Bluewater Interiors Designs by Roxanne

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subway tile


Question: What is the design equivalent of a good pair of jeans?

Answer: Subway tile. It will never go out of style. It is timeless and it goes with every design style. You can dress it up or dress it down, like your fav pair of jeans.

There was once talk about how it was going out of style. But it never did because new styles of subway tiles were always being created and embraced by designers. And once designers embrace a design element, the people follow.

What is Subway Tile?

So what constitutes a tile to be called ‘subway tile’?

It’s a bit difficult to define—especially if you think subway tile as being the classic white, rectangular shape tile measuring 3” x 6”. But they’ve changed a lot since they became popular in residential design.

With new styles being designed all the time, the definition of ‘subway tile’ is expanding. And nowadays, it turns out, subway tiles aren’t always rectangular – they can be square.

New styles also refer to the material it is made out of – stone, glass, marble, ceramic, porcelain, metal are all design choices on the market.


Did you know that the original version of the subway tile used in the New York City Subway were actually made of white glass?

But essentially all tiles in the ‘subway’ category have slightly curved edges. That’s about all I can say about defining them.


The designers of the first subway station were Christopher Grand La Farge and George C. Heins. They were tasked with a tricky challenge: to design a surface that was easily cleaned, but would also feel familiar, safe, and friendly to city-dwellers using underground transit for the very first time. Their solution—tiles with slightly curved edges and a glossy finish—meant that the subway stations were sanitary, polished, and bright. Eventually, these tiles became known as ‘subway tiles’.

There are good reasons why subways have transcended the decades – they’re well-priced and they keep reinventing themselves with different colours and finishes.

From traditional white gloss, to matt finishes, gorgeous textures, pastel hues and bold blues, modern squares to antique looks, subway tiles are classic and here to stay.

How Can I Make It Unique?

With so many options to choose from, how can you make it unique to your home? Well, there are three design elements you could consider: 

  1. lay pattern  
  2. grout colour
  3. tile mix

Lay Pattern

Traditional offset is usually with a horizontal lay, but you can also do a vertical offset lay for a more unique look.
Stacked: A vertical or horizontal (shown) stacked lay creates an interesting focal point.
CrossHatch or BasketWeave is my all time favourite. Shown here is a double.
For a unique look, try tripling the tile in the basket weave lay.
Single herringbone lay can be done in either the traditional (shown) or diagonal lay.
double herringbone
Double herringbone can create a stunning look.


Not the most exciting conversation to have but it is usually not something considering when designing a space. The grout you choose could completely change the look and style of your subway tile. For the many considerations, from dark to light and everywhere in between, grout selection really does change the end result.

There are 3 ways to go with grout:

  1. Contrast: If you want to make a statement, use contrasting grout to make your tiles pop.
  2. Complement: Perhaps you’re using a gorgeous multi-coloured patterned tile? Then you’re going to need to choose a grout colour that complements the palette. You can’t match them all, so which pull a colour from the pattern.
  3. Camouflage: If you want your tiles to blend seamlessly to look like one big piece, you can camouflage your grout, so you’ll hardly know it’s there at all. This is also a good choice if you would rather your cabinetry to be the star of the show.
Contrasting grout with white tile
Contrasting Grout
white subway tile
Camouflage Grout
Complementary Grout

Tile Mix

Another way I love to make the application of subway tile unique to a homeowner is creating my own design.  Using a variety of different techniques mentioned below, you can also create a design specifically for your home. 

Colour: Add a subway tile of a different colour. 

blue tile

Finish: Mix up various finishes to create a sophisticated design.  Highly polished, matt.

Tiles with different finishes

Texture: Textured tile is a beautiful alternative for a backsplash. You can mix it up with different finishes too!

Size: Have you even thought of mixing up the size of your subway tile? 

different size tile

Accent: Adding an accent tile or decorative border like the one shown here can be a showstopper.

Decorative tile

A Final Word

Be creative with subway tile if you choose. Or use it in the traditional way.  Which ever way you go, it will look lovely.

Do you want to know more about my Renovation Design Plan service? Set up a 20 minute discovery call with me or call me directly at 519-494-8965.

Until next time, stay safe my friends…


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Hi, I am Roxanne

Interior Decorator + Designer

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