June 29, 2023

Ask the Expert

Metro Tiles: A Buyers’ Guide

Thinking about using metro tiles for an upcoming interior design project?

This guide includes some practical examples of how best to feature subway tiles around the home. 

Before investing in a home refurbishment project, we want to be sure whatever materials we choose represent a good investment. Subway tiles constitute an unparalleled investment for enhancing one’s residential environment.

We have collected the Top 5 selection criteria for this timeless and elegant design. And we also include examples that will inspire your imagination and illustrate exciting new possibilities. Read on to explore a comprehensive overview of metro tiles. 

herringbone green metro tile feature wall in a green and white bathroom

Mediterranea Calpe Grass 8×30 (Available in store)

The first use & rapid spread of the metro tile

The emergence of the metro or subway tile dates back to the first mass public transit systems. Cities like New York, Paris and London were expanding rapidly in population during the early 19th Century. Then, there was a need to move high volumes of people around easily.

So, the Subway (New York), Tube (London) and Metro (Paris) came into being with all the inventiveness of the industrial age. There was a demand for a high-quality and resistant cladding material for the access tunnels and platforms of these systems. The subway tile, as we recognize it today, originated from its initial development for the New York Underground.

It was in the year 1904 that the story of subway tiles began. Then, architects Heins & LaFarge came up with a ceramic tile adaptable to the vaulted ceilings and walls. Additionally, it coped with the need of being cheap to produce, hygienic and easy to maintain. The selection of the white subway tile was the sole option available during that period.

First adopted in the States, the subway or metro tile soon became the ‘go to’ tile for all underground transport systems. But not only that, public buildings and private homes during the Victorian era also utilized it.

Mass-produced and versatile, the gloss finish brought luminance to any space, whether it be an underground tunnel, an institutional building, or a home pantry. Most importantly of all, they were easy to keep clean.


Cream colour metro tiles wall

Why the metro tile? 

The reasons for using the metro tile today in home décor remain unchanged from its original development years ago. The looks, the range of applications and the easy maintenance are especially hard to match.

The sheer versatility of metro tile makes it equally suitable for a fireplace surround, kitchen backsplash, stylish bathroom, etc. With all the variations in size, colour, pattern and grouting, there’s no need for any two applications to be the same. Many tiles do not possess this characteristic. Here below we’ve put together a list of the basic criteria you need to think about before making your selection.


Metro tiles: Criteria for selection 

green metro tiles wall herringbone pattern

Several criteria will determine the right metro tile for your project. The metro tile will provide a bespoke tiling solution if we consider carefully these options.

  • Size and proportion
  • Finish; matt or gloss
  • Colour; tile & grout
  • Laying pattern

Touch Bottle (Available in store)

#1 Size matters 

The first dry-pressed ceramic metro tiles took on the proportions of brick. That is to say, the height was twice the length, 3 inches x 6 inches (roughly 75mm x 150mm). Since then, the metro tile has evolved to square formats, larger rectangular formats and elongated formats. The right size depends on the space available and the dimensions of the room in question.


#2 Flat or bevelled? 

Although the first metro tiles were flat with a slightly rounded edge, other options soon appeared. A bevelled edge version soon gained popularity.

The modelled effect is entirely different to the flatter metro tile. In the light, the edges take on a reflectance with a more three-dimensional quality that adds depth to a space. Another alternative option worth considering is the handmade metro tile, a flat tile with a rustic relief texture.

A bevelled edge metro tile is generally recommended for a matt or gloss finish. On the other hand, more textured or crafted tiles are more suitable for colour or off-white.

Herringbone pattern white metro tiles wall

Mediterranea Calpe Blanco 8×30 (Available in store)

#3 Metro tile patterns

One of the reasons for the popularity of the metro tile is its versatility. That means achieving very different looks by varying simple design considerations. Like the patterns which determine how to fix the metro tiles to the walls.

The most popular patterns in the UK include:

  • The Brick Bond, where the tiles are shifted half a tile with respect to the rows, above and below. This is the most traditional way of laying tiles and looks convincing, and never tired.
  • Horizontal Bond & Vertical Bond. Here, the tiles are stacked directly on top of one another length-wise, or height-wise. For a small bathroom, the vertical bond helps to visually heighten a space. In either case, the look is modern and rational and attracts the gaze.
  • A variation on the vertical bond is the vertical brick bond, which is recommended for a colour metro tile. The unusual pattern and non-white colour make for a powerful visual impact.
  • Herringbone. This is a highly decorative way to lay tiles. You will need a medium to large wall expanse to properly display this pattern. The kitchen backsplash with floating shelves, for example, is an ideal area.
  • The Double Weave is a pattern inspired by basket weaving. Two tile pairings alternate in the vertical and horizontal directions. The classic dimensions of the metro tile (twice the height equals the length) facilitate this decorative pattern. Like the herringbone pattern, it does require a minimum area to appreciate its overall design.




#4 Metro Tiles Colour

The choice of colour is the single most important consideration after the metro tile selection. Colour radically impacts on the perception of space and can enhance, as well as detract from it. Although colour is a subjective matter, conditioned by culture and precedent, there exists empirical data we can draw on to help us choose.

  • White subway tiles can add a modern and contemporary look or a rustic aesthetic. White is especially suitable for kitchen and bathroom spaces where hygiene and cleanliness are essential considerations. Furthermore, the white subway-tiled kitchen adds luminance in a gloss finish.
  • Grey metro tiles are trending currently. Different shades add a modern twist to this perennial classic. Grey subway tiles look even more stylish in modern patterns, like vertical or horizontal stack bonds.

