Where Can I Use Subway Tiles?

Mystic green subway tiles with a watercolor effect create a spa-like sanctuary, enhancing the luxurious freestanding tub

Subway tiles, named for their iconic presence in New York City's underground haven, have transcended their utilitarian origins to become a design powerhouse. Their enduring charm lies in their versatility, functionality, and timeless aesthetic. Forget the grimy connotations of a subway station – these beauties are anything but!

This guide delves into the exciting world of subway tile applications, showcasing their potential to transform various spaces in your home. From the ever-popular kitchen backsplash to unexpected yet stunning accent walls and furniture elements, prepare to discover a multitude of ways to incorporate subway tiles and elevate your living space.


Earthy grey subway tiles provide a subtle, textured backdrop for kitchen shelves, embracing minimalist elegance


The Enduring Appeal of Subway Tiles

Subway tiles, instantly recognizable for their clean lines and rectangular shape, are a timeless design element that transcend fleeting trends. Typically measuring 3" x 6" (though variations exist), these tiles are most commonly crafted from ceramic, a versatile and affordable material. However, subway tiles can also be found in glass, stone, metal, and even mosaic for a touch of luxury.

The history of subway tiles is intrinsically linked to their namesake – the New York City subway system. In the early 1900s, as the subway system was rapidly expanding, designers sought a practical and aesthetically pleasing solution for lining the vast underground tunnels. Glazed ceramic tiles, known for their ease of cleaning and resistance to moisture, emerged as the perfect choice. These rectangular tiles, laid in a simple brick pattern now known as the running bond, offered a clean and efficient way to clad the walls while reflecting light and creating a sense of spaciousness in the often-dark underground stations.

The enduring popularity of subway tiles goes beyond their historical significance. Here's a closer look at the key benefits that have cemented their place as a design favorite:

Durability and Ease of Maintenance

Porcelain subway tiles can withstand everyday wear and tear, making it ideal for high-traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms. Additionally, its non-porous surface makes them easy to clean with a simple wipe-down, requiring minimal maintenance compared to other materials.

Versatility in Style and Design

Despite their simple form, subway tiles offer remarkable versatility. The classic running bond pattern is timeless, but a variety of laying options exist, including stacked patterns (horizontal or vertical), herringbone for a touch of elegance, or even basketweave for a more complex look. Subway tiles also come in a vast array of colors, from crisp white for a bright and airy feel to bold hues for a statement wall. This vast selection allows you to tailor the look to any design style, from classic and traditional to modern and minimalist.

Affordability Compared to Other Tile Options

Compared to other tile choices like natural stone or intricate mosaics, subway tiles offer a budget-friendly option. This affordability, coupled with their durability and ease of use, makes them a highly attractive choice for homeowners and designers alike. The cost-effectiveness allows for creative applications across a larger surface area without breaking the bank.


Sleek white subway tiles enhance a bright, airy kitchen, complemented by golden accents and fresh greenery


Classic Applications for Subway Tiles

Beyond their undeniable charm, subway tiles boast unparalleled versatility. They seamlessly integrate into the heart of your home – kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms – offering a timeless aesthetic that never goes out of style. But these beauties are more than just a pretty face; they're incredibly practical, offering superior durability and ease of maintenance. Let's delve deeper into how subway tiles can elevate these essential spaces, transforming them from functional to fabulous.


The kitchen backsplash is the prime canvas for subway tiles, offering a protective and stylish layer against splashes and splatters. The classic running bond pattern with each tile offset by half its length relative to the one below, is a timeless choice. It creates a sense of movement and adds visual interest while remaining elegant and understated.

Stepping away from the traditional, consider stacked patterns. Horizontal stacks create a sleek, contemporary aesthetic, while vertical stacks evoke a more classic, columnar feel. Both options offer a clean and modern twist on the subway tile application.

