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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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?


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