How to make your subway tiles look classic

Let us discuss tile, friends… These days, everyone and their mother, brother, mailman, and so on (you get the picture) are utilizing subway tiles. For the last six or seven years, this old material has exploded in popularity, and the trend does not seem to be slowing. That is both a good and a terrible thing, in my view. The good news is that people have found subway tile’s enchanted and ageless beauty.

What about the negative news? Because subway tiles have been a safe and fashionable option for a long period of time, their overuse is beginning to seem dull and antiquated, rather than classic. You’re probably thinking, “since it IS a classic material, you can’t go wrong and it’ll never go out of style”… Yes and no, eh? As with all trends, materials and décor come and go. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing, as we all know. Not to worry, though! I’m going to provide a few ideas for laying subway tile in a manner that seems ageless, purposeful, and far from plain or dull. Click through for many ideas and strategies for avoiding overusing this popular tile without appearing fashionable or risking it becoming old.

Whether you’re prepared or not, here we go! You are aware of the adage “variety is the spice of life.” It’s normal to get dissatisfied with something after seeing it a million times on Pinterest, Instagram, or in five of your neighbors’ kitchens and bathrooms. When a material or design is overdone, it becomes “trendy” and risks becoming antiquated. That is not to say that a material is no longer important; it just means that you must be careful in the way you install and design it if you want it to last.

I’d like to offer some suggestions for revitalizing this incredible and inexpensive tile! After all, I’m going to begin constructing our guest bathroom this week (YAY! ), and there’s a reason I’m continuing to use subway tile… clearly, I still like it.


This is true for every subway tiles project; if you want it to seem completed and fitted, include trim pieces! Obviously, the preceding picture is exaggerated due to the architecture. It’s beautiful and certainly not typical, but you get the idea!

To create a coherent appearance in my guest bath, I’ll use this base tile, pencil liner, subway tile, and chair rail tile. Regardless of your style, ensure that the exposed edges seem and feel complete. Even if you’re going for a contemporary look, make careful to cap the tile with a basic bullnose tile or Schluter to conceal an unfinished edge. I’m a stickler for details and believe me when I say that they make all the difference! Visit to read about Subway tiles – Individual tiles vs Sheets.


Subway tiles is attractive since it comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Don’t be scared to use an inset border to create some contrast. You may even switch up the material! Consider how elegantly marble carrara contrasts with the traditional white subway tile in the top picture. Again, looking back in time, this method was often used. Spoiler warning… my guest bath will also have a border, and just glancing at the design plan has me all psyched for a nice graphic element.


Clearly, I’m a lover of color blocking, and tile is no exception. This is an excellent technique to extend a space or to break up a field of monotonous white tile.


My friends Kim and Scott chose a colorful subway tile for their treehouse kitchen backsplash, and the outcome is beautiful! I like the warm gray color that is both neutral and traditional while still being welcoming. Utilizing a colorful subway tile instantly updates and modernizes the space.


Consider running your subway tiles in a different pattern or direction. This is the simplest approach to make a difference with what you currently own.


36-inch subway tiles is the standard size. However, there are many alternatives on the market that alter the size of subway tile. Due to the extended form of the above tile, this bath seems more contemporary. Additionally, you’ll note the designer ran it vertically. That, in my opinion, is a victory for both the size and the unusual design. Remember how I ran the tile vertically in my last bathroom to fool the eye into believing the ceiling was higher than it really was? That is another creative technique using the orientation of the tile.


Recently, I’ve developed an affinity for textured subway tiles. These handcrafted and hand-glazed subway tiles have an organic, natural feel and offer an incredible amount of depth and diversity to any wall. They evoke a sense of timelessness and effortlessness yet are contemporary. The textured tiles give off a much more relaxed feel.


How to make your subway tiles look classic

To bring attention to the niche, I like to include a little of contrast. Whether it’s a backsplash behind the range or cooktop in the kitchen or a shower niche in the bathtub, a little sophisticated contrast goes a long way! You might change the color of the trim, replace the tile entirely, run a different pattern, or experiment with size. Whichever way you choose to emphasize the recessed region, the effect will undoubtedly be one of immediate elegance. Bear in mind that we’re attempting to avoid the term “basic.”


Finally, the environment and associated design components of a place have a significant impact on the appearance and feel of the area. For instance, if you’re putting subway tiles in a bathroom because it’s a timeless material, consider investing in timeless plumbing fittings. The surroundings have a significant role—not it’s just about the tile! Everything that enters into a place contributes to its ageless, fashionable, or antiquated vibe.

If you’re concerned about grout, that’s a different story.

Final thoughts

For those of you who are currently sporting plain subway tiles and are freaking out… Please refrain! Rock it, accept it, and style it to death. POSSESS IT. At the end of the day, it is a timeless material—despite its prevalence. To summarize, I’ll offer this little comparison…

Subway tiles are similar to a simple tee-shirt in that it can be worn every day and yet appear fresh and new depending on how it is styled. That is just how I see subway tile! It’s very adaptable and can take on any aesthetic—it all depends on how it’s installed. It will never go out of style, but if you don’t pay attention to the details, it may appear monotonous.