Important Note for Stovetop Areas

Subway tiles are a perfect choice for a timeless and elegant kitchen backsplash, but a few practical considerations are important, especially for the area directly behind your stovetop. The grout lines between the tiles, while aesthetically pleasing, can trap grease and grime from splatters during cooking. This means more frequent cleaning to maintain a pristine look.

One strategy to minimize the cleaning battle is opting for a darker grout color. Lighter grouts might showcase the clean lines of the subway tiles, but darker shades can help camouflage minor grease splatters, reducing the need for constant scrubbing.

Alternatively, some homeowners prioritize functionality over pure aesthetics in this high-splatter zone. If this is you, consider a small mosaic tile backsplash directly behind the burners. The smaller size and tighter grout lines of mosaic tiles create a smoother surface, making them easier to clean up after those inevitable cooking mishaps.

Ultimately, the choice between a continuous subway tile backsplash or a mosaic tile section behind the cooktop depends on your personal preference and cooking style.

Accent Walls

Don't limit subway tiles to just the backsplash! They can create stunning accent walls that define a specific area or add a pop of color and texture. Draw attention to your focal points by using subway tiles to frame your range or sink. This can be achieved by extending the backsplash material onto the surrounding wall for a few inches or a few feet, depending on the desired impact.

Additionally, you can elevate your coffee nook or beverage bar with a dedicated subway tile accent wall. This creates a designated space, adds a touch of personality, and is easy to clean up after any spills.


Beyond the kitchen, subway tiles reign supreme in another essential space: the bathroom. Their inherent water resistance and easy-to-clean nature make them a perfect choice for this high-moisture environment. Imagine stepping into a bathroom adorned with these versatile tiles – they can transform your space from a purely functional area into a spa-like haven of beauty and tranquility. Get ready to explore the multitude of ways to incorporate subway tiles in your bathroom, from classic shower surrounds to stylish accent walls.

Shower Surrounds

Subway tiles excel in shower enclosures, offering a clean and bright aesthetic that reflects light and creates a sense of spaciousness. Consider covering the entire shower wall with subway tiles to create a seamless, unified look that's easy to clean and maintain. White subway tiles are a classic choice, but don't be afraid to explore other colors for a bolder statement.

For a timeless and elegant look, consider a wainscot application. This involves tiling the lower half of the shower wall with subway tiles and using a different material, like paint or wallpaper, for the upper half. This approach adds visual interest and allows for a touch of pattern or color.

Bathroom Walls

Subway tiles aren't just for showers! They can be used creatively on bathroom walls as well. For both practicality and style, clad the lower half to shield high-traffic areas from splashes and simplify cleaning. Adding a chair rail detail at the transition point between the tiles and paint elevates the look and adds a touch of sophistication.

Alternatively, create a focal point behind your bathroom vanity with a stunning accent wall made of subway tiles. This personalizes the space and adds a design element that complements your vanity and fixtures.

Laundry Rooms

The humble laundry room often gets relegated to design afterthought. But fear not! Subway tiles can breathe new life into this hardworking space, transforming it from a chore zone into a functional and stylish haven.


No more worrying about wayward detergent splatters or wayward dryer sheets clinging to the wall. A practical and stylish subway tile backsplash behind your washer and dryer units acts as a protective shield against moisture and grime. Plus, it's incredibly easy to clean, making post-laundry cleanup a breeze. This simple addition elevates the aesthetics of your laundry room, adding a touch of design to a space that often gets neglected.

Lower Wall Application

Laundry rooms are notorious for high traffic and potential for messes. Combat this with a strategic application of subway tiles on the lower portion of the walls. This high-impact, low-maintenance solution shields the areas most prone to water splashes, dirt, and scuffs from laundry baskets and overflowing hampers. The durable and easy-to-clean nature of subway tiles makes them a perfect choice, while the visual interest they add elevates the look of your laundry room from purely functional to a space that complements the rest of your home's design.


