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How to turn an ordinary kitchen subway backsplash pattern on its ear

Stephanie Brick

THE WASHINGTON POST – Expanded long ago from its humble beginnings in subway stations, the “subway tile” trend continues to sustain in kitchen backsplash design.

Subway tiles are simple, inexpensive and the default selection for those seeking a clean, simple look in their fresh new kitchen.

There is nothing ostentatious or abstract about this mighty little tile. Classic subway tiles are just three – by six-inch white, glazed ceramic tiles.

In kitchen design, they are traditionally installed in a half-offset pattern with white grout, most often adorning the walls behind white cabinets and white countertops.

Because of their glazed, glossy surface, they are easy to clean and resistant to stains, so their brightness will endure over the years.

Since this common tile is one of the most inexpensive on the market – pennies on the dollar – homeowners continue to flock to its simple lines and clean design. However, not everyone is as enamoured with the subway tile. Luckily, there are a variety of options to transform these everyday tiles into something extra special.

There are primarily two ways to add a little spice to this classic backsplash. The first is by deviating from the gloss white; the second is by deviating the installation pattern on
the wall.

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery” holds true when it comes to subway tile.

Given the popularity of the classic theme, many variations are variations are available on the market. A matte finish (instead of glossy) offers a softer look. A hand-cut texture juxtaposes old-world quality with a modern kitchen. Subtle white-on-white patterns or stone-replica imagery offers extra detail for those with fine eyes. Beveled-edge subway tile adds extra dimension. Even sized down to one by three inches , mini-subway tiles retain the classic proportions at a new scale.

Then, of course, there are nearly limitless options for colours: Why go white when you can go anything? From off-white to bold primaries, subway tile is available in a rainbow of colours.

Not sure you want to go with a vibrant colour? Consider changing the colour of the grout instead. In the past few years, “farmhouse chic” and similar trending kitchen styles feature classic subway tiles with black grout for a bold highlight of their pattern rather than a subtle offset.

This is also a no-cost upgrade: Where deviating colour or texture often comes with a price hike, there is rarely a price difference between grout colours (unless you go into the metallics, and gold is a great grout complement to white subway tiles – especially in a classic white kitchen with brushed gold hardware).

Besides going bold with the colour, texture or grout, there is another easy way to dress up these ubiquitous tiles with one simple, but significant, change: their installation pattern.


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