Urban Road

A fresh take on subway tiles: 5 of the most popular ways to lay subway tiles

Subway tiles are one of the most popular tile shapes. Possibly because it’s generally the most affordable decorative tile… or because it has the smallest grout joints. Or perhaps it’s the seemingly endless range of colours and finishes to choose from? Let’s not forget there are also plenty of ways you can lay subway tiles to create different effects.

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying subway tiles are a stylish, versatile and timeless choice. Suitable for laundry areas, kitchen splashbacks, fireplaces, and bathroom walls and/or floors (depending on type), let’s take a look at the 5 most popular ways to lay subway tiles.

Check out our video below for a quick rundown or keep scrolling for plenty of subway tile inspo!

Related article: Real terrazzo vs terrazzo-look tiles, what you need to know
Related article: Top 9 kitchen splash back trends 2022

Herringbone subway tiles

Laying tiles in a herringbone pattern instantly creates a sense of luxe. Perfect for achieving a Hamptons, coastal, contemporary, industrial, traditional… basically any interior design style!

No matter your design direction, the herringbone pattern adds movement and depth to your space. Our tip, use restraint. The bold pattern of herringbone goes a long way so remember: less is more. Consider creating a striking feature wall behind your vanity or in the shower.

Fun fact, do you know where this pattern gets its name? It’s the way it resembles fish bones, in particular, the herring fish.

Handmade subway shower wall
The oh-so-popular herringbone subway tile shower by Melissa Lunardon | See the full home tour
blue fireplace_subway tiles
Herringbone tiles are incredibly popular for fireplaces. Image via Fireclay Tile
hendrick farm_subway tiles
Gloss white subway tiles add texture and pattern to this kitchen. Image via Hendrick Farm

Straight stack subway tiles — vertical and horizontal

If you want to create an architectural look on a budget, our tip is to use a straight stack subway pattern. Lay them vertically for a contemporary aesthetic or switch to horizontal for mid-century or Japanese vibes.

The vertical straight stack splashback in the kitchen below is a gorgeous example of less is more. The differing shades of white tiles paired with the straight stacked pattern and white accessories achieves a clean and modern look. 

Kitchen with a subway tile splashback to the ceiling and subway island
This kitchen by Melissa Vukadin uses a smaller white subway tile in a vertical straight stack pattern for an architectural aesthetic minus the price tag. Photography by Space Craft
Erskineville main bathroom_floating vanity
Gina used a vertical straight stack in the Erskineville main bathroom | Take the tour
pink subway tile
Love the subtle tonal variation of these rose subway tiles by Design Tiles
mid-century kitchen_subway tiles
Horizontal straight stack subway tile splashback by Emily Henderson
Californian Bungalow_Bone Made_bathroom vanity
Loving this modern luxe Hamptons bathroom by Bone Made | See the full home tour

Brick bond subway tiles

Brick bond is probably the most well-known and traditional pattern for laying subway tiles and we totally understand why. A brick bond pattern is versatile and can fit almost any style of home whether it be modern, rustic, coastal, etc.

You can also jazz up this traditional pattern by using a contrasting grout colour. For example, light subway tiles with a dark grey grout are perfect for an industrial aesthetic. Or be daring and consider using a coloured grout for something truly different.

White modern bathroom in heritage home
Subway tiles beautifully complement marble tiles in a bathroom | Tour this heritage home
Round bathroom mirror
Three Birds Renovation used a feature strip of brick bond subway tiles in this bathroom project | Check out more round mirror inspo

Offset subway tiles

An offset pattern is an unexpected way to lay your subway tiles that many designers are using today. It achieves a modern look that makes for a gorgeous statement.

Just as the name suggests, each row of tiles is offset slightly from the row below. And this way of laying subway tiles can be achieved in either a horizontal or vertical orientation.

Double herringbone subway tiles

Finally, the last layout to make our list of of the 5 most popular ways to lay subway tiles is a double herringbone pattern. Because when one of a good thing isn’t enough, double it!

A double herringbone subway pattern creates a bolder look, emphasising the angular lines of a herringbone pattern. It’s a fabulous option for coastal and contemporary style homes. Going for neutral coloured tiles can also create a more sophisticated, luxe and calm ambience in your space.

double herringbone splashback
Double herringbone subway tiles in minimalist kitchen. Image via Salt at Shoal Bay

Have our design tips on modern ways to lay subway tiles helped you? Which subway layout is your favourite? Or if you prefer another subway pattern, let us know by leaving a comment below!

Find more design inspo here

Gina Beschorner Style Curator

Welcome to Style Curator, your destination for daily interiors inspiration, styling tips, reno advice, home tours and DIY projects!

We're on a mission to help you create a home you love. And with plenty of tips and tricks, tutorials and other home inspo, we give you all the tools to achieve it!

I’m Gina, Founder and Interior Designer, and you can read more about Style Curator here.


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