Black marble effect metro tiles at a fireplace




Accent Effects

Be playful and daring with black or metallic metro tiles. The effect is eye-catching and is recommended for adding a ‘wow’ factor.








Athena Negro Marquina Pulido 30.2×30.7 (Available in store)

  • Variations on white. Neutral colour tiles, such as off-white and cream, add dimension to small spaces. These variations on white are recommended for subway tiles with a texture or a more rustic, handmade design.
  • Colour is back! And metro tile colours such as blue, green and turquoise in soft pastel shades are revolutionising home décor. Green subway tiles in sage and olive, for example, add an organic softness. Blues and turquoise are ideal for stylish contemporary bathroom designs.
  • Materials. Marble effect subway tiles are perfect for creating feature walls in living rooms. Recommended for statement interiors and small panels, like a fireplace surround and hearth.


#5 Metro tile finish: matt or gloss 

The choice of matt or gloss finish has a significant impact on the final effect of the metro tile. Gloss finishes, as a rule, make a space appear larger and thus are appropriate for smaller areas such as bathrooms.

However, the matt tile hides dirt better and provides a better grip in areas like the bathroom. It might be a consideration if you have small children. However, counter-intuitively, matt tiles are more difficult to keep clean. A damp cloth is usually enough to restore a glossy underground tile to its pristine state.


Subway Tiles for Kitchens

Beyond the mass transit systems, subway tiles became popular for cladding butchers’ shops and pantries during the Edwardian era. Today, we associate subway tiles with stylish restaurants and delicatessens. The look can be yours with the exact same tile given a fresh and contemporary treatment. Experiment with metro tiles kitchen décor through colour, pattern and dimension to convert your kitchen into a master chef TV studio.

Kitchen wall with white metro tiles

Use the subway tile to create a stylish backsplash.

  • Add a panel of subway tiles behind the kitchen hob or stove for practical heat resistance and easy maintenance.
  • Forget about kitchen wall cabinets. Clad an entire wall with subway tiles and store items on floating shelving.
  • For an authentic deli-style interior, clad the entire kitchen with metro tile.



Subway Tiles for Bathrooms

Bathroom metro tiles are chic and sophisticated in equal measure. Combine period or cutting-edge sanitary ware with subway tiles for a designer bathroom.

The white metro tiles bathroom will compensate for the lack of light if there is little or no natural light. Other colours will add character, especially in more daring patterns. The following suggestions will add instant character to any bathroom space:

  • Define a wall or part of a bathroom wall with subway tiles to contain the WHB and storage below.
  • Create a feature wall in the bathroom with a horizontal or stack bond.
  • For a small bathroom, or shower cubicle enclosure, finish the entire wall with subway tiles.
  • Add a half wall to dado rail height with subway tiles to add a vintage ambience.

 Bathroom with white metro tiles and white marble effect tiles

Home office with Subway Tiles

Beyond the kitchen, bathroom and living room, subway tiles have other useful applications. For instance, dare to create a feature wall behind a work desk. The metro tiles finish protects walls against scuff marks and delineates an area of work.

You can simply incorporate the area into the bedroom, living room, or any other location that offers a suitable workspace. Just add shelving and an internet connection. Remember the beauty of subway tiles is their versatility, one design or another will complement existing décor.



Make an appointment at your nearest Porcelanosa showroom to appreciate all the possibilities offered by subway tiles. The sheer variety of shapes, colours, finishes and patterns will surprise you. No matter what interior décor style you are after, there’ll be a metro tile waiting for you to transform your home.


Book an appointment



Finally, in case you still have questions about metro tiles, we’ve included some frequently asked questions and recommendations.

The grouting you choose is as important as the metro tile. And it’s subject to the same vagaries of fashion and trends in interior design. Dramatic contrasts between the tile and the grout are no longer as popular as they were a few years ago. Nowadays, it’s all about subtlety. So, off-white with white, light grey with darker grey etc. will look great over time.

In small spaces, every detail counts, as they make an enormous difference to the overall look. An edge trim or profile will provide a clean finish to the surrounds of those splashbacks that do not reach the bottom of wall cabinets or end walls. A trim is also recommended for exposed corners, where two tiled walls meet. The depth of the trim is determined by the thickness of the tile. Consult with your tile provider for further information. As a general rule, it’s better to leave a little wiggle room, say 2mm.

  • Ensure that the wall substrate can support the weight of the metro tile. Metro tile weight between 13 and 15 kg per sq. Meter. 
  • Establish the centre line of the area to be tiled using a spirit level. Then, dry lay the tiles along the wall, starting from that line to ensure minimum tile cuts. 
  • After mixing the adhesive according to the manufacturer’s instructions, start applying it with a notched trowel from the middle of the wall working outwards. Begin with a 1-meter long stretch, two tiles in height.  
  • With a twisting motion, press the underground tiles into place. Special tile spacers should be used if a brick bond pattern is desired. Otherwise, standard spacers on all sides will do. 
  • Open edges should be provided with a metal or plastic edge trim, appropriately sized. 
  • For straightforward cuts, use a score and snap tile cutter. Irregular cuts (around plugs) will require tile nippers. Score and snap the tile edges to achieve the desired shape. 
  • Leave the adhesive to dry overnight. Remove the tile spacers, then mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Next, apply it at a 45° angle with a rubber squeegee. And finally, make sure the grout goes well into the gaps. 
  • After 15 minutes, remove the excess grout with a damp sponge from the tiles’ surface. Make sure to avoid the grout line. 
  • After 30 minutes, buff the tiles with a soft, non-abrasive cloth, till they shine. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *