How to choose a subway tile layout

Learning how to find the best layout for your project

By Clay Imports

So you have your tiles ready, your installation space is clean and ready to be worked with and you have your grout ready to finish the job. But now, how do you lay out your tiles? In this article we’ll take a look at the most popular layouts for rectangular, subway tiles and how designers used them to achieve a modern design, a classic feel or how they took them to a completely new level.

Tile layout for a backsplash
Design by The Sursy

What’s a subway tile?

Subway tiles earned their name due to their historical association with subway stations. These tiles were first introduced as a practical and durable wall covering for the newly emerging subway systems, particularly in New York City. The original tiles were introduced as a 3” x 6” tile, but now, most rectangular wall tiles are considered Subway tiles regardless of their size.

Their iconic design is characterized by a smooth, glossy finish, allowing for easy cleaning and maintenance. The clean aesthetic of subway tiles quickly gained popularity beyond subway stations and found its way into residential and commercial interiors around the world. Today, subway tiles continue to be a beloved choice for their classic appeal and versatility in various applications, reflecting their enduring and practical use.

Modern bathroom tile layoutDesign by Be Unica | Photo by Jane Ko

Why does a tile layout matter?

Tile layout plays a crucial role in determining the overall aesthetic, appeal and functionality of a space and directly influences the visual impact and style of the tiled surface, whether it's a kitchen backsplash, a bathroom wall, or a subway station platform. The tile layout creates a sense of symmetry, balance, and harmony while enhancing the architectural design and elevating the space's overall ambiance.

Brick layout for terracotta tiles
An appropriate layout can also affect the efficiency and precision of installation, minimizing the need for excessive cutting, reducing waste, and optimizing the use of materials. Here at Clay Imports we have a little guide on how the most popular layouts are used, so you can be sure your project will not only look amazing, but also will endure for many years.

Subway tile layouts


Tile layouts options
As you can see, tile layouts usually rely on the symmetrical nature of the tile and can be easily identifiable based on the orientation and dimensions of the pieces themselves. Not all tile subway tile layouts can be laid the same. And the ratio of the height to width of the tile can drastically change the visual impact to the space.

Horizontal stacks

The very definition of a timeless, traditional layout. This layout is reminiscent of the original layout subway stations used when they were built and they bring a simple, yet elegant design element. Later adopted by the Mid-Century Modern design aesthetic, this classic look is now associated with more modern and streamlined tile designs. You can use it in showers and bathrooms, like in this renovation by Sarah Viebrock or even on floors and patios, as you can see in our “Everything you need to know about Mexican Saltillo tile” guide. Remember,you can offset the layout so you can achieve a  ½ or ⅓  offset also known as a “running bond” or “brick layout” as you can see in the feature image of our French Country Whitewash Saltillo article.

Detail of a brick layout
Close look at an horizontal layout

Vertical stack

As the name implies, this layout stacks the tiles vertically on their shorter side. This layout is often used when you want to make a space look taller, giving a new dimension to your project. Vertical stack is also associated with modern design aesthetics due to its nicely aligned grout joints and “no fuss” layout. Both this and the horizontal layout are a perfect option if you are new in DIY projects, as our head of sales Anna demonstrates in her DIY kitchen backsplash.

Modern bathroom tile layout
Design by Skelly Build

Basket Weave patterns

Basket weave patterns are built by stacking tiles into squares and rectangles. It can transform large spaces into a cozy, vintage look. This kind of pattern works amazing with vibrant, colored tiles or grout.

Basket Weave pattern with terracotta tiles
Basket Weave pattern

Herringbone patterns

This kind of pattern is done when you layout your subway tiles into 45 angles, a perfect layout if you want your tile to be a focus point of your space. This elaborate layout is perfect to give a new texture to your tile installation, as you can see in Koko’s new bathroom. This pattern might be intimidating, but the final result will leave no one indifferent. You can check how this modern tile design works in this article.

Herringbone pattern with natural terracotta tiles
Herringbone pattern


Whether you're aiming for a classic herringbone elegance, a bold and modern offset pattern, or an intricate basket weave charm, take these layout inspirations as a launching pad and let your creativity flow. If you want to know more about these tiles, you can check our guide here. And remember, if you have any questions or require more information, don't hesitate to reach out to us at or chat with us here.