishing Touch 

The hardware you choose isn't just about functionality; it's the finishing touch that ties your entire design together. For a modern aesthetic, ditch the ornate knobs and pulls and embrace sleek minimalism. Opt for hardware in brushed nickel, chrome, or matte black, finishes that exude a contemporary feel.

Consider the shape of your hardware as well. Geometric shapes, like square or rectangular cabinet pulls, can echo the lines of your subway tile pattern, creating a sense of cohesion. Clean lines and minimalist designs are key to achieving a modern look. Imagine sleek, bar-shaped handles paired with vertically stacked subway tiles for a touch of sophisticated simplicity.

Illuminating Texture and Pattern 

Strategic lighting can be the secret weapon in your design arsenal. The right lighting setup can not only illuminate your space but also highlight the beauty of your subway tile installation.

Under cabinet lighting is a fantastic option for showcasing the texture and pattern of your tiles. Imagine the way recessed LED strips bathe your backsplash in warm light, emphasizing the subtle variations in a matte subway tile or the dynamic lines of a herringbone pattern.

When it comes to overhead lighting, consider pendant lights with clean lines and a minimalist design. Geometric pendant lights, like those featuring exposed bulbs in a metal cage, can add a touch of industrial chic and complement your modern aesthetic. Don't be afraid to experiment! The right lighting fixture can become a statement piece in itself, working in harmony with your subway tiles.

Creating a Modern Tapestry 

Subway tiles are incredibly versatile and can be paired with a variety of materials to create a modern look. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Warmth and Texture

Balance the clean lines of your subway tiles with the warmth and texture of butcher block countertops. This combination adds a touch of rustic charm to your modern space, creating a visually appealing contrast.

High-Tech Vibe

For a sleek, high-tech atmosphere, opt for stainless steel countertops. The cool, reflective surface of stainless steel complements the clean lines of subway tiles, creating a modern and sophisticated feel.

Open Shelving 

Open shelving allows your subway tile backsplash to take center stage and become a focal point in your space. Opt for sleek metal shelves or minimalistic wood shelves that complement your overall design. These shelves provide valuable storage space while showcasing the beauty of your chosen tile pattern and color.

For an added touch of personality, consider decorating your open shelves with pops of color or metallic accents that resonate with your chosen subway tile color. Imagine vibrant ceramic canisters or metallic vases displayed against a backdrop of emerald green subway tiles, creating a visually engaging interplay of color and texture.



Modern Through Inspiration and Examples 

Subway tiles, like a chameleon, can adapt to a variety of modern design aesthetics. This section explores five popular styles and how to leverage subway tiles to create a cohesive and inspiring look.

Modern Farmhouse 

The modern farmhouse aesthetic is all about creating a space that feels warm, inviting, and effortlessly stylish. It's a beautiful blend of rustic elements that evoke a sense of comfort and nostalgia, seamlessly integrated with clean lines and modern touches. Subway tiles, with their timeless appeal and versatility, can be the perfect bridge between these seemingly contrasting styles. Here's how to use them to create a modern farmhouse haven:

Tile Choice

Opt for classic white subway tiles. This neutral color choice reflects light beautifully, creating a sense of openness and spaciousness – essential elements in any modern farmhouse space. The clean lines of the white subway tiles also complement the clean lines often found in modern design.


While white grout is a popular choice, don't be afraid to embrace a touch of rustic charm with dark grout, like charcoal gray. This creates a subtle contrast with the white tiles, adding a touch of visual interest and depth to your backsplash or wall. Imagine a modern farmhouse kitchen with white subway tiles laid in a timeless brick pattern and finished with charcoal gray grout – the subtle contrast adds a touch of farmhouse character without overwhelming the modern elements.

Complementary Elements

Balance cool tones with warm, textured butcher block countertops for a touch of farmhouse charm that complements your white subway tiles. A classic farmhouse sink with a deep apron front also adds both nostalgia and functionality, while modern matte black hardware in clean lines keeps the space sophisticated. These square or bar-shaped pulls echo the subway tiles and ensure a cohesive look that blends modern and farmhouse styles.

Mid-Century Modern 

Mid-century modern design bursts with boldness and vibrancy, celebrating clean lines, pops of color, and a touch of space-age flair. Subway tiles, often associated with a more traditional aesthetic, can surprisingly be the perfect canvas for achieving this iconic look. Here's how to incorporate them into your mid-century modern masterpiece:

Bold and Beautiful

Step away from the classic white subway tile and embrace bolder color choices. Charcoal gray offers a sophisticated and dramatic feel, grounding your space and creating a stunning backdrop for other mid-century modern elements. For a truly daring touch, consider a rich navy blue subway tile. This unexpected color choice injects a dose of personality and vibrancy, instantly transporting your space to the heart of the mid-century modern era.


When it comes to layout, ditch the traditional brick pattern and explore a vertical stack layout. This elongates the visual lines of the tiles, echoing the clean lines and sense of height that are prevalent in mid-century modern design.

