Simple, unpretentious and cost-effective, white ceramic tile is the white T-shirt of the kitchen. It's often called subway tile, because it was developed for New York City subway stations back in the early 1900s, and can still be seen there. Durable and adaptable, it works equally well in traditional and modern settings. But what we really like about subway tile is the way it allows for design creativity: You can achieve a multitude of patterns and textures with just one low-cost material. Here are some variations on the theme to consider for your next tiling project.
The Classic Subway Tile
Subway tiles can be square, but the most familiar size and shape is the 3-inch-by-6-inch rectangle.
Above: In this kitchen, subway tiles are laid horizontally in an offset brick pattern, also called running bond. Photo by Sean Fennessy via The Design Files.
Above: A backsplash with offset subway tiles, here laid vertically instead of horizontally. Image via WS Workshop.
Above: Longer subway tiles are stacked horizontally for a look that's more contemporary than offset tiles. Image via Better Homes & Gardens.
Above: Vertically stacked subway tiles are often seen in European houses. Image via Lotta Agaton.
Alternate Subway Tile Patterns
Above: Subway tiles take on a fresh look when they're laid in a herringbone pattern that runs diagonally.
Above: The tiles in this backsplash are twice as long as standard subway tiles. The size variation combined with the horizontal herringbone pattern creates a different texture. Photograph by Nicole Franzen.
Above: L.A. designer and blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel finds yet another way to do herringbone, laying subway tiles at right angles, parallel to the walls and ceiling. Call it perpendicular herringbone. Image via Smitten Studio.
Above: You can even buy parallelogram-shaped subway tiles and lay them in a chevron pattern. Image via Mod Walls.
Above: In a London kitchen, designer Charles Mellersh laid square tiles with a matt finish in an offset pattern. For more about how Mellersh chooses his materials, check out The Designer Is In: An Optimist at Home in Notting Hill. Photograph by Chris Tubbs.
Above: Here, an entire wall of stacked square tiles takes the place of a backsplash. Image courtesy of Karaköy Rooms via Yatzer.
Above: In this kitchen by the Australian architecture firm Own and Vokes, subway tiles were laid vertically in an offset pattern. A subtle variation occurs in the window niche at right, where large square offset tiles flank a narrow strip of subway tile. Go to Urbane in Brisbane to see the rest of this project.
Above: While most of the tiles are offset in this kitchen by Netherland designers Ina Matt, a stacked row of different-sized tiles creates a patterned band on the island. More of this project can be seen in Architect Visit: Studio Ina Matt.
IIf you're intrigued by the idea of herringbone and chevron tile on a wall, see Trend Alert: 10 Herringbone and Chevron Patterned Walls. Can't decide which white paint to use? We've got you covered, inside and out, with Architects' Interior White Paint Picks and, on Gardenista, Architects' White Exterior Paint Picks. And if you're in the throes of remodeling—or thinking about it—browse our Remodeling 101 series.