Bathroom subway tile ideas - designers are updating this classic decor style

Bathroom subway tile ideas have evolved and are back in style once again. See the latest looks for your walls

Bathroom subway tile ideas Forest green metro tiles
(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

Thought bathroom subway tile ideas were over? Not according to designers. 

Ok, so this is a tile trend that has been around for some time - and the standard white tile, brick-style may look a tad tired. But with its early 20th century design roots, subway tiles have classic feel about them. 

'One of the reasons for the enduring appeal of subway tiles is their versatility and the fact that they're completely at home in any style of bathroom,' says Colin Roby-Welford, Fired Earth's creative director. 'Depending on how they're styled, they have the amazing ability to look modern, architectural and geometric, or timeless and traditional.'

This is an important factor as no-one wants their new bathroom tile ideas to date as quickly as last year's fashion fad. 

Taking their influence from the bevelled tiles in the original London underground and New York subway stations, subway - or metro - tiles have a timeless utilitarian style that will outlast other here-today-gone-tomorrow trends. Plus, there's way more on offer than the traditional white brick formation. 


1. Coordinate the color of your grout

Pink crackle glazed metro tiles

(Image credit: Tile Mountain)

These pale pink subway tiles work beautifully with the concrete-effect floor tiles in this walk-in shower. Grey grout has been used to reflect the tone of the flooring and tie the look together with the bathroom wall tiles.

'Important details to consider are grout colours, grout thicknesses and tile trims, all of these finer details can dramatically change the end result. We tend to use an off-white or light grey grout, which is much harder wearing than white,' says Hayley Robson, creative director, Day True

2. Team dark tones and rich materials

Forest green metro tiles

(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

When combined with rich materials such as nero marquina marble and beautiful brushed brassware, and laid vertically, these forest green subway tiles take on an entirely different and gorgeously decadent style. A very contemporary approach to bathroom backsplashes

'The beauty of these tiles is not only that you have such wide choice in terms of different designs and colours and shapes, but that they can then be arranged in a laying pattern that offers originality and adds individual flair to the overall look of the space,' says Harriet Goodacre, Tile Consultant at Topps Tiles

'Consider your overall goal for your bathroom before committing to a laying pattern. For example, a horizontal herringbone will make the room feel wider, while the use of a vertical brick bond, most commonly known as the ‘stepladder’, can make a ceiling feel higher.'

3. Add dado and skirting tiles for authentic appeal

black subway tiles

(Image credit: Original Style)

Ideal for small bathroom tile ideas, these bold jet black subway tiles have been given an authentic edge with the addition of traditional moulding tiles at dado height, just above the taps. As well as a skirting tile to stylishly separate the wall and floor. 

'Metro tiles are so flexible with what you can do with them,' says Dena Kirby, senior designer at Ripples. 'By changing the color or format that they are laid in, you can give the room a completely different look, from a classical setting to contemporary design.' 

4. Mix plain and patterned tiles

teal metro tiles

(Image credit: Claybrook)

Tiling an entire wall with bold blue tiles, rather than a section, immediately creates impact. This key bathroom tile trend can be enhanced with similar bathroom flooring ideas, such as a corresponding, eye-catching pattern.

'It's generally best to keep the tiles on walls and floors within a similar palette for cohesion of style,' says Rob Whitaker, creative director, Claybrook. 'Getting samples and placing them in situ will show how the lighting conditions affect the colour, and how they look in what is often quite a small space. 

Mix it up by using porcelain for floors and glazed brick shaped or subway tiles for the wall. Think how the tiles work with other elements in the room. Taps, plugs and overflows come in different finishes and can clash with some colours, likewise light fittings, blinds or even towels may help you decide which tiles to pick.'

We also love the effect that comes with mixing gloss and matt tiles together for a subtle take on pattern. 

5. Lay tiles in a basketweave pattern

Metro blush tiles

(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

Laying colored subway tiles in a basketweave pattern, with darker toned grout in the same color palette gives them an entirely fresh and fabulous look. And you don't need to be particularly skilled at knowing how to tile a bathroom to get it right. The addition of brushed brassware and curved silhouettes makes this bathroom feel thoroughly modern.