Statement-Making Pairings

Pair your bold colored subway tiles with countertops that echo the mid-century modern love affair with natural materials. Sleek walnut countertops, with their rich wood grain and warm tones, add a touch of luxury and create a beautiful contrast with the cooler tones of the tiles. Consider incorporating brass hardware for an extra touch of warmth. The warm sheen of brass complements the color palette of your subway tiles and walnut countertops, while adding a subtle nod to the metallic accents often used in mid-century modern design.

Industrial Chic 

Industrial chic design thrives on the juxtaposition of raw, industrial elements with touches of modern refinement. Subway tiles, with their clean lines and timeless appeal, can surprisingly play a key role in achieving this unique aesthetic. Here's how to create an industrial-chic space where subway tiles add a touch of modern polish:

Size Matters

Ditch the standard-sized subway tiles and opt for oversized white tiles. This creates a clean and minimalist aesthetic that complements the raw, industrial vibe. The larger format minimizes grout lines, further emphasizing the clean lines and creating a sense of spaciousness that can be balanced by the industrial elements.

Pattern Power

While a classic brick pattern can work in industrial chic, consider a herringbone pattern for added visual interest. The zigzag formation creates a sense of movement and dynamism, which can be a welcome contrast to the raw, linear elements often found in industrial spaces. This pattern also adds a touch of sophistication, ensuring your subway tiles don't get lost in the industrial background.

Embrace the Raw

The beauty of industrial chic lies in celebrating the raw and imperfect. Complement your oversized white subway tiles with exposed brick walls. The textured brick adds a touch of history and warmth, creating a beautiful contrast with the clean lines of the tiles. Concrete floors are also a perfect choice for an industrial-chic space. They add a cool, industrial feel and provide a durable and functional surface.

Hardware Harmony

When it comes to hardware, choose pieces with an industrial-inspired aesthetic. Opt for pendant lights with exposed bulbs housed in metal cages. These fixtures provide ample task lighting while adding a touch of raw, industrial charm. Matte black hardware on cabinets and drawers completes the look, echoing the dark tones often found in industrial spaces and creating a cohesive feel throughout your space.

Modern Minimalist 

The essence of modern minimalism lies in creating a space that is clean, uncluttered, and focused on form. Subway tiles, with their simple lines and timeless appeal, are a perfect starting point for achieving this aesthetic. Here's how to leverage them to create a modern minimalist masterpiece:

Monochrome Magic

Explore a monochromatic color scheme for a unified and minimalist look. For your subway tiles, opt for classic white. This neutral shade reflects light beautifully, enhancing the feeling of spaciousness and creating a clean backdrop for other design elements.

Sleek Surfaces

Pair your white subway tiles with countertops and cabinetry that echo the same clean lines and white color palette. Opt for sleek white countertops, a material like quartz or solid surface, for a flawless and modern look. White cabinetry with clean, unadorned lines further reinforces the minimalist aesthetic.

Lighting as Sculpture

Lighting plays a crucial role in a minimalist space, serving both functional and aesthetic purposes. Choose pendant lighting with a simple, geometric design that complements the clean lines of your subway tiles and cabinetry. Imagine a single, oversized pendant light in a sphere or cone shape, suspended strategically above your countertop. This sculptural element adds a touch of visual interest without cluttering the space.

Scandinavian Inspiration 

The Scandinavian design aesthetic is all about creating a light, airy, and inviting space that embraces functionality and natural elements. Subway tiles can be a perfect canvas for achieving this serene and modern look. Here's how to incorporate them:

Light and Bright

Opt for light gray subway tiles – this neutral tone reflects light beautifully, creating a sense of openness and spaciousness. Ditch the traditional brick pattern and utilize a vertical stack layout to further enhance the feeling of height.

Natural Materials

Complement the cool tones of your light gray subway tiles with butcher block countertops. The rich wood grain adds warmth and texture, creating balance and visual interest. White oak cabinetry is a perfect choice, complementing the subway tiles and countertops while showcasing the natural beauty of the wood grain. Brushed nickel hardware provides a hint of shine that elevates the space without overpowering the natural elements.

Light it Up

Whenever possible, prioritize natural light to create a bright and airy atmosphere. Large windows or skylights are ideal. When choosing artificial lighting, select fixtures that complement the natural elements. Light wood pendant lights or sconces echo the tones of the white oak cabinetry, while white fixtures maintain the overall sense of lightness.


Subway tiles, design chameleons with timeless appeal, can be transformed into modern masterpieces reflecting your unique style. This guide empowers you to experiment with color, texture, layout, and complementary elements to create a symphony in your space. Hardware, lighting, and even material pairings all play a role. Don't be afraid to express yourself! Ready to see your vision come to life? Use our state-of-the-art AR technology to visualize your chosen subway tiles directly on your own wall space.

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