How to use subway tiles

Bring your kitchen or bathroom to life with these sleek subway tiles in a variety of patterns and styles.

Bunnings magazine, July 2020

What are they?

Subway tiles – plain white rectangular tiles named for their original purpose, which was to clad the walls of the New York subway – don’t look much in the box. The secret is in the way they are laid. Brick, herringbone, basket weave – there are many different ways to give this unassuming tile a style overload.

Where to use them

The basic subway tile is a long-lasting favourite, which works in virtually any style of interior from contemporary and industrial to heritage; it’s also a popular choice for Hamptons-style homes. Common in kitchens, subways are an easy-to-clean, practical choice for bathroom walls too; a light, glossy finish will help to reflect light and, along with mirrors, help to create the illusion of more space, perfect for small washzones.

How to use subway tiles

Colour cues

White is the classic colour for subways, providing a neutral backdrop that is an ideal foil for bold accessories, but their enduring popularity means you can also find them in a range of sizes, colours and textured finishes – these have a wonderfully appealing handmade feel. For added depth and interest, consider a subway tile with a bevelled edge, which delivers an almost 3D effect.

How to use subway tiles

Grout effects

Grout, the substance that fills the gaps between tiles, will affect the overall appearance of a tiled space. A grout in the same or similar colour as the tiles can create a seamless effect; to highlight white tiles or a distinct pattern, choose a darker grout, which may also be better at disguising dirt. Go broad or fine on grout lines as you choose; tiles with a rectified edge can deliver narrow grout lines for a crisp, modern look, while ones with a standard or pressed edge will need a wider grout channel. Use a grout sealer to help keep your grout pristine for longer – a bonus if you’ve chosen a pale-coloured grout.

Position and patterns

Laying subways vertically can make the ceiling seem higher, while positioning them horizontally can add to the sense of width. The rectangular shape lends itself to a number of patterns: the simplest is the straight or stack bond, where tiles are laid in straight lines with a grid effect. The brick or stretcher bond pattern has the tiles staggered like bricks in a wall. A herringbone pattern can run diagonally or at right angles. A simpler diagonal style is laying tiles at the same angle. In the crosshatch or basket weave pattern, pairs of tiles are laid horizontally or vertically next to each other to form squares, which are then alternated to look as if woven. Square tiles can also be interspersed with rectangular subways to form more intricate patterns such as windmill, cobblestone and English bond. 

Vertical set 

How to use subway tiles

Horizontal set 

How to use subway tiles

Basket weave

How to use subway tiles

Brick

How to use subway tiles

Herringbone

How to use subway tiles

More tile style

For further tips check out more information on choosing tiles for your bathroom, or all different tile patterns.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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