Contemporary living room with a cozy fireplace surrounded by textured gray subway tiles, invoking warmth and modernity


Creative Uses for Subway Tiles

Subway tiles transcend their utilitarian origins, venturing far beyond the confines of kitchens and bathrooms. Their versatility allows them to shine in unexpected areas, adding a touch of style, texture, and practicality to various parts of your home. Prepare to be surprised by the creative possibilities!

Entryways and Mudrooms

The entryway and mudroom are the hardworking heroes of your home, serving as the first impression for guests and the drop zone for everyday life. Subway tiles, with their perfect blend of durability and style, can transform these spaces into welcoming yet highly functional havens.

Lower Wall Application

Say goodbye to the stress of scuffed walls and mud-caked baseboards! A layer of subway tiles on the lower portion of your entryway walls creates a wipeable surface that's a lifesaver during messy weather. No more scrubbing stubborn shoe marks or wiping away dirt – a quick wipe-down keeps your entryway looking pristine. For high-traffic zones, consider a darker grout color to further minimize the appearance of tracked-in dirt.

Accent Wall

Forget the pass-through entryway! Transform it into a showstopping welcome with a stunning subway tile accent wall. Unleash your inner designer and explore a variety of options to create a space that reflects your personality. Make a bold statement with a vibrant color like cobalt blue, emerald green, or sunny yellow, instantly setting the tone for a home full of life. For a touch of visual intrigue, patterned subway tiles offer endless possibilities. Geometric patterns like hexagons or chevrons add a modern flair, while classic herringbone or basketweave patterns provide timeless elegance. Take your design a step further by incorporating subway tiles alongside other materials like shiplap paneling on the upper portion of the wall. This adds depth and texture, creating a visually interesting focal point that guarantees a lasting first impression.

Hooks and Shelves

Subway tiles provide the perfect backdrop for stylish and functional storage solutions in your entryway or mudroom. Add a row of sleek hooks directly on the tiled surface for hanging coats, bags, and leashes. Consider installing open shelves above the tiled area for additional storage of hats, gloves, or decorative items. Opt for shelves made from wood, metal, or even concrete to complement the overall design of your space.

By incorporating subway tiles in your entryway or mudroom, you can create a space that's both beautiful and hardworking – a place that makes a lasting first impression and welcomes you home with style.


Fireplaces are the heart and soul of many living rooms, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Subway tiles can elevate your fireplace's look and functionality, especially on the area directly framing the firebox or the fireplace surround, transforming it from a traditional element to a stunning focal point. Here are two popular patterns to consider:

Classic Running Bond Pattern

Embrace timeless elegance with the classic running bond pattern. This layout involves alternating rows of vertical and horizontal tiles, creating a clean and sophisticated look. The running bond pattern complements any style of fireplace, from traditional brick to sleek modern designs. For an extra touch of luxury, consider using a glossy subway tile with a beveled edge, which beautifully reflects the warm glow of the fire.

Herringbone Pattern

If you crave a more dynamic aesthetic, the herringbone pattern offers a perfect solution. This layout involves placing tiles at diagonal angles, creating a zig-zag effect. The herringbone pattern adds a touch of modern flair to your fireplace surround and works particularly well with smaller subway tile formats. This creates a visually interesting focal point that draws the eye and complements contemporary design styles.

Accent Walls

Accent walls are a game-changer, injecting personality and visual interest into any room. Subway tiles, with their versatility and style, offer the perfect medium for creating unique and stunning accent walls. Get ready to unleash your inner designer!

Dining Rooms

Transform your dining room into a stylish haven for gatherings. Create a dramatic backdrop for your buffet or sideboard with a subway tile accent wall. This clever design technique defines the dining area, adding a touch of texture that beautifully complements your furniture. For a bolder statement, consider using a contrasting grout color that pops against the tile, or explore patterned subway tiles for a touch of geometric intrigue.

Living Rooms

Fireplaces are natural focal points in living rooms. Frame yours with a stunning subway tile accent wall, drawing the eye and further enhancing this captivating element. Not a fireplace fan? No problem! Create a feature wall behind your favorite artwork for a curated and stylish look. This simple design trick helps your artwork stand out, transforming it into the centerpiece of your living space, while adding a touch of personal flair to your overall design.


