Transforming a tired, outdated bathroom into a relaxing spa-like retreat can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. However, drawing design inspiration from unexpected places can spark fresh ideas and elevate your space. Looking to the bold graphics and patterns found in subway stations can infuse personality and visual interest into your bathroom remodel. With some creative thinking, subway tile and retro accents can reinvent your master bath into a stylish, one-of-a-kind oasis.

Evaluating Your Existing Bathroom Layout and Features

Before diving into a subway-inspired design scheme, take stock of your current bathroom’s assets and flaws. Consider the existing footprint and whether you plan to adjust the layout. Can you open up the space or convert unused areas into organized storage? Make note of plumbing locations and take measurements to map out new options.

Assess which materials are dated or damaged. Original tile, fixtures, vanity, lighting, and hardware may need replacing. However, some vintage items like clawfoot tubs can be restored to their former glory. Updating worn surfaces with subway tile and metallic accents can give a fresh facelift. Carefully evaluate which components are salvageable and which need a complete overhaul.

Analyze what you dislike about your current bathroom. Is it dim, crowded, or plain? Pinpoint problem zones and deficiencies to tailor your renovation plans. Maximizing natural light, creating zones, and adding color can dramatically improve the ambiance. Ensure you have adequate space for storing towels and toiletries. Identify your priorities so your new master bath design fulfills your wish list.

Selecting a Subway Tile Layout Pattern

Once you have a vision for revamping your bathroom, it is time to pick your subway tiles. Subway tile is a classic rectangular shape sized at 3 by 6 inches, though you can find varied dimensions. The elongated rectangular proportions and thin grout lines evoke vintage metro stations.

Decide between a traditional brick layout, offset brick pattern, herringbone arrangement, or geometric shape designs using different size tiles. Carefully plotting the installation pattern adds visual appeal and personality. Contrasting grout colors also make the tile more striking.

Consider lighter tones like white, ivory, or light gray to open up a small space and reflect light. Bold bright colors or varied multi-colored mosaics create a retro flair. Matte, gloss, or glassy finishes range from muted to dazzling. Pair bolder subway tiles with neutral walls and fixtures to prevent sensory overload.

Finding the Right Subway Tile Color for Your Bathroom

Choosing the perfect subway tile color sets the tone for your whole bathroom design. Cool neutrals like white and light gray work well in both traditional and contemporary styles. Creamy off-whites provide a softer, warmer ambiance. For a soothing spa-bathroom, try sea foam greens or pale blues.

Rich deep hues like navy blue, charcoal, or burgundy make a dramatic statement. Use dark colors to ground bright accents or light floors. Contrast adds interest, so pair light tiles with a dark grout or vice versa.

Metallic subway tiles in gold, silver, copper, or bronze inject a glamorous, retro vibe. Iridescent glass tiles illuminate a bathroom with their pearlescent sheen. Vintage-inspired black and white patterns keep your design timeless yet fresh. Ultimately, choose a palette aligned with your personal taste.

Coordinating Subway Tiles with Bathroom Elements and Finishes

A cohesive finished design requires choosing finishes and fixtures that complement your subway tiles. Match your tile with the tub, vanity top, wall paint, and hardware finishes for a pulled-together look. For contemporary styling, combine white subway tile with polished chrome or stainless steel.

Antique brass or oiled bronze hardware and fixtures suit vintage or industrial bathrooms with colored subway tiles. Paint walls, ceilings, and trim a lighter shade than your tile to prevent a cave-like feeling. If using darker tiles, paint the ceiling the lightest tone for an airy effect.

For flooring, stick with uncomplicated neutral tones that allow your subway tile to shine. Classic choices like 12-inch white ceramic tile maintains the clean, uncluttered aesthetic. Neutral natural stone mosaic floors harmonize with white subway tiles. Consider radiant heated flooring for indulgent comfort.

Incorporating Subway Tile into the Shower and Bathtub Area

Make the shower or tub area a stunning focal point by completely covering walls in subway tile. Extending tile from floor to ceiling makes the space feel larger and sleeker. Alternating stacked and staggered tile patterns prevent monotonous repetition. Frame the shower enclosure in a contrasting color.

In a clawfoot tub setting, add a pop of color by lining the wall behind or around the tub in a contrasting bright or patterned subway tile. Keep remaining walls neutral to anchor the bold tub tile. Coordinate drawer pulls and curtain hardware with the tub tile color.

For one-piece fiberglass shower units, etch the subway tile pattern onto the walls with paint to simulate the look. Use actual tile on the floor and a matching shower curtain. Minimize grout maintenance in the shower by utilizing epoxy grout or larger format tiles with minimal grout lines.

Adding Character with Subway Tile Bathroom Accents

Once you have covered the main surfaces with subway tile, introduce metro character through fun accents and details. Frame the mirror, medicine cabinet, or vanity mirror with subway tile inside a contrasting shape. Outline windows, niches, and wall cutouts in a different color tile.

Use an artsy bold tile pattern for the bathroom’s backsplash or as an accent stripe on one wall. Include a decorative inlay, mosaic tile design, or geometric shape as part of the floor. Make your own DIY shelves from subway tiles and black metal brackets.

For old-school charm, create a Chair Rail halfway up the wall using two horizontal rows of contrasting subway tile. Paint the bottom half of the wall a different color than the top. Hang vintage-inspired signs or wall art created out of arranged subway tiles spelling out fun words or phrases.

