Timeless Subway Tile - Bonus: Beyond Subway Tile

Pale gray ceramic tile kitchen backsplash with an arabesque mosaic framed by matching trim set within a 2x8" tile field

Have you considered your finishing details, such as grout, edge trim, or accents? Subway tile can't stand alone, and these details affect your design as much as your choice of tile. 


We also want to show you some variations on the concept of "subway tile". What about a ceramic arabesque? It's not a subway shape, but it does look good.

Whether you choose the classic white 3x6" subway tile or opt for a large multi-color arrangement, subway tiles are a timeless choice for your kitchen, bathroom, or fireplace surround. 

The Classic: 3x6 White Glossy Offset Subway Tile

Bathroom with white pedestal sink, white octagon-and-dot mosaic tile floor, 3x6" white subway tile wainscoting topped with a white ceramic chair rail. The walls are painted with a yellow faux finish.

These mass-produced little ceramic tiles are what started lining the New York subway in the early 1900s, hence the name "subway tile".


The most traditional version of subway tile is:

  • 3x6"
  • White
  • Glossy
  • Set in a 50% offset brick pattern
  • No variation/texture

This is usually the least expensive version of ceramic subway tile, running appx. $3/sqft.


Low-maintenance, bright and clean-looking, these have been a standard of kitchen and bath design for the past century.


However, numerous variations on stylecolorfinishsize, and layout are now available to give you a multitude of ceramic tile options. Peruse our 5-part look book to find your perfect subway style!

Don't Forget the Details!

Edges & Trim

Stack of 4 white ceramic subway tiles
1. 3x6" corner bullnose, 2. 3x6" single bullnose on the 6" side, 3. 3x6" single bullnose on the 3" side, 4. 3x6" field tile

Unless your tiles butt into walls on all sides, you will need some sort of edge trim. 


Some ceramic lines offer bullnose tiles. A bullnose tile will look like a field tile, except it will have one finished edge. Some lines even offer corner bullnose which are finished on two sides. A 3x6 bullnose is always more expensive than a 3x6 field tile, so consider the added cost when getting your quotes.



White ceramic tiles in a long hexagon shape on two walls meeting at a corner.
This handcrafted "picket" shaped tiles come with a matching 12" quarter round pencil liner. This is perfect for finishing edges and turning corners.


Some ceramic lines offer pencil liners, quarter rounds, or bullnose pencils. These clean, thin ceramic pieces are designed to sit flush with the face of your tile, hide unfinished edges, and turn corners, all while matching the color and finish of your ceramic tiles. These are usually comparable in price per linear foot to bullnose tile.

Bathroom with marble countertop and floor tile, gray subway tile wainscoting, white painted walls, and white soaking tub.
This gray ceramic wainscoting is capped with a Carrara marble pencil liner that matches the countertop and floor.

If your ceramic tile line offers neither bullnose nor pencil pieces (or if they're on backorder, or if they just don't look very good), there are other edge options. 


A stone or metallic pencil liner is a long, dome-shaped piece that can cap edges and add some depth to your wall. These pieces are usually your most expensive edge trim option, so it should be a specific design choice. A metallic pencil could match your fixtures and hardware, while a stone pencil could complement your countertops, a glass & stone mosaic, or floor tiles.


Close up of corner of a bathtub with white ceramic tile on the sides, tub deck, and tub surround.
Schluter Rondec in bright white PVC with a matching corner piece finish this ceramic tile tub deck.

Schluter profiles are usually the best priced product per lineal foot of edge trim. 


Made from PVC, aluminum, brass, or stainless steel, these trims are available in 50 different colors and finishes and numerous shapes and sizes. 


Sold in 8' lengths, Schluter profiles install quickly, have few seams, and look clean. 

If you can't find an exact match to the color of your tile, you can usually find a complementary color, a metallic finish to match your fixtures and hardware, or a color to match your grout.


All-white bathroom with a marble vanity top, toilet, and shower/tub combo.
A stylish chair rail tops the wainscoting and finishes the edge of the shower surround.

Sometimes you want something more decorative. 


Some ceramic lines offer fancier trims such as chair rails, which make elegant caps for wainscoting or detailed frames for focal points.


You can also use a stone or metallic chair rail to tie in your fixtures, countertops, or other tiles in the room.


Red and tan ceramic subway tile set in an offset brick pattern.
Make a pattern pop with a contrasting grout color, or get a more subtle look with tone-on-tone grout. This pale grout hides in the tan tile, but accentuates the red tile.

When installing tile, specifically smaller tiles such as subway tiles, grout plays a huge role in the final look!


We stock 3 different grout lines, and each of them has 30+ different colors. You're not limited to just white grout.


A color-matching grout will disappear into your wall, making sure the tile is the center of attention.


A contrasting grout will emphasize the pattern, layout, and shape of your tiles. It can look busy if it's a smaller tile with dramatic contrast (e.g.: black grout with white tile).


NOTE: If using a dark grout with a light subway tile, you should seal the tile with a penetrating sealer before grouting. The pigments of the grout could sink into tiny micropores in the glaze and stain your tiles. This is especially true of crackle-glaze ceramics.


A wider grout line looks more old-school and complements handcrafted/irregular tiles well.


Smaller grout lines look clean but will highlight crooked or irregular tiles. The smaller the grout line, the less you can hide setting mistakes.


Use your color to tie the room together: if, for example, you have white subway tile and a gray granite countertop, a grey grout can echo tones in your counters. 


Close up of a kitchen backsplash. The countertop is a speckled white quartz. The backsplash is a white beveled tile with a dark pencil liner.

Dress up your subway tile with a thin liner, a stripe of glass, or a fancy mosaic. Decorative details can push a design from "nice" to "amazing".


If you use a mosaic accent stripe in your subway tile shower, consider using it as your vanity backsplash too. This ties the room together and looks more decorative than just using the same countertop material as a backsplash.

Think Outside the Box

Kitchen with brown cabinets, a white countertop, and a backsplash made up of hexagonal tiles in brown, tan, and a pale blue-green.

Bored with rectangles? Sick of squares? Want something different? 


While I wouldn't call any of these "subway tiles", ceramic tiles come in a plethora of shapes, including hexagons, rhomboids, and arabesque lantern shapes.


Create some movement and interest with shape, pattern, and color.


Balance out the right angles of your cabinets and walls with some compelling curves and intriguing diagonals.

Thank you for reading!

Check out the rest of the Subway Tile Series:

Part 1 : Style

Part 2: Color

Part 3: Finish

Part 4: Size

Part 5: Layout 

Bonus: Edge Trim, Grout, & Beyond


Set up a complimentary in-store design consultation and we'll help you pick the perfect tile.

253-872-0449 or info@tilelines.com

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