How to tile bathrooms or kitchens using Metro or subway tiles

(Addendum: I wrote this post back in 2011 and we ALL know how popular metro / subway tiles have become since then. The hipster industrial vibe is pretty much everywhere and Pinterest is swamped with cool bars and homes which feature the look. Many cutting edge designers are moving towards patterned Moroccan syle tiles and are bored of subways. BUT, fear not, this is a classic look and will always look good. If you like it, do it, Sian x)

Tony Kelley New York Subway tiles image

I was never a huge fan of subway tiles in domestic settings (we’re talking 15yrs ago, when I first started renovating houses) considering them a touch old fashioned and inner city loo like, especially when in green! However over the years my tastes have changed and since around 2010, I’ve come round to a Metro state of mind, in fact I’d even go so far as to say I’m a bit of an addict.

They’re so named after New York City’s first fully white tiled underground stations from 1904, and Tony Kelley’s Flickr image above is typical of the style. Increasingly they have been used in domestic projects, with clients appreciating that their ability to form a bridge between traditional and contemporary in a way few tiles can. In the last four or five years they’ve stormed ahead as part of the UK interior design palette for their clean lines and ability to complement a masculine or a feminine look, be cool yet understated, provide a backdrop to a prettier scheme or nail that industrial vibe.

I opened up my Jan 2011 Living Etc this morning to find this page boldly stating it’s wares, not for the faint hearted these metro tiles….

….had a bit of lunch, headed out to meet a client and guess what she mentioned as a possibility? Yup, subway tiles and from the site visit it was clear her cute Didsbury end terrace would certainly benefit from a bathroom overhaul to incorporate a clean, fresh look, with if, possible a roll top bath! I promised to send some images of our recent projects for her perusal, but then figured these would make a good blog post too, for anyone curious to see what metro tiles look like in situ.

I used white metro tiles as a narrow upstand in a white gloss and walnut kitchen a couple of years back, incorporating a chocolate brown glass feature strip:

Again just recently at Project Squeeze, though this time with cream tiling for a cream Ikea kitchen and oak laminate worktop:

Mrs Rose Cottage chose cream subways in her gorgeous Georgian cottage which was given a Moregeous makeover last year:

Below we used them at a property where I was just helping out so I don’t have finished images, but you get the idea what they look like behind a roll top bath with a limestone floor:They do look fab in all the different rooms and clients of ours have stuck to tried and tested white and cream with pale grouting, but there are a multitude of options.

There are some practical considerations to bear in mind:

  • They require a lovely flat surface – so no lumps and bumps! In old houses it’s often better to removed old crumbling plaster and use plasterboard to create a flat finish.
  • Metro’s do use more grout that larger scale tiles so buy enough to finish the job
  • You don’t have to buy new and can find vintage tiles on-line but rarely enough to tile a whole room – maybe just enough for a splashback though?
  • They don’t have to be in a brick style but can be tiled on the bias or even in a herringbone effect. They can also be used vertically, though I’m not as keen on this look.
  • Try white metro tiles with black grout for a very contemporary look, there’s one I did HERE
  • Use a spirit or laser level PLEASE – nothing worse than wonky subway tiles 😉

There are some more subway tile room images at this wonderful US blog –

And if you’ve been totally won over and now consider yourself on the road to becoming a true Metro geek, you’ll want to check this out – Who knew the underground could be sexy? 😉

Here are some more metro variations to inspire you:

Bathroom created by Moregeous for a TV ad
Topps Tiles Herringbone subways


Mandarin Stone design image

vertical subway tile.jpg
Vertical bond on Apartment Therapy
subway tile patterns 2.jpg
Vertical subways on Architecture Now

This is also a great visual guide to different stylesSubway or Metro Tiles Designs

Try Topps Tiles for well priced, decent quality tiles, that’s where I usually get mine x

24 thoughts on “How to tile bathrooms or kitchens using Metro or subway tiles

Add yours

  1. Hi, I am currently having a cream kitchen with solid beech worktops fitted and wish to put a cream subway tile with it although finding a cream that isn’t too overpowering is proving difficult.. you don’t happen to know where the cream tiles in the picture of the Ikea kitchen were purchased? Thank you

    1. I do Chloe, as it’s one of my rental kitchens, designed and installed last year. The tiles are from Topps Tiles and I think they’re great, inexpensive too!

