12 subway tile alternatives for a fresh backsplash

Add wow impact

Blue modern edged tiled backsplash in modern kitchen with white gloss finished cabinets
(Image credit: Molly Culver)

Subway tile has been one of the most popular kitchen backsplashes in recent years. Usually available in a range of materials and prices, the classic shape of subway tiles easily complements lots of different kitchens. While this style isn’t falling out of favor any time soon, it is becoming a bit tired and some interior designers will argue that subway tiles have been overused in the home.

So, if you’re looking to design a unique kitchen that pops with personality, you may want to look at other options. No matter the style of your kitchen, here are ten backsplashes to consider instead of subway tile.

1. Handmade look

White kitchen aesthetic with glazed, textured backsplash tiles, and central island with fresh flowers

(Image credit: Design: Lindye Galloway Studio; Shop credit: Chad Mellon)

Modern kitchens are all about curating a personal and unique space. Choose uber-tactile, textured tiles rooted in authenticity to add a dimension of interest and ripe organic appeal.

Talking of kitchen trend predictions, Lindye Galloway, founder and chief creative officer, Lindye Galloway Design Studio + Shop, says: "I think people will continue to emphasize texture with backsplashes and statement lighting. Gone are the days of subway tile backsplash and now we are seeing many hand-formed materials that have layers of depth and interest with their "imperfections."

2. Modern Edge

Blue modern edged tiled backsplash in modern kitchen with white gloss finished cabinets

(Image credit: Molly Culver)

Modern-edged tiles can create an interesting focal point, such as in this kitchen designed by Sara Malek Barney of BANDD/DESIGN. “I chose this artisanal, modern-edged tile in a soft turquoise blue," says Malek Barney, adding how it helps create textural interest and adds color to the space, offsetting the white cabinetry. "I also loved creating this unexpected, playful pattern to help bring a fresh look to the home,” comments the interior designer.

3. Full Slab

Full marble slab backsplash in modern kitchen with white island and dark high chair seating surround

(Image credit: Heather Fujikawa of House Sprucing)

Full slab backsplashes are an excellent alternative to subway tiles, especially for modern kitchens. Easy to install, all you need to do is purchase extra stone when buying your countertop. This material is also favorite among interior designers including Heather Fujikawa of House Sprucing. “We went for a dramatic effect by opting to extend the countertop up the wall in place of tile," says Fujikawa. "It created a statement look that still felt clean and minimal. This is a beautiful option for someone who really wants to highlight their kitchen and go for a bold look. Plus, it’s easy to clean.”

4. Chevron 

Full backsplash in gray chevron tiles below cream kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: David Patterson Photography)

Black and white kitchens are coming back in style. A chevron or herringbone backsplash is an ideal way to complement this type of kitchen. “When working with a black and white kitchen, the backsplash becomes an opportunity to bring in texture and pattern,” says Valerie Stafford, lead designer, Rumor Designs. “The chevron pattern is a classic, and we love the subtle variations in color and tones that appear naturally when working with real stones products. The overall impact softens the space and adds next-level sophistication.”

5. Short Slab

Short slab earthy colored backsplash in modern kitchen with black marble hood, island and sage green cabinet finish

(Image credit: Sapna Aggarwal of Bungalowe | Virtually Here Studios)

Short slab backsplashes have a neat simplicity ideal for minimalist kitchens. “It's very easy to clean and avoids introducing another material into your kitchen," says interior designer Sapna Aggarwal of Bungalowe. "The continuity is striking and impactful and can be budget friendly if you have leftover slab from your countertops,” adds Aggarwal.

6. Arabesque

Arabesque Tile in white modern kitchen

(Image credit: Sara Tramp)

Like subway tile, arabesque tile is a timeless choice. “We loved this tile selection as an alternative to subway tile because it brings a little bit more of a dynamic style into the space," says interior designer Christine Vroom of Christine Vroom Interiors. "It still has that nice glossy effect but it adds a really fun dimension. It adds shape and texture without having to use a really dramatic pattern that you may get sick of or that goes off-trend.” Not to mention the choice of color is super calming and modern. The lightness and glossiness of the tile will work really well in small kitchens too.

