Bathroom subway tiles are guaranteed to work in any style or size space, making them a pretty much fail-safe option. As the name suggests, they began life in the New York subway, as an easy-to-clean and light-reflective wall surface that was, first and foremost, a practical wall covering for a dark and grimy subway.
But it wasn't long before restaurants, hotels, and then finally residential homes clocked on to the versatility, practicality, low cost, and serious style points that come with the humble subway tile.
And we've been loving bathroom subway tile ideas ever since. There are so many different looks you can create with this simple rectangular tile, so if you're looking for bathroom tile ideas you're most certainly in the right place.
Bathroom subway tile design ideas to flood your space with personality and fun
There are so many different layouts you can choose for your subway tiles, making them a lot of fun to work with. 'Subway tile patterns are a popular choice for bathrooms because they are timeless and versatile. You can find subway tiles in a variety of colors and designs, so it's easy to find a style that suits your taste,' says Dan Wiener, founder, and lead interior designer for Homedude (opens in new tab).
So whatever size or style of your bathroom, and whatever your budget, there is a subway tile that'll work perfectly. But before your head to the store or click, 'Add to cart' remember to plan, plan plan, so that you have the right color, size, and amount of tiles for your space.
Decide exactly where and how you'll lay your tiles before spending a dime. Consider what kind and what color grout you'll use. These seemingly small decisions are often left to the last minute, but they can totally make or break a scheme so we suggest planning every detail well in advance.
1. Go all over with a vertical block pattern
David Mason, interior designer at The Knobs Company (opens in new tab) says that 'vertical stripes are a great way to add visual interest to bathroom. They make the space feel taller and more spacious.' Laying subway tiles in this linear fashion work to elongate your room, making the ceilings feel higher than they are.
This pattern is a great choice if you want your bathroom to be contemporary, sleek, and refined, and we love how this bathroom takes the subway tiles across the bath panel too for a unified and complete scheme.
Going all over with a pale-colored subway tile like this means it's especially important to keep your space clean – we love soft pink but it does show off dirt. The best tile cleaners will help make this job much easier.
2. Create a statement with a jagged edge
One of the best things about subway tiles is their versatility, so let your imagination run wild with how you use them. This bathroom uses a herringbone pattern and has gone for a split wall effect with glossy matt paint up top and subway tiles on the bottom, creating a visual frame and splash-proof surround for the freestanding bath.
Rather than faffing around with cutting tiles (and risking breaking half of them) to achieve a straight line, this space embraces the zig-zag edge of herringbone and allows it to create a fun and playful statement in the space.
'Black grout will give the room that industrial more masculine look. A contrasting grout color will draw your attention to the layout pattern,' says Leah Tuttleman, Allied member of ASID, and corporate designer for Re-Bath (opens in new tab).
3. Create a unique look with colored grouting
When choosing subway tiles, grouting is a decision that shouldn't be underestimated, as it can totally change the look and feel of the space.
'If you love the idea of a classic white subway tile, but want to pull a color from the room, choose a grout color to compliment another color,' says Leah. Here, the copper grouting matches the copper industrial-style bath tap perfectly for a unified and coherent space.
'A vertical herringbone pattern works well for tall vertical spaces because the tiles are at a 45-degree angle to the floor, helping to create multiple lines without becoming overwhelming,' says Andra DelMonico, lead interior designer for Trendey (opens in new tab).
It's easy to teach yourself how to grout tiles, and it'll save you money too.
4. Or keep things calm and simple with camouflaged grouting
If a serene scene is what you're after, choose a grout color that blends in with your tile color. 'Using subway tiles with a matching grout color creates a seamless look,' says Leah.
This makes your subway tile layout less prominent for a more simple, pared-back space. Here, the shower area is minimal and calm. Complete your look with one of the best high-pressure showerheads, and you'll have the perfect, relaxing shower experience where you can switch off and unwind.
5. Keep classic with the original brick-effect layout
You can't go wrong with a classic brick-effect layout. These flat matt metro tiles combine contemporary style and classic design to perfection for the perfect modern heritage bathroom.
These tiles are slightly smaller than the classic style, to suit the smaller-sized bathroom. 'If you have a smaller space, you might consider scaling down your subway tiles to the slimmer 2x6 inches or 2x8 inches. Or if you have a larger room, you might scale up to 3x9 inches or 3x12 inches. If you're tiling a very small area but would still like a pop of pattern, you might scale even further down to a mosaic-sized tile,' says Kali Gibson at Fireclay Tile (opens in new tab).
6. Choose bevelled tiles for a more traditional feel
Add an extra dimension to your space with subway tiles that have a beveled edge. 'Bevelled edges add a touch of detail and visual interest,' says David. 'I usually recommend choosing a beveled edge if you want to add a little bit of extra detail to your bathroom.' Bringing a three-dimensional, tactile twist to the look, these subway tiles are a great way to add character and charm to your space.