'Metro tiles remain popular,' says Hayley Robson, creative director, Day True. 'We are seeing lots of new and exciting colors rather than just white or neutral tones. The great thing is that they can be relatively inexpensive, but extremely versatile. With light tiles you may want to create more contrast with a darker grout to highlight the way the pattern effect of how the tiles are laid.'

6. Embellish with a border

green subway tiles

(Image credit: Fired Earth)

Although without the bevelled edge of traditional subway tiles, these classic brick-style tiles hark back to their turn-of-the-century Art Deco origins. This is enhanced in this beautiful bathroom by Fired Earth through the elegant color choice and decorative details. We love the complementary patterned bathroom floor tiles.

'Borders are an effective way of adding decorative element to a wall of subway tiles, and they can help to frame the scheme,' says Colin Roby-Welford, Fired Earth's creative director. 'As colorful subway tiles in metallics and glass become increasingly popular, borders are becoming more eye-catching too.'

7. Go graphic with geometrics

white metro tiles

(Image credit: Walls & Floors)

Part of subway tiles' appeal is that they can so easily be mixed with other bathroom ideas

Laid in a herringbone pattern with grey grout, these subway tiles work beautifully with the geometric, monochrome floor tiles. Repeating the floor tiles in the alcove shelf and introducing black brassware and a crittal-style shower screen gives this walk-in shower a bold, graphic style. 

'When putting together tile designs for your shower, there are three main things to consider: colour, texture and size,' says Louisa Swannell, head of creative design at Walls and Floors. 'It’s important to think about the bathroom as a whole and choose a shower tile that complements the entire space. If you have a neutral scheme, you could continue this into the shower, or perhaps opt for a bolder tile to make a feature of the space.'

8. Combine white with warm tones

white subway tiles

(Image credit: Interior design: Imperfect Interiors / Photography: Chris Snook)

While exciting colors and different laying styles are popular, some may still prefer the classic white brick pattern. After all if you change your mind about your bathroom color ideas, it's far easier to update with a lick of paint in a few years time.

'If you choose white subway tiles, then go bold on the walls and floors to create atmosphere and warmth,' says Beth Dadswell, founder of Imperfect Interiors

'We used a deep teal for drama and hexagonal marble floor tiles for a timeless feel in this project. The white tiles created a crisp band of contrasting colour around the room, and painting the bath in the same color as the walls retained the simplicity of the palette and pulled everything together.'

9. Opt for a luxe carrara-look finish

marble-style metro tiles

(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

There's a multitude of gorgeous new colors to choose when considering bathroom subway tile ideas. Yet it doesn't stop there. The utilitarian style of the tile has been given a luxurious boost with carrara marble-look finishes too. 

If you fancy something more interesting than white but don't want to commit to color, this could be the answer - it's also why we like marble bathroom flooring ideas.

'The more neutral colours such as white, ecru or grey still seem to be in demand,' says Dena Kirby, senior designer at Ripples. 'They are more subtle and it gives people the option to go quite bold on the floor or with a wall colour which is easier to change over time if taste changes. These subtle shades and natural stone-look styles also work really well with all the different finishes for brassware.'

What goes well with subway tiles?

'Subway or metro tiles can look quite busy on the walls, so a neutral or plain tile as a contrast can really help focus the eye (especially in a small bathroom),' says Dena Kirby, senior designer at Ripples. 'A natural material large format tile works really well as base floor tile when mixing with the metro. 

However, if you are looking to make an impact, then patterned floor tiles make a great combination. Due to the array of metro tiles available you can be quite flexible with the brassware you choose, however I particularly love the contrast of a high-gloss metro tile with matte or brushed brassware, or vice versa.'

Can you use subway tiles on a shower floor?

It is not advised by tile manufacturers, however, there are similar style rectangular tiles available without the bevelled edge or glazed finish, which may be suitable.

'Traditional subway tiles are only suitable for walls since the glazed surfaces are delicate and will be damaged if they're walked on,' says Colin Roby-Welford, Fired Earth's creative director. 'Subway-style marble tiles are ideal for floors though.'

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.