Named after the white tiles covering New York subway stations, subway tile installations take center stage in designs ranging from old world to modern. Generally, the tiles are white, glazed, and twice as wide as they are tall, but subway tile is readily available in a variety of sizes and materials. Learn the various patterns in which you can arrange subway tiles, including classic running bond, herringbone, basket-weave, and more, for a stylish backsplash that reflects your personality.
Tile treatments rendered in a classic running bond pattern -- taking its cue from conventional brickwork -- add floor-to-ceiling appeal in kitchens and bathrooms alike. This pattern is simple to lay out and requires fewer complicated tile cuts than other patterns. This pattern offsets tile joints so they are centered in the middle of all adjoining tiles. This symmetrical layout presents a crisp, cohesive look that sets a serene stage for busy workspaces. For wall-spanning applications, choose large individual white subway tiles (found in 3x6-inch, 4x8-inch, and 6x12-inch forms), and use white or light grout to prevent the tiled walls from appearing too fussy.
Large subway tiles installed vertically create the illusion of taller walls and higher ceilings. When they're installed in a running bond pattern -- rows offset by a half of a tile -- and accented with dark gray grout, they make a dramatic statement that demands applause. In this walk-in shower, the slate floors supply a weighty anchor for the airier walls.
When subway tiles are set on 45-degree angles with their joints offset, hitting the centers of adjoining tiles, they create a herringbone (or chevron) pattern that evokes the fish scales for which the pattern was named. Thanks to the pattern's prominent peaks and valleys, the tile treatment draws the eye up, down, and around a room's perimeter. This kitchen backsplash was finished with gray grout, which picks up on the room's steely fittings and defines each tile shape.
A modern take on an old favorite, this double basket-weave pattern crafted from white subway tile forgos the colored tiles that are often included to emphasize the look. Comprised of pairs of vertical tiles framed by pairs of horizontal tiles, this pattern is easy to plan and install. Because it employs a readily available tile size and shape, the pattern is a cost-effective way to fashion high-impact walls. Narrow spaces between these tiles are filled with white grout to subtly define the dimensional pattern.
Due to their unfussy stair-stepped appearance, traditional herringbone patterns are perfect for framing inset murals and highlighting vintage silhouettes. Subway tiles are set perpendicular to each other to create 90-degree angles. Striking in their simplicity, 90-degree herringbone patterns mirror a kitchen's straight lines, while bringing a sense of movement that softens a room's hard surfaces. For this backsplash, the homeowners opted for a grout similar in color to the tiles to create a low-contrast backdrop allowing the mural and carved mantel to be highlighted.
One of the easiest subway tile treatments to install is the stacked bond pattern -- aligned, evenly stacked rows of same-size tiles. The minimalist pattern gives workspaces an unexpectedly progressive edge and an orderly outlook that perfectly suits transitional and modern designs. Backsplashes created with white subway tiles laid in this pattern step back to allow a kitchen's best-looking fixtures to advance into view.
Vive la difference! Turn subway tiles vertically to construct an unconventional composition. Smaller rectangular tiles marshalled in tidy rows align in a vertical stacked bond pattern to beautifully fill the wall space between countertops and expansive kitchen windows. A simple way to get a similar look? Buy mesh-mounted 1x2-inch subway tiles. The nearly 12-inch square sheets can be mounted as one piece or cut to create individual tiles.
A vivacious variation of the horizontal stacked bond pattern, this high-gloss backsplash mixes in colored subway tiles to create a striped effect, heightening interest and making the room appear taller. Because this pattern uses white and colored tiles of a similar size, some vertical tiles will require cutting to ensure they properly align with the height of adjacent horizontal tiles. The grout color on this kitchen backsplash both showcases the white tiles and complements the gray-blue tiles.