What Tile Is Best To Pair With A Subway Tile?

Elegant marble-like subway tiles in a serene bathroom setting

Subway tiles, with their enduring popularity and clean lines, hold a special place in design. While classic subway tile backsplashes are timeless, their potential unlocks a world of creativity when paired with complementary tiles. This guide empowers you to explore this potential, navigating factors like functionality, style, and color harmony. We'll delve into classic pairings like hexagons, modern options like terrazzo, and transitional choices like large format tiles, equipping you to create a space that reflects your unique design vision.

 

Sleek white subway tile with a classic beveled edge

 

Understanding Subway Tiles

Subway tiles, instantly recognizable for their clean lines and timeless appeal, are rectangular ceramic or porcelain tiles with a characteristic beveled edge. This seemingly simple design element offers surprising versatility, making them a popular choice for a variety of applications.

The most iconic size for subway tiles is the classic 3" x 6" format. This size strikes a perfect balance, offering a clean aesthetic without overwhelming smaller spaces. However, the world of subway tiles extends beyond this standard size. Variations abound, with options ranging from the narrower 2" x 6" format, ideal for creating a sleek, contemporary look, to the larger 4" x 8" format, perfect for adding a touch of grandeur to expansive walls.

The surface finish of subway tiles also plays a significant role in the overall aesthetic. The most common finish is glossy, offering a reflective surface that amplifies light and creates a sense of spaciousness. For a more subdued look, matte finishes offer a touch of sophistication and can help hide minor imperfections. Textured subway tiles add a layer of visual interest and dimension, perfect for creating a unique focal point.

Beyond size and finish, subway tiles can be arranged in various layout patterns to further enhance the design. The most common layout, the brick bond, involves staggering the tiles in a running bond pattern, resembling a brick wall. Stacked layouts, where the tiles are positioned directly on top of one another, offer a clean and minimalist look. Herringbone layouts, where the tiles are arranged in a zig-zag pattern, add a touch of dynamism and visual interest. These are just a few of the many layout options available, allowing you to personalize your subway tile design and tailor it to your unique vision.

 

Elegant bathroom with herringbone-patterned marble subway tiles

 

Choosing Your Perfect Pair

The key to a successful subway tile pairing lies in considering several crucial factors before making your selection. Here, we'll delve into these factors to ensure your chosen companion elevates your design vision.


Function of the Space

Before diving into the world of complementary tiles, let's consider the essential element that will guide your selection: the function of the space. The purpose of the room will significantly influence the type of tile you choose, ensuring both style and practicality. Here's a breakdown of key considerations for different areas:


Kitchen

This busy area demands durability above all else. Opt for tiles with a high PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating, indicating their resistance to wear and tear. Ease of cleaning is paramount, so consider smooth, non-porous surfaces like glazed porcelain. Grease resistance is another key factor. While both ceramic and porcelain tiles offer good resistance, porcelain, with its denser composition, might be a slightly better choice for heavily used kitchen backsplashes.


Bathroom

Moisture resistance is essential in bathrooms to prevent mold and mildew growth. Opt for porcelain tiles, as they are virtually non-porous and repel water. Slip resistance is crucial for bathroom floors, especially in areas like showers. Consider textured or matte finishes that provide better traction when wet.


Backsplashes

Backsplashes are less susceptible to wear and tear compared to floors or countertops. However, ease of cleaning remains a priority. Smaller mosaic tiles offer intricate patterns and can be easier to navigate around faucets and outlets. Alternatively, consider materials like glass tiles, which are non-porous, stain-resistant, and relatively easy to clean.


Style Preferences

Beyond functionality, your personal style preferences play a major role in shaping your ideal subway tile design. Do you crave a timeless and elegant look, or are you drawn to the boldness of modern design? Perhaps you seek a harmonious blend of classic and contemporary elements. Understanding your design aesthetic will help you narrow down your choices and create a space that reflects your unique personality. Here's a breakdown of popular style preferences and how they translate to tile selections:


Classic

For a timeless and elegant look, aim for a cohesive aesthetic. Match the color of your subway tiles to your grout for a seamless, unified appearance. White subway tiles with white grout are a classic example, offering a clean and crisp look that complements a variety of design styles.


