Spicing Up Subway Tile

By Kate Riley December 12, 2012

Mid week greetings friends!  Today I bring you a topic we all love to chat about, home improvement that beautifies spaces!  I’ve invited contributing writer Liz from It’s Great to Be Home back to share her insight on spicing up a design classic: subway tile.   You all know Liz as a talented home remodeler, and she’s a wealth of information on everything from structural changes to cosmetic upgrades.  Please welcome back Liz!

“Hey there, peeps. Let’s talk tile today!  It seems that you can hardly look at a kitchen or bathroom in a design magazine or on without seeing subway tile. That little 3 x 6 inch white tile has a well-earned reputation for being the “little black dress” of tile – it goes with everything, never goes out of style, and can be dressed up or down. Sounds pretty great to me!

spice up subway tile


Traditionally, subway tile is installed in an offset brick pattern, end on end in staggered rows.

classic white kitchen

House and Home


classic subway tile in bathroom

Southern Living


While this is a timeless look, what do you do if you want to spice up your space with a fresh twist?   Here are six options!

1.   Changing the color of the grout that surrounds your subway tile is one option which makes a graphic statement. 

white kitchen backsplash gray grout

Veranda Interiors


gray grout white tile


Tip: Use a shade of gray for the grout – darker gray will have a more dramatic impact but will also highlight any imperfections in your tile job.  Avoid grout in shades of tan when working with subway tile – it will just look dirty.  (I may have learned this one the hard way!)



2.  Even though a brick pattern is the traditional way to install subway tile, who says you have to stick with tradition?  If you go bold with pattern I can guarantee your backsplash will look much cooler than your neighbor’s.  Stack the tiles for a linear, modern look or try a beautiful herringbone sign.

southern living idea house backsplash

Southern Living


sarah richardson herringbone backsplash

Sarah Richardson on HGTV


3.  Traditionally, subway tile is crisp white in color, but if you’re craving something dramatic and different, subway tile comes in an endless variety of colorways.  A soft gray or taupe would be gorgeous with white cabinets paired with white grout, or you could go bolder with any color of the rainbow that appeals to you.

charcoal tile architectural digest

Architectural Digest


green subway kitchen backsplash

Better Homes & Gardens


4.  One size doesn’t fit all – so go ahead and switch up the size of your subway tile my making them mini!  Petite 1 x 2 inch subway tiles on a mesh backing are a great way to embrace the mosaic tile trend while still maintaining an understated look.

small white subway tile



small scale subway tile

Atlanta Homes Mag


5.  If tiny tiles aren’t your thing, long and linear subway tiles lend an interesting twist to any design, or even oversized subway tile.  And remember, the larger the tile, the less grout you have to clean in the shower.

classic white subway tile

Atlanta Homes Mag


blue glass tile bhg

Better Homes & Gardens


6. Part of subway tile’s allure is the fact that it is incredibly affordable, although some varieties skyrocket in price.  If you love the 3 x 6 inch profile of subway tile but want to upgrade from the typical ceramic variety, natural stone (such as carrera marble) is an absolutely beautiful choice.  And don’t forget glass – sleek glass subway tile works seamlessly with pretty much any design style.

michael abrams herringbone tile

Michael Abrams



Elle Decor

And have you seen beveled subway tile?  It’s a subtle detail that looks equally awesome in both modern and vintage designs.  Consider mixing it up by installing it both horizontally and vertically as a backsplash for a traditional touch with modern appeal!

tile backsplash midwest living

Midwest Living


benjamin dhong kitchen remodel

Benjamin Dhong


What’s your preference with subway tile?  Do you like it in traditional white or prefer it spiced up in one of the ways mentioned? 


*Catch up with Liz and her adventures in home remodeling and flipping houses over at her blog It’s Great to Be Home.


  1. I do like that gray grout quite a lot. Since the living room and dining room that are adjacent to the kitchen are gray, that might be an excellent way to tie it all together. I have the tile already so now off to get some gray grout! Sounds like a perfect post-holiday project.

    Thanks for this roundup!

  2. I think the grey grout highlights itself. Your eye is drawn to the grey lines first. I think the tile should be the feature. I don’t get a dark grey grout with a small tile. At all.

  3. I LOVE subway tile! I also love all the different styles you highlighted! We’re going to be redoing our bathroom and kitchen in the coming year – you’ve given me a LOT of different ideas to dream about now :-) Thanks!

  4. I guess I’m a traditionalist. I like the white and white grout or try for the most minimal grout line possible. Personally, that one bath pic with the dark grout reminded me of mold. Yikes!

  5. I had all white in my last kitchen, but it had wood cabinets and busy granite. I have a new kitchen that needs a backsplash and I am leaning towards using a gray grout. My new kitchen has white cabinets and darker gray corian counter tops similar to the insp pic you posted.

  6. I was hoping you’d mention beveled subway tile. I just completed a kitchen remodel like five minutes ago and I used white, beveled subway tile and added a rope accent border. I love it!

  7. Love subway tile. Don’t have a speck of it in my house. hmmm.
    I’d pick a really light grey or white. The darker to me takes away from the tile itself.
    The colors in subway tile are great. Love the green in the pic. above and the glass tile is really beautiful.

  8. The subway tile in my actual subway station is tiled vertically instead of horizontally. I think it looks awesome vertical.

  9. I love the herringbone pattern, too. I considered it myself, but went traditional since we only had a small amount of subway behind the stovetop.

  10. What great tips! Gosh, I am surprised how much I like the darker grout with the white tile. Whenever I hear someone say that I always think that is sounds terrible but then I change it and want to go grout up my house!

  11. I absolutely love this article! I think its worth a mention that a herringbone pattern might cost a little more in labor and extra material, but it’s totally worth it in my opinion.

  12. Love that beveled tile, and the glass ones are so pretty also. I don’t care for the dark grout with the white tile, it all looks dirty to me.

  13. I did not care for subway tile until I came upon American Olean Cache tile in the matte finish. We did the kitchen backsplash of our new home in Rattan and it’s soft and classy looking. The colors on the AO site show darker than actual. I’ve also seen the Moss color and it’s lovely.

  14. Wow! These are some great subway tile pics. I just love a couple of those kitchens. I’m not so sure about the white subway tile in that bathroom with the gold fixtures though. I think it would have looked much better with brushed nickel fixtures and a lighter grout color. That’s just me though. Thanks for sharing these pics!

  15. I am a lover of herringbone. Love the look with the subway tile backsplash! (But oh man how I love a herringbone wood floor…sigh.)

  16. Love this post! I’ve had my eye on white subway tile for a while now, but I’m wondering if white subway tile would work as a backsplash with maple cabinets? Almost all photos I see of white subway tile have white/cream cabinets, and I’m afraid it will look odd against a maple wood.

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