Subway tiles aren't just for kitchens and bathrooms! Expand their reach and elevate your bedroom by adding a textural element behind the bed with a subway tile accent wall. This creates a sophisticated backdrop for your bed, instantly transforming it into the focal point of the room. For a serene and stylish effect, consider a calming color palette like soft grays or light blues. Feeling adventurous? Explore subtle patterned tiles like herringbone or basketweave for a touch of visual interest without overwhelming the tranquil atmosphere.

Unexpected Applications

Subway tiles, with their timeless aesthetics and practical advantages, transcend the confines of kitchens and bathrooms. Get ready to be surprised! This section explores unexpected applications that unlock the hidden potential of subway tiles, transforming everyday elements in your home into functional works of art.


Infuse your furniture with a touch of personality and durability. Craft one-of-a-kind coffee tables, console tables, or even side tables with subway tile tabletops. For a balanced look on furniture surfaces, opt for smaller subway tile sizes. Don't forget to protect your newfound masterpiece! Consider using a sealant specifically designed for countertops to shield the tiles from spills and stains, ensuring your furniture remains as beautiful as the day it was created.

Bar Areas

Elevate your home bar from a simple drink station to a sophisticated entertaining haven. A stylish subway tile backsplash not only protects the wall from inevitable spills but also injects a touch of sophistication into your space. Feeling bold? Explore darker colored tiles or a contrasting grout color to create a dramatic and moody atmosphere. For a touch of glamour, consider using glass subway tiles with a metallic mosaic accent – the perfect conversation starter for your next gathering.

Stair Risers

Transform your staircase from a purely functional element into a stunning focal point. Subway tile risers offer a unique and stylish way to achieve this. Protect your stairs from everyday wear and tear while adding a decorative touch with a variety of design options. Consider incorporating patterns or colors into your risers to add a touch of personality to your hallway. Safety first! Always opt for slip-resistant materials for your risers, ensuring both style and safety for you and your guests. To complete the polished look, consider finishing the edges with bullnose tiles, adding a touch of refinement to your staircase.


Softly lit neutral subway tiles create a serene wall backdrop, complemented by verdant houseplants


Choosing the Right Subway Tile

With a vast array of material, color, and pattern options available, selecting the perfect subway tile for your project can feel overwhelming. However, by understanding the key considerations, you can make an informed decision that complements your design vision and functional needs.

Material Considerations

The material you choose for your subway tiles will impact their aesthetics, durability, and maintenance requirements. Here's a breakdown of the most common materials:


The tried-and-true classic, ceramic subway tiles remain the most affordable option. They offer a vast variety of colors, patterns, and finishes, allowing you to personalize your space and achieve any design style. Ceramic tiles are also relatively easy to clean and maintain. However, they are slightly porous, meaning they can absorb moisture over time. For areas prone to high moisture like showers, periodic sealing may be necessary to prevent staining or mildew growth.


A step up from ceramic in terms of durability and moisture resistance, porcelain subway tiles are a popular choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and high-traffic areas. Porcelain is denser and less porous than ceramic, making it more resistant to scratches, stains, and moisture absorption. This translates to lower maintenance requirements, as sealing is typically not necessary. While generally more expensive than ceramic, porcelain offers superior performance and longevity, making it a worthwhile investment for busy households or areas exposed to frequent moisture.

Natural Stone

Natural stone subway tiles, such as marble or granite, offer unparalleled beauty and timeless elegance. They are incredibly durable and resistant to heat, making them a great choice for areas like fireplaces or backsplashes behind cooktops. However, stone tiles are the most expensive option and require more care. They can be susceptible to staining or etching if not properly sealed, and some stone varieties may need special cleaning products to maintain their luster.

