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These Unexpected Subway Tile Bathroom Ideas Are Anything But Boring

subway tile bathroom

Devon Grace Interiors


Ah, subway tile. Who knew such a small, unassuming shape could be so controversial? When the subway tile trend hit hard a few years ago and quickly spread from bathrooms to kitchens to your corner coffee shop, we were more than happy to see such a refined and classic look come back into the fold. But as with all trends, it had some detractors—those who argued that the ever-presence of these little white rectangles was unchecked and that the seemingly trendless style had become a trend in and of itself.

Subway tile is a rectangular tile that typically measures 3 inches by 6 inches, though it can be any rectangular tile with a length twice its height. Subway tile is common in kitchens and bathrooms.

Well, we beg to differ. With ever-more enticing color options, perfectly-imperfect hand-touched artisan styles, and unique grout juxtapositions, we're firmly of the camp that says subway tile will never die. In fact, it's looking fresher than ever, thanks to the inventive and sometimes off-the-wall imaginations of our favorite designers. Looking for clever subway tile bathroom ideas? Look no further. These powder rooms and primary bathrooms prove that subway tiles are here to stay (and can be interpreted in more than one way).

Primary Bathroom

The term “Primary Bathroom” is now widely used to describe the largest bathroom in the home, as it better reflects the space’s purpose. Many realtors, architects, interior designers, and the Real Estate Standards Association have recognized the potentially discriminatory connotations in the term “Master.” Read more about our Diversity and Inclusion Pledge.

Click through to see the bathrooms that are turning typical subway tile on its head—but be warned, they just might inspire you to get grouting yourself.

01 of 16

Create Contrast

subway tile bathroom

Katie Martinez 

There's so much to love about this stunning subway tile bathroom. The dark blue-grey door and gold accents feel traditional, while the poured concrete sink and funky floor tile make the overall effect eclectic and modern. In short? We're sold.

02 of 16

Keep It Simple

subway tile bathroom

No Longer Wander

Sometimes, less is more. Streamlining the space with a clean and cohesive tile shape is a great move for smaller bathrooms, while the choice of a dark grey (nearly black) grout with wider grout lines creates a cool graphic pop that keeps things interesting.

Grout doesn't have to be black or white. Go for off-white, a shade of blue, or even pink to make your tiles pop.

03 of 16

Light & Airy

subway tile bathroom

Katherine Carter

Ultra-thin grout lines and a bright white color palette let these subway tiles melt into the background, letting the focus fall on the stunning soaking tub and octagonal floor tile. But look closely and you'll notice a slightly uneven, handmade element to the subway tile that adds texture and interest to this gleaming surface.

04 of 16

Modern Mix

subway tile bathroom

 Design: Pure Salt Interiors, Photo: Vanessa Lentine

Don't let subway tile's classic appeal limit your creativity! This super-chic shower by Pure Salt Interiors uses contrasting hexagonal tiles in shades of grey in the storage alcoves and floor and adds even more interest with a striated marble-like ledge (a perfect perch for a plant, or for a leg up when shaving).

05 of 16

Embrace The Unexpected

subway tile bathroom

Reagen Taylor

This subway tile bathroom looks relatively de rigueur...until your eye lands on the floor. Unabashedly bold black penny tile and a high-shine black toilet take this look from understated to downright dramatic—and we're all in favor of the effect.

06 of 16

Shades Of Grey

subway tile bathroom

 Tara Kantor

Designer Tara Kantor's understated, Scandi-minimalist bathroom is proof that even a limited color palette can yield a stunning result. Different shades of grey and white let the various textures in the space really shine, from the matte floors to the soft leather drawer pulls to the sleek shower tile.

leather drawer pulls
Rowzec Leather Drawer Pulls $7.00
07 of 16

Best Of Both Worlds

subway tile bathroom

Reena Sotropa

Can't decide between a trendy slab shower and classic subway tile? Why not combine them? This shower has tons of instant oomph thanks to a beautiful (and more cost-effective!) piece of slab set into an inlet. Not only does it mean less grout to clean, but it makes the brushed brass fixtures really *pop*.

brass shower head
Pottery Barn Langford Pressure Balance Faucet Set $1,799.00
08 of 16

Boho Bath

subway tile bathroom

 Rikki Snyder

Subway tile is often synonymous with a more timeless, traditional look, but as this design from Rikki Snyder proves, it can also work in a modern boho bath. Pepper in warm wood accents, woven baskets, and an imported runner, and the final result is less expected (and much cozier).

09 of 16

Black & White & Bold All Over

subway tile bathroom

 Devon Grace Interiors

Punching up basic subway tile with a mix of bold and graphic black and white accent tiles = a super-savvy way to insert some personality into even the smallest space. We love the mix of Moroccan-inspired concrete floor tiles with mod angular arrow motifs (made up of adjoining parallelograms).

arrow tile
EliteTile Retro Soho Porcelain Subway Tile $15.00 $9.00
10 of 16

Short Stack

subway tile bathroom

Design: Emily Henderson, Photo: Sara Ligorria Tramp 

If you're not married to the classic offset-line look of subway tile, try flipping this iconic look on its head (and then its side...and back again). Three-tile stacks in an alternating square pattern add tons of dimension and motion to this sleek bathroom backsplash.

stud sconce
Allied Maker Stud Sconce $600.00
11 of 16

Think Pink

subway tile bathroom

 Design: Black Lacquer Design, Photo: Jessica Alexander

Proof positive of how an unexpected color scheme can transform versatile grey and white tile: this bathroom takes on a modern glam feel with subtly pink-hued walls, which lend added dimension to the combination of artisan subway tile and hexagonal floor tile.

12 of 16

First Blush

subway tile bathroom

 Design: Michelle Lisac Interior Design, Photo: Jennie Corti Photography

For a more femme take on subway tile, we love the idea of using it only halfway up the wall and adding a petal-inspired wallpaper to soften the overall look. A chic vanity stool completes the look (and adds a stylish space for primping.)

13 of 16

The Dark Side

subway tile bathroom

 Design: Black Lacquer Design, Photo: Jessica Alexander

A maximalist's dream bathroom. Black subway tile with high-contrast white grout pairs strikingly with technicolor floral collage-inspired wallpaper, creating a thoroughly unexpected take on the classic tile shape.

14 of 16

Blue Dream

subway tile bathroom

Artistic Tile 

If the stark look of white tile isn't doing it for you, opt for a moody shade of indigo blue to breathe new life into the space. Even a single wall of this evocative hue can transform a powder room in the best way.

subway tile bathroom
Artistic Tile A Train Indigo Ceramic Tile $12.00
15 of 16

Work Those Curves

subway tile bathrooms

Design: Michelle Lisac Interior Design, Photo: Jennie Corti


When you plunk a rectangular mirror onto a wall of subway tile, the whole thing can seem a little...square. And while round mirrors are certainly having a moment, we much prefer the look of something like this statement style—an architectural, Moroccan-esque archway mirror lends global flair to a basic black-and-white scheme.

16 of 16

Gorgeous Gradient

subway tile bathroom

Design: Emily Henderson, Photo: Sara Tramp 

While many types of subway tile are a bit one-note in their color, handmade tiles are an excellent alternative to more commercial options because of the rich variation from piece to piece. This tiled wall is nothing short of breathtaking due to all the different subtle shades that make up the pattern, reminding us of fish scales or an artisanal patchwork quilt.