Timeless Subway Tiles - Part 2: Color

Color can change moods and create energy, sooth or delight the senses, and enrich your design. 


Ceramic tiles are available in thousands of colors, from classic white to bright red and beyond.


Choose your tones carefully to get the desired effect.

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!

Consider Color

Clean and Bright White

Bathroom wall is covered in white textured subway tiles, set vertically. The countertop is matte black with a white vessel sink, chrome faucet, and a white vase full of greenery. There is an oval mirror with a white frame above the sink.

It's a classic for a reason. White works with everything, and reflects a lot of light.


Consider dressing up your white tile with a non-white grout color, such as light gray, for contrast. Medium-tone grout colors will hide dirt, while really light or really dark grouts will show dirt.


Use caution when designing with white-on-white, as your whites may not match! Your subway tile may have more of a warm white, while your bathtub may be a cool white with a slight blue undertone. Your white paint might have a faint rosy tint that you only see next to your crisp white subway tile. Look at samples of your white tile with other white design elements in your lighting before making final decisions.


Warm and Soft Neutrals

Bathroom with walk-in curbless shower. The walls are tiled with light tan- and biscuit-colored tiles. There's a long white wall-mounted sink below a long oval mirror.

Off-white, cream, biscuit, warm gray, and other warm neutrals keep things bright and comforting without the harsh, sterile look of all white.


In an enclosed space with limited lighting, warm tones can combat a cave-like feeling.


Continue your warm tones into the grout. If you choose a contrasting color, match the  undertones in your tile.

Cool and Sophisticated Neutrals

Bathroom with pale blue-gray ceramic tile and white sink. A silver-framed mirror hangs on the wall behind the sink.

Cool tones feel fresh and clean and are a smart choice for a bathroom.


Complement your whites with grays, charcoals, and blues. A Carrara marble countertop looks great against blue-greys or cool tones with a hint green.


Bright accents, such as citrus yellows and oranges, look exquisite against cool neutrals.



Bold and Vibrant Color

Room with wood floors and walls with yellow, white, blue, and lime green ceramic tiles. Three lime green cube-shaped seats line the yellow wall.
A children's hospital is kept clean and cheery with brightly colored ceramic tiles.

Many ceramic lines offer dozens of bright, beautiful colors. 


While some prefer to keep tile neutral, if you love a certain color, why not embrace it?


Tile doesn't fade or discolor like paint or wallpaper could, so your vibrant colors will be brilliant forever.


With colors this bold, consider your desired effect:

  • Hot colors like red, orange, and yellow encourage appetite (most fast food places use them in their decor). Cooler colors like blues and greens can suppress appetite.
  • Fresh, spring colors like spring green, yellows, and coral can brighten moods.
  • Citrus and other bright, fruity colors are delicious when paired with white in kitchens.
  • Dark, rich jewel tones like eggplant, teal, and emerald can be romantic and elegant.
  • Colors between blue and green like turquoise, teal, and aqua bring the ocean to your bathroom for natural, even tropical retreat.

Or maybe you just like a certain color. There's no shame in decorating to make yourself happy.

Subtle Color and Pastel Softness

Pink gloss kitchen backsplash tile with dark blue-grey cabinets, a black marble countertop, stainless steel sink, and wood cutting boards.
This rose pink herringbone backsplash is cheery and warm.

Maybe you want some color, but don't want it to be to loud. Pick a softer tone, such as a pastel or other desaturated hue.


Think of what certain colors evoke:

  • A pale green paired with browns and natural wood might remind you of a serene walk in the woods
  • Subtle blues are a popular way to bring "water" into your design for a beach house, lake house, or nautical theme
  • Pinks and lavendars and other floral tones can bring femininity and poetry to a room

Black & White Classic Contrast

Bathroom wall is covered in white textured subway tiles, set vertically. The countertop is matte black with a white vessel sink, chrome faucet, and a white vase full of greenery. There is an oval mirror with a white frame above the sink.

A black and white tile design can transport you back in time:

  • Add ornate hardware and a clawfoot tub for turn-of-the-century elegance.
  • Pair with tiny black and white hexagon tiles for a 1920s feel.
  • Use striking geometric designs to evoke Art Deco and 1930s design.
  • Integrate a checkerboard design reminiscent of 1950s decor. 
  • Include a modern vanity and accents for a midcentury flavor.
  • Play with texture to integrate contemporary style.

Black and white designs are high-contrast and striking and have been found in every decade; use this classic combo to make a bold, timeless statement. 

Other Considerations...

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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