  2. I’m in love with the above rooms! Am really wanting use the white metro tiles in my new kitchen (gloss grey cabinets) its a very small room with no natural lighting.. I saw metro tiles in wickes but they don’t look very glossy, but the price was good. Do you by any chance know where I can get really good glossy metro tiles that will look good and not cost the earth?! Tia x

  3. I love all this designs and hard work put into the work.
    I’m torn in between a sage green and cream metro tiles in my bathroom… Trying to tile half the bath and paint the rest …. Now here lies my dilemma!!!! What colour tiles and paint match
    Please help with your experience

    1. Hi Jessica,
      It very depends which look you want. Best to test your tiles in a tile showroom against, for e.g., the BAL grout colours. I usually go for ivory with cream tiles as limestone is a bit yellowy.
      Good luck with your project!

  4. Hi, I am about to tile our refitted kitchen with the gloss black metro tiles but I am puzzled as to which size tile trim would be best for these 7mm tiles. The trim is to go round and across the window sill and around the tiled area, any suggestions? This will be the first time I have tiled so I am a bit nervous.

  5. Dear Sian,
    I am planning my new kitchen but I am not sure what tiles and floor to chose. I love your designs using metro tiles. My kitchen is going to be oak & alabaster painted traditional shaker kitchen. I thought that maybe white/ivory metro tiles with dark grey joints will look nice. I thought that the rest of the kitchen could be painted in dark grey or dark sage. As to the floor – I am absolutely clueless. I am going to chose the weathered oak table with zink top so I thought maybe grey, white weathered effect floor will look nice. Please help!

    1. Very hard to help without selling images Anya. My best advise would be to get on Pinterest and try to find images of the type of kitchen you know you’re going to have and see what beautiful floors they’ve been paired with. I’d always go for tiling in a kitchen, or maybe one of the new luxurious vinyl finishes which look like aged timber? I’m also loving encaustic patterned tiling at the moment, to add some design interest?

  6. Hi trying to spruce up my tired kitchen. Plse could you tell me the paint colour used on kitchen and bathroom walls plse as im terrible with colours. Wanting to paint kitchen cupboards a lovely cream colour would you be able to suggest anything. Thank you soooooo much

  7. Im going for the look in the bathroom lovely floral blind soft green accessories and painted cream walls painting cupboards tooo. Just stuck on choosing the right cream i would be so grateful for your help xxxxxx loosing my mind loads of sample pots help xxxx

  8. Hi, can you please tell me what colour cream paint you used with the cream tiling in the picture with the cream Ikea kitchen and oak laminate worktop please.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Cheryl, I’m almost positive I used a Dulux colour called Vanilla White with that kitchen. It works well with oak and the cream Topps metros, and that Ikea kitchen. Although Ikea have no updated their kitchen range so it might be worth testing it in your own kitchen first!

  9. Hi
    Love your article
    I’ve had a cream kitchen installed but think the cream tiles might look a bit too much like all one colour. I’m thinking of a pale grey instead.
    What do you think , have you ever tiled with grey?

    1. Hi Jo, it’s hard to imagine without seeing the shade of cream for your cabinetry. If it’s very yellow then a grey might be a hard match, but a lighter cream would be good with a grey upstand / splashback tiles. If you’re on IG then tag me into a picture? @moregeous x

  10. Hello
    What is the minimum grout line thickness I can get away with fixing mini-metro (150x 75) tiles in my kitchen?
    Thanks derrick

    1. Hey Derrick, I’ve just done some metro tiles with a 3mmm grout line, I think metros look better with some thing relatively substantial. Too think looks pointless with them, unlike stone or marble x

  11. Any tips with regards to cutting bevelled metro tiles at internal corner. The roll bath photo looks really good, just not sure if its better to mitre or scribe, i especially want to do it correct in the shower corner so everything is as waterproof as it can be. Great blog.

    1. If you’re concerned about leaks it’s always better to seal before tiling, down joins and at the wall to tray junction. You can even use a Kerakoll product called Nanodefense Eco, that’s very good. Sometimes mitreing in wet corners doesn’t allow the grout to get in.

  12. Hallo. I love your article so much. Every tile is so beautiful. Especially the Topps Tiles Herringbone subways one. So simple but fab. Thank you for sharing this. Very useful for me to add my references of bathroom design!

  13. You just can’t beat a herringbone tile pattern! The Mandarin stone design that you have included above in the kitchen setting looks fantastic. I note this article is a couple of years old now (I stumbled across it by chance, glad I did!), it would be good to get your insights of where you think tiling patterns are now currently and where you think they are heading (beyond the classics of course)?


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