Subway tile made its debut in the beginning of the 20th century, in the train stations of the New York City subway system. Since then, it has become a design staple in both commercial and residential settings—and for good reason. It’s affordable, easy to clean, brightens a room by reflecting light, and has a simple elegance that works with a many decor styles. Whether you’ve considered adding subway tile to your home or not, we think you’ll find inspiration from these stunning rooms where subway tile makes its mark.
Urban Meets Country
Sure, subway tile originated in an urban setting, but its simple look makes it versatile enough to work with farmhouse style. In this country kitchen, the white tile gives the room a modern and fresh feel without looking at odds with the room’s more rustic touches.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Portland, OR
Crisp and Clean
Subway tile is a practical choice for the kitchen because it’s easy to clean. Use it as a backsplash behind the stove, as in this stainless kitchen, and you’ll have an easier time wiping up splatters and spills. Plus, if you choose a darker grout, the porous material won’t show spots or stains.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Boise, ID
When you think of subway tile, you probably imagine perfectly straight rows of 3×6-inch white blocks. The truth is, today’s subway tile is available in a dizzying array of colors, and can be set in a variety of patterns. This non-traditional herringbone backsplash in blue subway tile provides a delightful accent in this contemporary kitchen.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Phoenix, AZ
Hiding in Plain Sight
Subway tile’s unassuming appearance makes it a great material for more non-traditional applications. Wrapping a range hood in tile could be a bold choice in some homes, but in this kitchen the crisp tile makes an awkward design feature blend right into the rest of the wall.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Redondo Beach, CA
It’s true: Subway tile is simple and, laid out in the traditional way, provides an understated background. But lay a section in a herringbone pattern and surround it with a decorative border, and it can create a one-of-a-kind focal accent, the way it does behind the range in this kitchen.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Simpsonville, SC
Subway tile, as we know it, has been around for more than 100 years. Even so, its simplicity means it never looks outdated. Instead, its clean lines always give the material a contemporary flavor, as in this kitchen where gray tile elevates an already modern aesthetic.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Fort Myers, FL
The straightforward and uncomplicated design of subway tile gives it the ability to quietly complement other materials that add drama to a space, like granite or marble. The backsplash in this bathroom serves its practical purpose, while the countertop takes center stage.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in San Francisco, CA
Subway tile looks good in many applications. While its beloved as a backsplash in the kitchen, it looks just as well in the bathroom. Whether in the shower, behind the sink, or even around the tub, this bathroom is proof that subway tile gives a space a cohesive finish no matter where it’s installed.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Bellevue, WA
Perhaps the most common type of subway tile is plain white and uniformly colored, but there are plenty of designs that break with tradition. This bathroom is tiled in a natural stone version of the classic subway tile, which gives the simple material a look reminiscent of whitewashed brick.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Charlotte, NC
Like any other tile, subway tile doesn’t have to be installed on the entire wall. In this bathroom subway tile is applied in a herringbone pattern on about two-thirds of the wall, which provides unique alternative to wainscoting.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Sacramento, CA
Even uniform subway tile can be used to create a patterned design when different colors are paired together. This kitchen backsplash gets a playful yet grown-up look when subway tiles are pieced together in a random pattern of both gray and white.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Palo Alto, CA
Traditionally, subway tile has been made of ceramic or porcelain. But today, the classic tile also comes in more modern materials, like glass, which have an ultra smooth and shiny look. The dark blue glass subway tile in this laundry room makes a bold statement when paired with clean white cabinets.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Darien, CT
In its original application in subterranean train stations, subway tile went on every surface, right up the walls onto the arched and coffered ceilings. In the home setting, the same application works. The subway tile in this bathroom surrounds the entire shower, including the arched ceiling, for a vintage yet sleek look.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Memphis, TN
Unlike other here-today-gone-tomorrow design trends, classic subway tile has stood the test of time. The tile in this traditional bathroom will continue to look as fresh in two decades as it does today, even when the mirrors and lighting fixtures start to feel dated.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Scottsdale, AZ
Reaching New Heights
Laid out in a vertical pattern, instead of the traditional horizontal, subway tile can elongate a room, and make the ceiling feel higher, as it does in this space-challenged bathroom.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Naples, FL
Style on a Budget
You can get great style on a budget with subway tile. It’s so affordable, you can even put it in a place where you wouldn’t otherwise consider spending money on tile, like this pantry. Thoughtful use of tile makes this practical storage area feel like a real room, one that’s a pleasure to see each time you step inside to grab a coffee cup.
Photo: Zillow Digs home in Houston, TX
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