Timeless Subway Tiles - Part 5: Layout

Corner of a bathroom with blue ceramic subway tile set in a herringbone pattern behind a floating vanity with a white vessel sink.

Pattern plays a huge role in your finished look. A plain tile can be made more interesting with a dramatic layout, angles and lines can draw the eye to details in the room, or you can keep things simple and let the tile speak for itself.


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 Layout

50% Offset / Brick Pattern

Inside a shower. Walls are covered in long white subway tiles in an offset brick pattern. There is a recessed shelf covered in a white and gray square mosaic. There is a vertical stripe of a matching linear mosaic behind the shower head.

The most popular and traditional pattern. Simply offset each row by half, and you have the brick pattern, aka: the subway pattern. 


A horizontal layout is most common, making the space look wider and more open. 


This pattern creates some movement and interest without looking busy or unusual.

Stacked Set

A shower with white, matte-finish subway tiles set in a stacked pattern. There is a white quartz corner shelf and chrome shower head.

A sharp, clean grid conveys order and precision, a must for minimalism. 


If you have a tile with a bold pattern or strong color, an orderly stacked set can temper it and prevent it from feeling overpowering.


To prevent this layout from looking too clinical, consider utilizing warm tones, a textured surface, interesting patterns, or matte finish.



A bathroom a tub, shower, and vanity. The vanity has a solid white top on dark wood. The soaking tub has a dark brown surround. The walls have sky blue and cream tiles set in vertical stripes.

A vertical layout isn't very common, so it always makes a unique statement.


Take any pattern, like the stacked set or offset patterns, and turn your horizontal lines 90° for a vertical layout.


This design can evoke nature: waterfalls, rainfall, trees in a forest. In a shower, especially using blues and cool tones, the waterfall/rainfall motif is at its strongest. 


In a more modern design, such as in a industrial kitchen backsplash, the vertical layout can conjure images of skyscrapers and cityscapes.


A vertical grid/stacked-set creates a sense of structure and uniformity, bringing order to a design. Perfect for a minimalist aesthetic.


Any time you have long, vertical lines, it creates a sense of height. You can draw attention up to high ceilings or interesting architecture with a vertical layout.


A close up of a gray tile with jagged edges set in a herringbone pattern.

The herringbone pattern works with any size of rectangle, and is a great way to spice up your subway tiles.


Set it diagonally for lots of movement, or square with your corners for crisp, straight vertical and horizontal lines.


If the majority of your tile is set in a brick or stacked set pattern, setting one section in herringbone is an easy way to create a jazzy focal point. A popular layout technique for kitchen backsplashes is to set the majority of the tiles in a brick pattern, and set the area behind the stove in a herringbone.


This pattern's been around for a long time, and works with traditional and contemporary designs alike. A textured tile creates old world charm, while long, narrow rectangles offer a thoroughly modern look.

And Beyond!

A bathroom with a white tub, a pale blue wall tile wainscoting, and a little stool with a tray holding candles.

There's a lot of fun to be had when you start playing with pattern! Use non-rectangular shapes, mix colors to create rhythm, blend different sizes and directions for movement...


Whether drawing inspiration from traditional patterns or creating something entirely new, tile layout can be anything but boring.

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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