Color and Pattern Options 

Subway tiles come in a vast array of colors and patterns, allowing you to tailor them to any design style. Here are some key considerations:

Classic White Subway Tiles

The most popular choice, white subway tiles offer a timeless and clean aesthetic. They reflect light and create a sense of spaciousness, making them ideal for smaller areas. White subway tiles come in various shades, from cool white to warm ivory, to complement different color palettes. Consider using a bright white for a crisp, modern look, or a warmer white to create a more inviting atmosphere. You can even mix whites with tiles that have a hint of gray or cream for a subtle variation and added depth.

Colored Subway Tiles

For a bolder statement, explore the world of colored subway tiles. From vibrant blues and greens to earthy tones like browns and grays, there's a color to suit any taste. Consider the overall color scheme of your space and how the chosen color will interact with the surrounding elements. For a dramatic effect, create an accent wall with a deep blue or emerald green subway tile. Feeling playful? Opt for a sunny yellow or a soft lavender for a touch of personality.

Patterned Subway Tiles

Add a touch of visual interest and personality with patterned subway tiles. Geometric patterns like hexagons or chevrons can create a modern and playful look. Classic patterns like herringbone or basketweave offer timeless elegance. Consider using patterned tiles for an entire wall or a small backsplash detail for a statement without overwhelming the space. You can also mix and match patterned tiles with solid color tiles to create a unique and eye-catching design.

See Your Vision Come to Life

Once you've narrowed down your material, color, and pattern preferences, take the next step towards visualizing your dream space! Try our Augmented Reality (AR) tool to see how different subway tile options will look directly on your walls. This innovative tool allows you to experiment with various design combinations and get a real feel for the finished look before you commit.

Installation Tips and Considerations

Transforming your space with subway tiles can be a rewarding DIY project. However, proper planning and execution are crucial for a successful and long-lasting installation. Here's a breakdown of key considerations to ensure your subway tile project goes smoothly.

Hiring a Professional Tiler vs. DIY Installation

The decision to tackle the installation yourself or hire a professional tiler depends on your comfort level, DIY experience, and the complexity of your project.

DIY Installation

Feeling handy? DIY subway tile installation can be a rewarding project for smaller, straightforward applications. Think readily accessible backsplashes or accent walls with a simple layout. However, to ensure tiling triumph, you'll need basic carpentry and tiling skills. Gather the right tools and materials beforehand, and don't hesitate to leverage online tutorials and resources – they'll be your virtual guides on the path to tiling success.

Hiring a Professional Tiler

For larger or more complex projects, consider bringing in a professional tiler. Uneven walls, intricate patterns, or expansive areas are best tackled by experienced hands. Professional tilers bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. They'll ensure proper surface preparation, meticulous layout planning, and flawless application, minimizing the risk of costly mistakes. While the investment adds to the project cost, it guarantees a high-quality, long-lasting finish that you'll enjoy for years to come. Consider it a strategic move for a picture-perfect result.

Keeping Subway Tiles Looking Their Best

Subway tiles are renowned for their easy upkeep. However, following a few simple cleaning routines will ensure they maintain their pristine appearance for years to come. To tackle everyday dust and fingerprints, regularly wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth and a mild dish soap solution. 

For tougher grime, identify the stain type (grease, soap scum, etc.). Natural solutions like white vinegar or baking soda often work wonders. Always check cleaning recommendations by material to avoid using anything too harsh. Some materials, like natural stone, might require occasional sealing for extra protection. Following these simple steps keeps your subway tiles looking beautiful for years to come!


Subway tiles have transcended their utilitarian origins in New York City's subway system to become a design powerhouse in homes across the globe. Their enduring appeal lies in their versatility, functionality, and timeless aesthetic. From classic kitchen backsplashes to unexpected accent walls and furniture applications, subway tiles offer endless possibilities to personalize and elevate your living space.

Whether you're a seasoned DIY enthusiast or embarking on your first home improvement project, subway tiles offer a user-friendly and rewarding way to add a touch of style and sophistication to your home. So, unleash your creativity, explore the possibilities, and discover how subway tiles can transform your space into a timeless expression of your own design vision.

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