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  • Jess Harrell

How to Make Classic Subway Tile Feel Exciting Again

modern white kitchen with classic white subway tile backsplash
Classic white subway tile in a brick pattern.

Love it or hate it, subway tile has been around for a loooong time and it's not going anywhere. Subway tile made it's debut in 1904 in you guessed it...a subway station. The very first subway station in NYC to be exact. People at that time were really into hygiene and the tile was a hit because it was easy to wipe clean and didn't stain. Eventually it made its way into other spaces that the Victorians wanted to keep looking sparkly clean: kitchens and bathrooms.

There's a few reasons why you see so much of it. It's classic and works with many different styles. You see it in farmhouse, modern, and traditional style kitchens and bathrooms. And it's a more affordable option compared to other materials like stone. But like any design element, when you see it everywhere it starts to feel overdone, basic, and boring. Now before you write off classic white subway tile, here are some great examples for keeping it fresh while still maintaining a timeless look.

floor to ceiling herringbone pattern subway tile in modern bathroom
source: House of Jade Interiors

Try something beyond the traditional brick pattern, like the herringbone pattern seen here. In this space it creates a really nice focal point and taking the tile from floor to ceiling adds some serious drama.

horizontal stacked subway tile pattern in neutral kitchen
source: Our Southwest Nest

The horizontal stack pattern seen here creates a clean, modern look.

white subway tile vertical stack pattern in bright modern bathroom
source: Anna Ueno Interior Design

Or try a vertical stack to really draw the eyes up and heighten a space.

unexpected mix of subway tile patterns in modern bathroom
source: Vernich Interiors

I really like this unexpected mix of both herringbone and brick patterns. It creates a look that is much more interesting to look at than a single pattern would.

mixing up subway tile colors and patterns in the bathroom
source: Christina Wikman Interiors

Here's another unexpected element. The contrasting blue stripe breaks up the traditional brick pattern and gives a fun pop of color.

contrasting stripe of different tile within subway tile pattern
source: In House Design

This contrasting stripe uses a different style tile. The look is more subtle because the stripe is thin and the tile is a soft gray.

So what do you think? Do these fresh takes on subway tile make it look less basic?

Hi there!

I'm Jess Harrell, interior designer and founder of The Styled Domicile. I've got a thing for eating straight out of the pint (Netflix and Chill or The Tonight Dough, please), embarrassing my kids (trust me, they love it), and making homes and the people that live in them happier. I'm all about celebrating what makes you different and throwing ordinary out the window.

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