5 August 2021 | Updated: December 7, 2021

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Subway tile kitchen ideas; a guide

After cabinets, wall tiles are the single most important element of kitchen décor. One of the most popular choices, thanks to their timeless appeal, is the subway tile. 

This elegantly proportioned, low-fired, glazed ceramic tile has become a visual hallmark over the decades. The appeal lies not only in its simplicity but also in its easy maintenance. We have compiled some simple tips regarding how to decorate your kitchen with subway tiles. Here’s some advice and hacks on getting the most out of this timeless style tile.



The everlasting appeal of subway tiles in the kitchen

Subway tiles, also known as brick tiles, metro tiles or butcher’s tiles, were first developed because of their hygienic qualities and easy maintenance. The proportions are typically twice as long as they are wide, lending them a distinctive aspect. Normally, the subway tile is modelled with a slightly bevelled edge around the entire perimeter. The gloss finish of the subway tile is an intrinsic quality that helps explain its popularity in the contemporary kitchen. It also allows for an easy to clean surface.


Subway tile kitchen ideas

We’ve compiled some ideas about how best to go about decorating your kitchen using this classic tile. For anyone concerned about their decorating abilities, the subway tile is a great choice, as it compliments almost every style of décor. It can be vintage or contemporary, rustic or cutting-edge avant-garde. It all depends on how you go about combining it with other elements and, of course, the subtle details like how it’s laid, grouting and dimensions.


White subway tiles kitchen

Cladding kitchen walls with white subway tiles provides a classic look and feel. What might seem like a boring approach is, on the contrary, a great opportunity to be more experimental. Choose a statement colour for the cabinets, which against the white subway tile, will be tempered by its neutral and reflective finish.

The design of other kitchen fittings, such as taps and suspended lights become more of a focus when set against the white subway tile. Tip: choose a coloured grout for a more dramatic effect.


Grey subway tile kitchen: a touch of colour

Combining the standard subway tile with a colour like grey, which is on-trend right now, is another infallible option. Grey is a neutral but highly elegant colour choice, in the kitchen, especially, it can pull together an eclectic décor. Grey can be blocked or combined with white subway tiles for a more decorative effect. Light and dark shades of grey add light and drama respectively.


Do away with wall cabinets with the subway tile

With the subway tile wall finish above the worktop, replacing wall cabinets with open shelving is a great option. This approach allows the kitchen to become open and more spacious. The attractive tile surface is contrasted with the glass mason jars and other storage elements displayed on the shelves. Compensate with extra low-level cabinets, hanging hooks and a dresser for your kitchen storage needs.

The subway tile kitchen backsplash

An area of the kitchen essential to tile is the backsplash – the area of the wall directly behind the sink. Subway tiles will help protect this area from accumulated damp and dirt. The backsplash is sometimes framed by wall cabinets or a window. It can also extend right up to the ceiling, so choosing a suitable tile is important and will set the mood for the whole kitchen.


Subway kitchen tile proportions decorative tiling patterns

Usually, the tiling pattern of a subway tile matches that of a standard brickwork, since, like bricks, they are twice as long as they are high. However, there are square-shaped subway tiles as well. Either the rectangular or square subway tile can be laid in a variety of different ways. The following standard tiling patterns are the most popular:

  • Off-set stacking or staggered, like a standard brick wall: each alternate line of tiles is displaced horizontally by a half tile.
  • Stacked: the tiles are configured one on top of the other in a layered effect.
  • Stacked vertically: like the above but the tiles are positioned on the vertical axis.
  • Herringbone: subway tiles are laid at a 45° angle in an interlocking pattern, using the entire tile length.
  • Chevron: like the herringbone pattern but tiles are cropped at 90° along their ends.
  • Crosshatch: this offset pattern alternates the single horizontal and double vertically stacked lines, like a grid pattern but slightly more complicated.

Discover here our 6 favourite ways to lay subway tiles



FAQs regarding kitchen subway tiles

Grouting can drastically alter the aesthetic effect of whatever pattern you choose to lay the subway tiles.

Options are:

1. No grout, where the joints are effectively touching. Tiles are simply fixed with adhesive to the backing wall.

2. Exaggerated joints between the subway tiles.

3. Black or coloured grout.

4. Anti-bacterial grout, highly recommended in the kitchen.

Firstly, measure the distance between the worktop behind the sink and the underside of the cabinets or window. The best approach is to avoid any cutting of the subway tiles, so before you start, work it all out on paper first or lay the tiles flat (no adhesive) and work out the best pattern.

Then follow these steps:

1. Prepare the wall, remove any socket covers, clean and rub the wall with sandpaper.

2. Apply a generous layer of tile adhesive using the flat end of the trowel.

3. Scrape off excess adhesive with the notched side of the trowel, placing it back in the container.

4. Use a spirit level and tile spacers to start laying the underground tiles on the wall according to the desired tiling pattern.

5. Press firmly into place and ensure good adhesion.

6. If cut tiles are required, use a ceramic tile cutter.

7. Allow the adhesive to dry overnight or for a minimum of 12 hours.

8. Using a float, spread a pre-mix grout over the subway tiles.

9. Firmly fill all the gaps in all directions between the subway tiles.

10. Remove excess grout with the float and clean the tiles with a wet sponge.

Ensure you have the following tools and equipment to hand for tiling the kitchen backsplash:

1. Measuring tape

2. Pencil

3. Notched trowel

4. Bucket and sponge

5. Ceramic tile cutter

6. Spirit level

7. Tile spacers

8. Grout float

9. Clean cloth

The standard subway tile measures 6 x 3 inches or 150 x 75 mm, but increasingly there are square and alternate dimension subway tiles available. For the kitchen backsplash in a smaller format, it’s better to choose a smaller tile. On the other hand, for a larger space between the worktop and the underside of the wall cabinet choose a slightly larger subway tile. If possible, a large format square tile looks great.


Get the look

Subway tiles

They are durable, timeless, easy to use and maintain and extremely versatile, providing unlimited opportunities for adding interest and character to your kitchen décor.



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