Modern

Embrace the boldness of modern design by playing with contrasting elements. Consider pairing white subway tiles with dark grout for a graphic statement. Experiment with textured subway tiles paired with smooth, geometric patterned tiles for added visual interest. Don't shy away from contrasting colors – black subway tiles with a pop of color in the paired tile can create a stunning and dramatic focal point.


Transitional

This style bridges the gap between classic and modern aesthetics. Combine elements of both to create a timeless and sophisticated look. Pair classic white subway tiles with larger format tiles in neutral tones for a sense of spaciousness. Opt for textured subway tiles with smooth, wood-look tiles on an accent wall for a touch of warmth and modern flair.


Color Harmony

The color of your subway tiles and the existing elements in your space play a crucial role in creating a cohesive look. Consider the colors of your cabinets, countertops, and flooring when selecting your paired tile. Explore complementary color schemes, where opposing colors on the color wheel create a vibrant and dynamic effect. Alternatively, consider analogous color schemes, where neighboring colors on the color wheel create a harmonious and sophisticated feel.


Grout Color

Grout, often overlooked, plays a surprisingly significant role in the overall design. The color of your grout can either unify or contrast with your chosen tiles. Dark grout can create a bold statement, highlighting the individual tiles and adding visual interest. Light grout offers a clean and seamless look, particularly with white subway tiles, making the space feel more open and airy. Ultimately, the choice of grout color depends on your desired aesthetic and the overall color palette of your space.

By carefully considering these factors, you can ensure your chosen pairing complements the function of the space, reflects your personal style preferences, and creates a cohesive and visually appealing design.

 

Chic contrast with hexagon floor tiles meeting marble subway tiles

 

Classic and Timeless Pairings

For those seeking a design that transcends trends and endures the test of time, classic pairings offer a sophisticated and elegant foundation. Here, we explore a selection of timeless companions for your subway tiles.


Hexagon Tiles

These flat-sided, six-sided tiles, often made from ceramic, porcelain, or even natural stone like marble or slate, add a touch of timeless elegance when paired with subway tiles. Their geometric shape complements the clean lines of subways, creating a harmonious interplay of forms. The versatility of hexagon tiles extends beyond aesthetics. They are available in a wide range of colors, from classic white and neutral tones to bolder hues that can add a pop of color to your design. Additionally, the variety of materials allows you to tailor the look to your preference. Opt for glazed ceramic or porcelain for a smooth, easy-to-clean surface, or explore the natural beauty and subtle variations of honed or polished marble hexagons.

Porcelain hexagon tiles excel in various applications. Their durability makes them suitable for busy areas like floors, even shower floors when opting for textured or matte finishes with good slip resistance. Alternatively, use them on accent walls to create a statement piece or incorporate them into backsplashes for a touch of visual interest and classic charm.


Penny Round Tiles

These small, circular tiles, typically crafted from glass or ceramic, offer a playful and timeless touch when paired with subway tiles. Their diminutive size and smooth surface add a delightful textural contrast to the clean lines of subways. Penny round tiles are available in a vast array of colors, allowing you to create intricate patterns or add pops of color to your design. Consider using white or neutral-colored penny rounds for a classic and understated look, or explore bolder colors to create a playful and vibrant backsplash.

The primary application for penny round tiles is on backsplashes, where their small size allows for intricate mosaic patterns and easy navigation around faucets and outlets. Additionally, they can be used to create stunning accent borders or add a touch of personality to shower niches. While not ideal for large floor areas due to the number of grout lines, they can be a charming choice for smaller areas like powder room accents.


Basketweave Tiles

For a touch of classic elegance and timeless sophistication, consider pairing your subway tiles with basketweave tiles. These tiles, typically square-shaped and interlocking to create a woven basket pattern, add a layer of texture and visual interest to your design. The basketweave pattern offers a subtle nod to traditional craftsmanship, evoking a sense of history and timeless style.

Basketweave tiles offer a wide range of color options to complement your existing design scheme. Opt for neutral tones for a classic look, or explore bolder colors to create a more modern statement. Their durability makes them suitable for various applications, including floors (especially in matte or textured finishes for better slip resistance) and shower floors. Additionally, they can be used on accent walls to add a touch of visual interest and texture, or incorporated into backsplashes for a unique and timeless look.


Marble Subway Tiles

Elevate your classic subway tile design to a whole new level with the luxurious touch of real marble subway tiles. These tiles offer the timeless appeal of subway tiles with the natural beauty and variations inherent to marble. The subtle veining and texture of marble add a touch of sophistication and elegance to any space.

While undeniably stunning, marble subway tiles come with a few considerations. Their natural stone composition makes them a higher-cost option compared to ceramic or porcelain tiles. Additionally, marble requires sealing to protect it from stains and etching. However, for those seeking a luxurious and timeless look, the benefits outweigh the considerations.

Marble subway tiles are best suited for wall applications like backsplashes and shower surrounds due to their potential for scratching and etching. However, with proper sealing and care, they can also be used on low-traffic areas like bathroom walls or powder rooms.

 

Sleek bathroom with large marble tiles and built-in shelf

 

Modern and Bold Pairings

For those seeking a design that pushes boundaries and embraces the cutting edge, modern and bold pairings offer a chance to create a truly unique and impactful space. Here, we explore a selection of unconventional companions that will elevate your subway tiles to a whole new level.


Terrazzo Tiles

These dynamic tiles, composed of marble, granite, quartz chips embedded in cement, offer a modern aesthetic with a touch of industrial chic. Their speckled appearance, with chips of various sizes and colors, creates a visually captivating surface that complements the clean lines of subway tiles. Terrazzo tiles come in a wide range of color combinations, allowing you to tailor the look to your specific design vision. Opt for classic black and white terrazzo for a timeless modern statement, or explore bolder color combinations to create a truly unique focal point.

While undeniably modern, terrazzo tiles come with a few considerations. Due to their cementitious base, they require sealing to protect them from stains and etching. Additionally, the cost of terrazzo tiles can vary depending on the size and type of aggregate used. However, for those seeking a durable and visually striking statement piece, terrazzo tiles can be a fantastic choice for floors, especially in kitchens or busy areas. Their speckled aesthetic can also be used effectively on accent walls to add a touch of modern flair.


Metallic Tiles

Embrace the glamour and sophistication of modern design with metallic tiles. Available in a range of finishes like stainless steel, bronze, copper, or even brushed nickel, these tiles add a touch of luxury and drama to any space. Their reflective surface bounces light around the room, creating a sense of spaciousness and a touch of Hollywood regency flair. Pairing metallic tiles with subway tiles creates a dynamic contrast between the clean lines of the subways and the shimmering texture of the metallic elements.

However, due to their reflective nature, metallic tiles can show fingerprints or water spots more easily compared to other materials. Therefore, it's best to use them sparingly for an impactful accent. They can be used effectively in feature walls of entryways or other small areas to create a touch of glamour.


Mosaic Tiles

Unlock a world of endless design possibilities with mosaic tiles. These small tiles, typically made from glass, ceramic, or even stone, are arranged in intricate patterns on a mesh backing, allowing for a vast array of design options. From geometric patterns to floral motifs, mosaic tiles offer a unique way to add a pop of color, pattern, and visual interest to your space.

Pairing mosaic tiles with subway tiles creates a visually captivating contrast between the clean lines of the subways and the intricate details of the mosaic. Consider using mosaic tiles for your entire backsplash to create a stunning focal point, or incorporate them as a border around a subway tile field for a touch of personality. Mosaic tiles also excel in shower niches, allowing you to create a custom-designed and visually arresting accent within your shower enclosure.


Patterned Cement Tiles

For a truly bold and unique statement, consider pairing your subway tiles with patterned cement tiles. These encaustic tiles, crafted from pigmented cement, feature stunning geometric or floral patterns in rich and vibrant colors. They offer a touch of Moroccan or Mediterranean flair, instantly transporting your space to a different time and place.

Patterned cement tiles are a fantastic choice for creating a statement floor, especially in kitchens or bathrooms. However, due to their intricate patterns and potential for higher cost, they are best used sparingly. Consider using them on a small area like a bathroom floor or a kitchen backsplash for a bold and captivating focal point. However, be mindful of potential maintenance concerns, as cement tiles require sealing to protect them from stains and wear.

By embracing these modern and bold pairings, you can transform your subway tile design from classic to cutting edge. Remember, a little goes a long way with these statement pieces. Use them strategically to create impactful accents and unleash your inner design visionary.

 

Luxurious bathroom with emerald subway tiles and scenic view

 

Blending Classic and Modern

For those seeking a design that gracefully bridges the gap between timeless elegance and contemporary flair, transitional pairings offer the perfect solution. Here, we explore a selection of companions that seamlessly blend classic subway tiles with modern elements, creating a space that feels both sophisticated and current.


Large Format Tiles

Embrace the clean lines and minimalist aesthetic of modern design with large format tiles. These tiles, significantly larger than the standard 3" x 6" subway tile, create a sense of spaciousness and offer a sleek and sophisticated look. The reduced number of grout lines compared to smaller tiles contributes to a cleaner and more modern aesthetic, ideal for those seeking a minimalist design.

Large format tiles come in a variety of materials, including ceramic, porcelain, and even natural stone options like marble or granite. This variety allows you to tailor the look to your specific design vision. Opt for sleek and polished porcelain tiles for a modern touch, or explore the natural beauty of honed marble for a more classic and timeless feel.

While undeniably modern in their effect, large format tiles come with a few considerations. Due to their size, they can be more challenging to install, especially on walls. For larger tiles or complex layouts, consider seeking the expertise of a professional tiler to ensure a flawless installation. Additionally, large format tiles may not be ideal for very small spaces, as they can overwhelm the area. However, in kitchens with ample wall space or expansive bathroom walls, large format tiles paired with classic subway tiles can create a stunning and sophisticated look.


Wood-Look Tiles

Introduce a touch of warmth and natural beauty into your space by pairing subway tiles with wood-look tiles. These innovative tiles mimic the appearance of real wood, offering the aesthetic appeal of wood with the durability and ease of maintenance of ceramic or porcelain tiles. Wood-look tiles come in a vast array of wood grain patterns and colors, allowing you to create a design that complements your existing décor. Opt for light and airy wood tones for a Scandinavian-inspired look, or explore darker, richer tones to add depth and drama to your space.

The benefits of wood-look tiles extend beyond aesthetics. They offer a unique way to incorporate the warmth and visual interest of natural wood into areas where real wood might not be practical due to moisture concerns. For example, you can create a stunning accent wall in your bathroom using wood-look tiles, adding a touch of warmth without compromising functionality.

However, wood-look tiles require specific cleaning products to avoid damaging the surface. Additionally, while some wood-look tiles are water-resistant, they might not be suitable for areas with constant direct water exposure like shower floors. Therefore, it's crucial to choose tiles with the appropriate water resistance rating for the intended application.


Textured Subway Tiles

Elevate your classic subway tile design to a whole new level with the introduction of texture. Textured subway tiles, featuring a non-smooth surface, add a touch of modern flair while maintaining the timeless appeal of the classic subway tile shape. The texture can be subtle, like a gentle wave pattern, or more pronounced, like a linear or geometric design. This play on texture adds visual interest and dimension to your space, creating a dynamic interplay between light and shadow.

