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11 Ways to Design a Subway Tile Backsplash

By Ted Ryan

11 Ways to Design a Subway Tile Backsplash

See one Subway Tile backsplash, you’ve seen them all? We beg to differ. Hailing originally from the New York City subway system and hung in homes and offices throughout the world, Subway Tile is the undisputed champ for kitchen and bathroom backsplashes.

JL Interior Design 3x6 Crater Lake Backsplash

Tile Shown: Crater Lake in 3x6 // Design: JL Interior Design // Image: Thomas Kuoh

But this classic shape is capable of much more than the standard white kitchen--not that there’s anything wrong with a white Subway Tile backsplash!

Learn the 6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Tile Backsplash
Rosemary Bathroom Backsplash 3x6

Tile Shown: Rosemary in 3x6 //Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel, Emily Farnham Architecture // Image: Tessa Neustadt

Today’s top interior designers continue to turn to the versatile Subway Tile to create fresh and inventive backsplash designs, and show no signs of letting up.

We’re showing off our top 11 favorite Subway Tile Backsplash Designs.

Tusk in 3x6

What is a Subway Tile?

Subway Tile is a glazed rectangular ceramic tile, usually measuring 3x6. Black and white are the most common subway tile glaze colors, but Fireclay offers over 100 standard tile colors in a variety of finishes and degrees of variation.

Where can Subway Tile be Used?

Subway Tile is one of the most versatile tiles available and works almost anywhere. Ceramic Subway Tile can be used as bathroom and kitchen backsplash tile, floor tile, shower tile including steam showers, fireplace tile, counter tile, and outdoor tile applications in non-freeze/thaw environments like pools, patios, hardscapes, and stair risers.

DIY Cartel 3x6 in Amalfi Coast

Tile Shown: Amalfi Coast in 3x6 // Design + Images: DIY Cartel

Today we’re focusing on backsplashes for the kitchen and bathroom in residential spaces.

Why Subway Tile Works for Backsplashes

Subway Tile is a true utilitarian tile. It’s why you still see it throughout the New York City subway system where millions of people pass through each day. Subway Tile is strong--a breaking strength of 393 lbs and scratch hardness of 6.0 mohs if you’re keeping score at home--beautiful and versatile.

Tile Shown: Seedling in 3x6 // Design: Interior Blooms Design Co. // Image: Emily Kennedy Photography

In the kitchen and bathroom, it’s no exception. Subway Tile stands up to high use, high moisture areas and looks great for years and years. And given the staying power of this design staple, you won’t be wondering what you were thinking 10 to 20 years down the road. Subway Tile’s appeal is as durable as the tile itself.

Subway Tile Patterns

3x6 in Flagstone

Tile Shown: Flagstone in 3x6 // Design: Curio Design Studio // Image: Samantha Elizabeth Collin

Half Offset

The most common pattern you’ll see with Subway Tile is Half Offset. Also known as a running bond or brick pattern, the edges of the tile line up with the center of the tile in the row above and below it.

A bright white kitchen gets a frosty white backsplash with Subway Tile in Frost and matching white grout lines.

ReBUILD wrokshop Frost kitchen backsplash

Tile Shown: Frost in 3x6 // Design: reBuilt Workshop // Image: Pepe Molina


Enhance the look of the classic offset pattern with a grout color that contrasts with the color of your tile. This backsplash in cool blue Moonshine uses black grout to make each tile pop.

Pepper Interior Moonshine 3x6 Backsplash

Tile Shown: Moonshine in 3x6 // Design: Pepper Interiors // Image: Chad Jackson


A classic doesn’t have to be conventional. This offset Subway Tile backsplash uses bright color to add vibrance to the kitchen with a familiar pattern.

Ellen Nystrom Design tuolumne Meadow Backsplash

Tile Shown: Tuolumne Meadow in 3x6 // Design: Ellen Nystrom Design // Image: Liz Daly

If black Subway Tile is a bit too dark for your tastes, consider a dark blue like this Navy Blue backsplash with an offset pattern with light grout lines.


Navy Blue Subway Backsplash Tile

Tile Shown: Navy Blue in 3x6 // Design: Emerson Grace Design, Fink Architecture // Image: Vivian Johnson Photo

With a high variation glaze, a single color can have a range of personalities, adding dimension to a standard offset backsplash pattern.

Amalfi Coast DIY Backsplash

Tile Shown: Amalfi Coast in 3x6 // Design + Images: DIY Cartel

Straight Set

For a more modern look, try Subway Tile with a straight set pattern. This pattern evokes simplicity, order, and symmetry, perfect for a minimalist mid-century or contemporary kitchen or bathroom.

This vertical straight set bathroom backsplash uses rich Rosemary tile with matching grout for a minimalist look in Mandy Moore’s bathroom.

Tile Shown: Rosemary in 3x6 //Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel, Emily Farnham Architecture // Image: Tessa Neustadt

Tile Shown: Rosemary in 3x6 //Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel, Emily Farnham Architecture // Image: Tessa Neustadt


This straight set backsplash gets creative with color-blocked courses of Subway Tile in Dawn, Clover, and Sunflower.

Samantha Klein Kitchen Backsplash in 3x6

Tile Shown: Dawn, Clover, and Sunflower in 3x6 // Design + Image: Samantha Klein

Herringbone

Subway Tile is capable of a creative herringbone pattern on your backsplash. Rows of layered “V’s” lead the eye upward, giving the illusion of length and height to surfaces.

Framed by a full backsplash of horizontal offset Subway Tile in Aegean Sea, the space above the stove gets a special design touch with a herringbone pattern trimmed in flat liner trim.

herringbone Aegean Sea 3x6

Tile Shown: Aegean Sea in 3x6


Basketweave

Because Subway Tile has a 1:2 Width to Length ratio, it’s a perfect fit for a basketweave pattern backsplash. 2 subway tiles are arranged side by side horizontally to form a square, followed by another square of 2 tiles arranged vertically and so on. This creates a woven look like that of a basket or parquet wood floor.

This Tiki Blue kitchen backsplash gets even more tropical with an artistic basketweave pattern.

Parquet Tiki Blue kitchen Backsplash

Tile Shown: Tiki Blue in 3x6 // Design: Lily Spindle Design // Image: Michele Thomas

Mix and Match

A subtle white Subway Tile backsplash plays a supporting role to the star of this backsplash, a stovetop square of Mini Star and Cross Tile in eye-catching Slate Blue.

white wash 3x6 and Slate Blue star and Cross

Tile Shown: White Wash in 3x6 , Slate Blue in Star and Cross // Design: Sabrina Alfin Interiors, Darcy Tsung // Image: Dean Biriyini

This backsplash places Handpainted Tile from our Contemporary collection front and center above the stovetop and sink with our brightest white Subway Tile color, White Wash, filling out the counter space for a clean finishing touch.

3x6 in White Wash and Handpainted

Tile Shown: White Wash in 3x6 // Design + Image: Jenny Nelson

Ready to put your own spin on the classic Subway Tile? Sample any of our 100+ colorways to create a custom kitchen or bathroom backsplash you’ll love for years to come.

Karen Tsay 3x6 Kitchen backsplash

Tile Shown: French Linen in 3x6 // Design: Karen Tsay // Image: David Tsay


Looking for more resources on designing the perfect backsplash? Check out our article on 6 Things to Consider When Choosing Kitchen Backsplash Tile and browse our Inspiration Gallery for backsplash designs from today’s top interior designers.