Styling Your Subway Tiled Bathroom with Retro-Inspired Accessories

Accessories and finishes that nod to retro or industrial designs perfectly complement your new subway tiled space. Look for vintage advertisements, signage, or other memorabilia from old metro stations to decorate the walls.

Industrial flair comes from exposed pipes, black metal finishes, and raw materials like wood shelves. Roll-arm wall sconces or Edison bulb lighting provide antique savvy. Monogrammed towels and baskets offer a personalized custom hotel touch.

For contemporary styling, stay organized with sleek drawer dividers, shelves, and canisters in matching metallic tones. Fluffy white towels popping against the subway tile provide a spa vibe. Top your subway-tiled tub enclosure with a linear chrome shower rod and complementary shower curtain.

Maintaining and Caring for Subway Tile

Subway tile is a long-lasting, easy-care option perfect for moisture-prone bathrooms. Grout does require sealing to prevent staining and mildew growth in wet areas. Caulk joints around the tub and perimeter walls regularly to keep water from infiltrating behind tiles.

Clean subway tiles using gentle cleansers or homemade natural mixtures. Avoid abrasive scrubbing. Wipe down tile and grout regularly to prevent heavy soap scum buildup over time. Re-seal grout yearly or as needed to keep it looking fresh. Promptly repair any cracked or damaged tiles.

Consider applying a grout release or sealer before installing subway tile in the shower. This prevents stubborn soap scum and hard water stains from penetrating the grout and marring the appearance. With proper care, your subway tiled bathroom will maintain its stylish charm for years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Subway Tile in a Bathroom Renovation

What are the benefits of subway tile?

Subway tile provides numerous advantages for bathroom renovations. The classic rectangular shape and proportions give a timeless, clean-lined look. Subway tile comes in a huge array of colors, finishes, and patterns for design versatility. It works in almost any style from vintage to modern. The thin grout lines and scale make rooms feel larger. Subway tile is affordable, easy to maintain, and moisture-resistant.

What should you avoid when working with subway tiles?

Using subway tile properly requires awareness of a few limitations. Avoid tiny mosaic subway tiles in small spaces which can make walls feel cluttered and closed-in. Don’t pair busy patterned subway tiles with already complex surfaces like granite countertops. Limit subway tiles to just one or two feature walls to prevent overwhelming a room.

What type of subway tile is best for showers?

Porcelain subway tiles rate highest for water and stain resistance. Porcelain tiles don’t require sealing and maintain their color integrity despite moisture. Choose larger formats with minimal grout lines for easier cleaning. For even lower maintenance, select porcelain tiles with rectified edges for super slim grout lines.

How can I make white subway tile look unique?

White subway tile provides a versatile neutral backdrop for your design choices. Add visual interest by laying tiles in varying patterns like herringbone or chevron. Use different size white tiles together or alternate with light gray. Choose a bold dark grout color for contrast. Introduce colored tiles,chair rail, or mosaics sparingly as accents.

What color grout should I use with white subway tile?

White and light grey grout keeps the focus on clean white tile but shows dirt readily. For a subtle look, use an off-white, warm grey, or very light almond grout. Bold dark charcoal grey or even black grout highlights white tile for a modern pop. Match your grout to the darkest color in multi-colored mosaics.

Should you use subway tile on the floor?

Subway tile can be used effectively on bathroom floors. Smaller mosaic subway tile formats allow for more grout line stability. Use a rectified edge tile and matching colored grout for a clean linear look. Opt for a textured or granite-effect tile for needed floor grip. Porcelain provides durability for floor applications.

What tile patterns work well in small bathrooms?

In a small bathroom, limit tile variation and avoid busy patterns. Stick to one shape and color scheme. Standard brick lay or a simple border adds interest without cluttering the look. Tall stacks of elongated subway tile draw the eye up to make walls appear higher. Horizontal banding, chair rail applications, and vertical niches break up room segments.

What is the most low-maintenance subway tile?

Porcelain, glass, and ceramic subway tiles require minimal care. Choosing larger groutless subway tiles or mosaics on mesh backing greatly reduces needed grout lines for an easy-care surface. Opt for epoxy grout which resists staining better than regular cement grout. Use a grout release pre-sealant before grouting.

How do I clean and maintain my subway tile?

Use gentle, non-abrasive cleaners and soft cloths to clean subway tile surfaces. Avoid harsh chemicals and scrubbing. Apply a soap-scum resistant sealer to grout lines periodically. Check and repair caulking around the tile perimeters. Re-seal grout as needed, usually once a year is sufficient. Address any cracks or damage promptly to prevent moisture intrusion behind tiles.


Revamping your dated, tired bathroom into a fresh stylish retreat can easily be accomplished through the magic of subway tiles. Their classic rectangular shape, varied colors, and retro vibe opens up countless design possibilities. Evaluating your bathroom’s existing layout and deficiencies allows you to hone renovation plans tailored to your vision.

Carefully select subway tile types, arrangements, and colors to create your desired ambiance. Coordinate tiles with bathroom finishes, fixtures, and accessories for a cohesive feel. Add whimsical accents and retro flair for an authentic Depression-era look. With proper installation and care, subway tile maintains its striking visual impact for years, while the creative possibilities keep your bathroom looking current. Let subway tile pave the way to your dream bathroom oasis.