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Everything you need to know about Subway Tiles

With their origins in the old subway tunnels of New York, the first subway tiles were made of smooth, white glass and restricted to wall installation only. Born of a Victorian-era obsession with cleanliness and hygiene, the first subway tiles featured a smooth, high gloss finish that would ensure their resistance to staining while also making them a breeze to maintain and clean.

Modern subway tiles however have evolved in many different ways; this classic and timeless tile is now available in varying sizes, materials and finishes to suit any style of home, from country style interiors to ultra-sleek and modern spaces. 

Subway Tile Finishes & Materials

Initially, subway tiles were first manufactured using glossy white glass which would allow light to bounce and travel throughout darker interiors. Since then, this favourite tile format has been reinvented time and time again in an astonishing array of colours, materials and finishes, from natural stones such as Carrara or New York Marble, to a glistening bevelled mirror and even high quality porcelain. 

Traditionally strictly used as a wall tile, many modern subway tiles can now be used for floor applications, with porcelain tiles being the perfect fit thanks to their hard wearing and stain resistant properties. 

subway floor tiles

Made in Italy, the incredibly opulent Del Marmo tiles offer an astonishingly realistic representation of natural marble. Being a porcelain tile, they can be used for both floor and wall applications, making for a sleek and seamless look in your home design.


Aside from the various materials available in modern collections of subway tiles, you will also find an incredible amount of finishes, each with its own unique characteristics to truly make any design unique. 

The more traditional high gloss finish is still a favourite in the design world, with matte, satin, lappato and even metallic finishes also featuring heavily in modern subway tile designs. (For more information on the different tile finishes available, you will find our guide on tile materials and finishes very useful during your research!) 


Our playful, pastel toned Gesso collection features a special glaze that creates a soft, elegant surface finish. Each tile is crafted with an uneven edge, designed to give these tiles a unique, handmade look. 


Bevelled mirror subway tiles, metallic and high gloss finishes are best suited to wall applications, making them a popular option for kitchen splashbacks or bathroom wall tiles. These very contemporary finishes are a fantastic choice where an added touch of light would be beneficial, as the reflective surface finish allows light to travel throughout the space. 

subway tiles design ideas

The luxurious Chrysos subway tile collection is available in three different metallic finishes: Gold, Copper and Steel. These reflective tiles add an air of luxury and opulence to your design, with their glistening surface finish allowing light to travel through your home.


Different Ways to Lay Subway Tiles

These classic tiles can be used in all areas of the home, from kitchen and laundry splashbacks, to bathroom walls and floors and even as an internal feature wall. Their sizes can vary from a more traditional 75 x 150mm rectangle to more elongated and slim profiles, making them a highly versatile feature in any home. 

Subway tiles allow you the ultimate freedom to be creative with your layout pattern. From the more traditional brick bond style to the modern diagonal offset layout, below are subway tile design ideas and each option offers its own unique personality and charm to your design while also creating a truly timeless look. 

subway tile layouts

The above chart displays some of the most popular layout options that can be achieved using subway tiles, each with its own unique personality and design characteristics. 


For example, a brick bond and stack bond pattern will help give the illusion of added width to your space, whereas the running bond and vertical stack bond patterns will add height to your room, making them ideal for areas with a lower ceiling height. 

Selecting a Grout Colour for your Subway Tiles

Being a smaller format tile, your grout colour selection will be crucial in determining the final look of your newly tiled space. In making this decision, it is important to consider just how much of a feature you want to make: For a bold, striking feature wall or floor, use light coloured subway tiles paired with a contrasting, darker grout. For a more discreet look however, you will want to choose a grout colour that will blend in with your selected tile, making the tiles themselves the standout feature rather than the grout lines. 

Our Vattacan collection features an array of bold, playful colours, perfect for both modern and traditional homes. Shown here in colour Mottle Verde, the sea green shade is contrasted with a deep charcoal grout, accentuating the grout lines to emphasise the traditional brick bond pattern. 

Subway tiles have long been a favourite choice in the home thanks to their classic styling, making them an excellent option for any design style. Over the years, these old favourites have developed into a highly versatile design choice, with an astonishing amount of colours and finishes to choose from. Visit our tile showroom for a world of inspiration as well as expert assistance in selecting both the right tiles and grout for your home renovation!