Subway tiles are easily recognizable because of their distinct look. Standard subway tiles are 3 x 6 inches, usually white, and arranged in an offset pattern. They got their name because of extensive use in New York subways in the early 1900s, and continued to be popular because they were easy to clean and brightened the space. It is no wonder that some designers eventually decided to use it in homes.

Generally, people use subway tiles for traditional or classic kitchens. However, they actually look quite well in modern kitchens, especially in partnership with certain countertops. Here are some modern design ideas using subways backsplashes and different countertops.

White and black kitchen

kitchen with white subway tile backsplash with solid black quartz countertops

The full subway tile backsplash with dark grout in this kitchen clearly harks back to the early 1900s, yet the black quartz countertops bring it back to the modern style. You might think of this simply as a classic black and white kitchen, but careful selection of cabinets, appliances, and lighting can keep you guessing.

For example, choosing to put in freestanding base cabinets will definitely go with the subway tiles, yet a stainless steel range hood drags you back to the 21st century. Is it a turn-of-the-century kitchen or not? The strong influence and versatility of pure white subway tiles pulls it firmly to the past without negating the future. To say it is timeless would be as accurate as you can get when it comes to such a flexible design element.

Old style bathroom

subway tile walls and octagon floor tiles

Remember when all bathrooms had those octagon floor tiles and subway tiles? The move away from this classic esthetic has been so successful that you hardly see them anymore. Bringing it back in style should be fun, as well as practical.

Subway tile is easy to clean, whether you choose the standard 3 x 6 inches or go for the variations of 2 x 4 inches and 4 x 8 inches. This is part of its appeal, aside from the clean simplicity of the lies. A good pairing for this and the octagonal floor tile is a pedestal sink and a vanity with a black quartz countertop. This is a good bathroom for a classic white and black kitchen with the same subway tiles.

Touch of Tuscany

Tuscan-style kitchen with subway backsplashes

The Tuscan-style kitchen puts emphasis on wood, stone, and earth, so subway tiles might seem a bit of an anomaly. However, the very neutrality of subway tiles makes it very versatile, and can look very well in with terra-cotta accents, dark wood cabinets, and white granite countertops. It also serves as a transitional element for a modern cooking hob and refrigerator.

Colored subway tiles

kitchen with colored subway tile backsplash

While white subway tiles are the most popular, they do come in other colors. You can choose a neutral main color (such as white or beige) and intersperse it with stronger colors such as green, blue, orange, or brown. The colors you choose can reflect the color palette of the kitchen, either matching it or complementing it. For example, if you have orange pendant lights as an accent to your modern kitchen, you can choose a similar shade for some of the subway tiles in your backsplash.

Change of perspective

subway tiles laid vertically

An effective but simple way to achieve a unique look in your kitchen is to change the orientation of your subway tiles. Instead of laying them in horizontally as usual, lay them vertically, still in a running bond pattern. This is enough to draw attention because it is unexpected. Pair it with a neutral shade of granite or marble for best results.

The change in perspective also creates an illusion of vertical height to the room, especially if you lay alternate two rows of white tiles with colored tiles. It draws the eye up, so it is a good choice for kitchens with low ceilings.

Natural stone tiles

Carrara marble subway tile backsplashes with Carrara marble countertops

A great way to make your subway tile backsplash truly attractive is to use granite or marble tiles in lieu of ceramic. Natural stone tiles are not as available or affordable as ceramic tiles, but they are very distinctive if you can find them.

You are more likely to find granite tiles than marble tiles, but your stone supplier might be able to help you with that.  In some cases, you might find that natural stone subway tiles are longer than the ceramic ones, typically 3 x 8 inches. You can choose countertops that match or contrast the subway tiles, depending on your overall design.

Glass variations

glass subway tile backsplash in bathroom

Speaking of materials other than ceramic, you can also find subway tiles in glass, and they are official alternatives to ceramic tiles in New York subways. However, instead of individual tiles, glass subway tiles come in sets of 8 on meshes for easy installation. They are laid uniformly, and not in a brickwork pattern. You can remove them from the mesh and lay them in brickwork pattern if you want.

Glass subway tiles come in many colors and are more appropriate in bathrooms. You can pair them with any stone for the countertops as long as the colors are matching or complementary.


Subway tiles are very versatile and make a strong design statement as a backsplash, especially when paired with the right countertops. These design ideas are just some of the options you can consider for your home. For more advice, consult with a reliable countertop specialist. Keystone Granite & Tile can help you with the final design in the areas of Columbus, Ohio, Delaware cities, Lancaster and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We are experts at fabricating and installing engineered stone, marble, and granite countertops and backsplashes, so you can be confident that you will get the very best in product and service quality.

We have showrooms in Lancaster and Horsham, Pennsylvania as well as New Castle, Delaware and Columbus, Ohio. We will walk you through each slab and explain how each can benefit you in your kitchen or bathroom remodel. If you prefer engineered stones, we also carry the top brands in the industry such as Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, and MSI, all with manufacturer warranties.

Once you have chosen your slabs, we provide free professional design consultation and quotes so you know exactly where you are before committing. We also have a quick turnaround, so you will get your products on time and on budget.

Give us a call or send us an inquiry through our website to set the ball rolling!