7. Mix and match subway tiles with other shaped tiles
Choosing to have subway tiles in your bathroom doesn't mean you can't use other shaped tiles too. Small bathroom shower tile ideas, such as this fish scale design, add a vibrant pop of color and pattern, but, as proven here, can work perfectly next to more subtle subway tiles too. These mix and match shapes complement each other for a room that's a visual delight from every angle.
8. Add opulence with marble subway tiles
If there's one easy way to bring elegance and grandeur to your bathroom, it's with marble. While real marble stone has a luminous quality, we recommend choosing faux marble in a bathroom. The particularly porous nature of marble can make it tricky to maintain and will require regular maintenance and upkeep so it's worth learning how to clean marble safely without damaging the surface.
We love how these marble subway tiles have been used in varying sizes and patterns to create a distinction between the two shower walls, adding interest while maintaining a sleek and cohesive scheme.
9. Choose a horizontal block pattern to widen your room
Laying your subway tiles vertically in a horizontal block pattern like this works to visually widen your room, making it feel bigger than it is. This also creates an orderly, structured and linear feel.
'Tile color is a great way to add character, creativity and give a room a personality,' says Leah. Pink bathrooms create a soft, delicate vibe and these pale pink tiles work perfectly with the rose gold hardware.
10. Take your subway tiles up to dado height
Torn between subway tiles and wallpaper? Bathroom wallpaper ideas are so on-trend, so we say you should choose both. Use subway tiles for the lower half of your wall (as this is where splashes are most likely to occur) and wallpaper the rest.
Wallpapering only part of your wall means you could go especially bold with your pattern without risking overwhelming the room. Here the white subway tiles tie in perfectly with the white swan wallpaper pattern for a perfectly cohesive scheme.
11. Use metro tiles to zone your wet areas
If you're working with a larger bathroom, use subway tiles to zone your space. Here, subway tiles are used for the bath and shower areas, while the rest of the room is simply painted white.
This is a great way to break up your scheme, and it means that the walls in your wettest areas are protected from splashes. Always use a specialist bathroom paint, as this is specially designed to stand up to splashes and humidity, and so will last much longer than regular paint.
12. Choose a hand glazed finish for a rustic look
The finish of your tiles can make a huge difference to the overall look and feel of your space. A more rustic, handmade look with color variations and irregular finishes makes for an overall scheme that's more laid back and relaxed. While handcrafted, porcelain options are great, the latest technology means that this look can be created en masse using cheaper, and often more durable, materials such as ceramic, so you can get the look for less.
'Trending designs for subway tiles include deep hues like navy blue and emerald green. These highly saturated colors are perfect for creating a luxurious look,' says Andra. Green bathrooms are always a winner for a relaxing space, and these rich green subway tiles blend beautifully with the gold hardware for an elegant and glam look.
13. Choose extra long subway tiles for a larger space
Whilst subway tiles are a standard shape, some designs are more slender than others. The tiles used here are longer and slimmer than the standard, and this again works to visually stretch your room to make it feel bigger than it is. This is especially useful for shower areas, to prevent the small bathroom layout from feeling cramped or claustrophobic.
This image is another example of a rustic, hand-crafted finish, adding subtle interest to this elegant space.
14. Use contrasting colors for added interest
Who says you need to stick to one subway tile color throughout your space? Not us. Color can make a huge difference to the overall look and feel of your room, so consider your color combinations carefully. Here the soft blue brings a cool and calming edge to the otherwise pure white space, preventing the room from feeling too stark or clinical.
You could even mix up the color of your subway tile within your pattern for a more statement, playful bathroom wall decor idea.
How do I choose a subway tile pattern?
Firstly consider the style of your bathroom. Have you gone for an industrial, luxurious, ultra-modern, or traditional space? Certain subway tile layouts lend themselves to certain styles.
A brick-effect layout lends itself well to both traditional white bathroom ideas and more industrial schemes, whereas more linear layouts such as the vertical or horizontal block pattern lend themselves to more contemporary spaces. Then ask yourself if you want a statement wall or a plain and simple backdrop.
If it's a look-at-me design you're after, then more decorative layouts such as herringbone or basketweave will create this look for you.
What is the most popular subway tile?
The most popular subway tile is the classic 3 x 6-inch design. For most rooms, this is considered neither too big nor too small, but just right.
And the most popular color is, unsurprisingly, white. And interestingly, the most commonly used layout pattern is the brick-effect style; we can't scroll through Instagram without seeing at least a handful of examples every time. Like a replica of the original New York subway tiles all those years ago, this is a fail-safe choice that's sure to stand the test of time.