Textured subway tiles come in a variety of materials, including ceramic and porcelain, and offer a wide range of color options to complement your existing design scheme. Consider pairing white textured subway tiles with smooth white grout for a clean and modern look, or explore bolder colors and textures to create a more dramatic statement.

While undeniably beautiful, textured subway tiles come with a slight cleaning challenge. The grooves and ridges of the texture can trap dirt and grime more easily compared to smooth tiles. However, with proper cleaning techniques and appropriate cleaning products, textured subway tiles can be a fantastic choice for both walls and backsplashes.

By embracing these transitional pairings, you can create a space that feels both timeless and modern. Large format tiles offer a sense of spaciousness and a contemporary aesthetic, while wood-look tiles introduce warmth and natural beauty. Textured subway tiles add a touch of modern flair while maintaining the classic shape, creating a design that is both sophisticated and visually interesting.

 

Elegant shower with marble tiles and gold fixtures

 

Planning and Installation Tips

Transforming your vision into reality requires careful planning and execution. Here are some essential tips to ensure a successful and seamless installation process when pairing subway tiles with complementary options:


Sample, Sample, Sample

Before committing to a specific tile combination, visualize how the chosen pairings will look together in your space. Ordering samples of both the subway tiles and your chosen companion tiles allows you to assess their color, texture, and scale firsthand. Experiment by laying the samples side-by-side in different lighting conditions to ensure they complement each other aesthetically. This crucial step helps avoid costly mistakes and ensures you achieve the desired design outcome.


Taking Visualization a Step Further

In addition to physical samples, augmented reality (AR) technology can be a powerful tool! Our AR technology allows you to see how different tile combinations will look directly on your walls and floors, providing a more immersive visualization experience. This can be incredibly helpful in finalizing your design choices.

By combining the traditional method of physical samples with the innovative approach of AR technology, you can ensure you make confident decisions and achieve a stunning subway tile design that perfectly complements your space.


Mastering the Art of Grout

Grout, often overlooked, plays a surprisingly significant role in the overall look and feel of your tiled surface. The color of your grout can either unify or dramatically contrast with your chosen tiles. Online grout visualization tools can be invaluable in this process. These tools allow you to upload pictures of your chosen tiles and virtually experiment with different grout colors. Alternatively, some tile stores offer sample boards showcasing various grout colors paired with specific tiles. Utilize these resources to determine the perfect grout color that complements your design vision.


Layout Creativity

Don't be afraid to explore different layout options for both your subway tiles and the paired tiles. The classic brick bond pattern is a timeless choice, but other options like stacked, herringbone, or basket weave patterns can add visual interest and create a unique aesthetic. When pairing subway tiles with another tile option, consider how the layout of each will contribute to the overall design. Experiment with using the paired tiles as a border around a field of subway tiles, or create a focal point by using them in a specific pattern within the subway tile layout.


Professional Expertise

While some tile installation projects might be manageable for DIY enthusiasts, complex layouts or large areas might benefit from the expertise of a professional tiler. Professional tilers possess the necessary skills and experience to ensure a flawless installation, minimizing the risk of errors and ensuring a long-lasting and visually appealing result. For intricate patterns or large-scale projects, consider consulting a professional tiler to bring your design vision to life.

By following these planning and installation tips, you can ensure a smooth and successful pairing of subway tiles with your chosen companion, creating a beautiful and functional space that reflects your unique design style.


Conclusion

Subway tiles offer endless design possibilities. Explore complementary options like classic hexagons or penny rounds for timeless elegance. For a modern twist, consider terrazzo's speckled aesthetic or metallic tiles' glamorous touch. Transitional pairings blend styles, with large format tiles offering spaciousness and wood-look tiles adding warmth. Remember, the best tile isn't just about looks – consider function too! Prioritize durability and cleanability in busy areas, and moisture resistance in bathrooms. With this guide as your inspiration, experiment and find the perfect pairing to transform your subway tile vision into a stunning reality.

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