7. Peel and Stick Wallpaper

Abstract large scale wallpaper backsplash idea in modern kitchen

(Image credit: Wallsauce.com)

Using wallpaper in the kitchen is a great substitute for a stone backsplash or to work in partnership with your current backsplash. This is also a smart choice for renters who can use peel-and-stick wallpaper and install it themselves without spending too much money. 

“Wallpaper is one of my favorite ways to add layers, interest, and personality to a room. We used this fun Southwestern-inspired black and white wallpaper by Makelike on the hood in my guesthouse, which makes a statement and acts as a neutral palette against the other colors in the space,” says Kirsten Blazek, principal designer a1000xbetter. “We installed a powerful ventilation system to protect the wallpaper since it is in a heat-prone area. Wallpaper in the kitchen is truly a great way to let your personality shine, go bold, and create a focal point on using wallpaper in the kitchen.”

8. Square

Natural square tiles with black flecks on backsplash with dark hood

(Image credit: Luke Gottleib)

If you appreciate the simplicity of subway tile, think about installing square tile instead. While you can buy new square tiles at most retailers, you can also choose vintage ones as seen in this kitchen by Julie Brayton of Brayton Interiors. “Selecting this tile as an option for this kitchen was a no-brainer in this historic Victorian home in the Denver Highlands. They're antique Dutch Delft tiles sourced from Europe,” says Brayton. “I chose to source antique tiles because they display that authentic wear and patina we love to see in older homes. Even the neutral field tiles in this grouping show so much variation compared to your generic subway tile.”

9. Mosaic

White and black geo mosaic tiled backsplash in white contemporary kitchen

(Image credit: Ashley DeLapp Interior Design)

Mosiac tiles add a dose of fun and sophistication to any kitchen. They can also be a focal point of the space, as seen in this kitchen by interior designer Ashley DeLapp. “In this open-concept kitchen, we only had one wall to install a backsplash and I wanted it to be the feature of the room. This bold black and white marble mosaic adds graphic punch to a sea of white cabinets,” says DeLapp.

10. Aged Mirror

Mirrored backsplash in industrial-style kitchen with island and stool seating

(Image credit: Tamarra Younis)

Aged Mirror backsplashes add unexpected character. Mirrors can also be inexpensive and potentially self-installed. Consider scouring your local flea market to find a vintage piece. Tamarra Younis of Union of Art Interiors tells me, “If you're looking to add unexpected detail to your kitchen, we love using an aged mirror tile as a backsplash. It works beautifully to create a distressed modern or industrial feeling with a hint of glam and all you need to maintain it as a great glass cleaner and a soft rag.”

11. Wood Paneling

Modern wood paneling in fresh kitchen

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Wainscoting or shiplap wood are wonderful alternatives to adding tile or stone,” says Younis. She recommends this look for a modest country chic home or a modern bungalow kitchen. “It keeps the design pretty and streamlined. This option is also great for those building on a budget as the cost can be included in the carpenter's scope of work and reduces additional material purchasing.”

12. Vintage Brick

Vintage brick backsplash in brick kitchen with trad features, island and table with large spherical overhead lighting

(Image credit: Heather Fujikawa of House Sprucing)

Vintage brick is the perfect way to add classic charm to a kitchen. “Modern European meets classic and traditional in the kitchen at our Fort Worth project where we sourced beautiful vintage brick from Chicago to create a stunning space with old-world charm," explains Fujikawa. "Brick is a great option to use in a kitchen in place of subway tile as it can easily be updated with paint to give the space a fresh new look as trends change." If you like an industrial-style cooking space, this look is for you. 

Choices choices.

There will always be a place for subway tile in our hearts but there's no harm in exploring alternatives and tapping into other styles when your cooking space is calling out for a fresh start.

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!