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The 6 Most Popular Ways to Lay Metro (Subway) Tiles


If you’ve been keeping up to date with the latest trends in Irish home improvements and interior design, then it goes without saying that your Instagram feed, search history, and the stacks of magazines by your bedside are chock-full of these alluring tiles. Rectangular and bevelled, typically made of ceramic, but sometimes of glass or porcelain, metro tiles (also known as subway tiles) are set to be the rage all across Ireland


But are they just a fad? And how can they be best used in the home? The tiles you’ve been seeing so much of in Irish home renovations are not, in fact, a passing trend. They’re called metro tiles (or subway tiles), and have been in use since they were first designed for the opening of the New York subway system at the dawn of the 20th century.

metro subway tiles ireland

Beloved by Victorians for how easy they were to clean and maintain, metro tiles were once the calling card of ‘civilized’ society – used anywhere cleanliness was a priority: public toilets, railway stations, underground. Today, however, they have been repurposed for the home.


With the diversification of available materials, colours, grouting and design styles, metro tiles are in use in almost every Irish home with an eye for simple, timeless, classic aesthetics. In fact, they are especially well-matched to those homeowners in Ireland who seek to pair timelessness with modern chic, since the fundamental subtlety of subway tiles helps to tone down noisier colours and patterns.


In this article, we’ll walk you through the 6 most popular pattern ideas for using metro tiles in your home, as well as our top tips for subway tile maintenance, and suggestions on where metro tiles might be best used throughout the house. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

Most Common Applications for Metro Tiles

One of the most appealing aspects of metro tiles is just how easy they are to clean. They tend to be slightly bevelled (raised away from the wall), with slopes on each edge down to the grouting. This textured construction, as well as the glossy materials (ceramic, porcelain, glass) with which they’re made, makes cleaning them incredibly quick and painless. 


Furthermore, the sheen of their gloss does wonders in reflecting the natural and artificial lighting of any room. This means that even the smallest, dimmest room can be brightened considerably simply with the installation of subway tiles. Not only can they improve the natural light of a room, however, but also the shape and size. With the right layout and pattern of metro tile, you can subtly add to the width and/or height of any given room, by tricking the viewer’s eye. 


For these reasons, among many others, the most common applications for metro tiles are in the kitchen (as kitchen backsplashes) and in the bathroom; and generally as wall tiles, rather than floor tiles (due to the texture), in both. Subway tiles are naturally well-suited to use in these areas and help to pull the aesthetic of these rooms together by providing a uniform base against which to frame brighter and bolder designs.

benefits of metro tiles subway tiles

The Benefits of Metro (Subway) Tiles

We’ve already touched on just why we at Tile Merchant, along with the best Irish interior designers, love metro tiles. But what exactly are the real benefits of installing them in your own home?

    1. Wide range of colours to choose from: Contrary to popular belief, metro tiles are no longer only available in uniform white, like they were in days of old (when used, for example, in subway stations). Today, you can buy metro tiles in a huge variety of colours. We, for example, offer the rustic metro Mirage tiles, nolita metro collection available in many colours, and mirage black among dozens of others
    2. Metro tiles are timeless: Unlike the various tile fads which burn brightly for a year, before looking ugly and outdated, metro tiles have been popular in homes around the world for over 100 years. In short, they’re unique stylishness isn’t going anywhere soon
    3. Easy to clean and maintain: Most ceramic tiles tend to be easy to clean, but metro tiles are the easiest of all thanks to their bevelled shape. A simple wipe with a damp cloth is all most metro tiles tend to require, making them ideal for those easily-dirtied areas of the house, such as the kitchen and bathroom
    4. Plenty of different grouts to choose from: Some people understandably worry about the amount of grouting which these smaller, more slender tiles require, and whether this could impact the overall cleanliness and aesthetic of metro tile designs. Thankfully, however, with many different colours of grout to choose from, and plenty with antifungal properties built into them, there’s no need to compromise on style or hygiene when it comes to subway tiles
    5. Work excellently as frames: Whether you frame the vanity mirror in your bathroom, your kitchen sink, worktops, cooker, bath or shower, metro tiles work brilliantly as ‘frames’ for your home design. Simple, block-coloured tiles arranged in a pleasing way can serve to draw the eye to aspects of your home you wish to highlight, rather than the tiles being the center of attention themselves
    6. Easy to match with other tiles: Since metro tiles tend not to be ‘noisy’, they serve as the perfect companion to other tiles and tile designs which might be that bit bolder or braver. This allows you, the Irish homeowner, to experiment and add a distinct dynamism to your home, without worrying about noise.
The most common pattern to install Metro Tiles

The 6 Most Popular Ways to Lay Metro Tiles: Ireland Guide

Style #1 - Horizontal Brick Pattern (Subway Pattern)

The classic. Metro tiles are laid horizontally in long lines, each subsequent line offset by a half tile width, resulting in a traditional ‘brick’ design. You can use this style practically anywhere, since it’s such a timeless design. 


Especially useful in situations where you plan to cover large areas with metro tiles, and in rooms which could benefit from looking a little wider than they actually are. The classic subway pattern for metro tiles is especially attractive when coloured tiles are paired with a grout of a different colour or tone, so as to embellish and draw attention to the alternating layout.

Style #2 - Horizontal Stacked Pattern

An alternative to the classic horizontal brick layout is the ‘stacked’ version, wherein metro tiles are laid one atop the other in a grid, with an emphasis on the horizontal axis. 


A mite less subtle than the ‘Brick’ or classic ‘Subway’ pattern, you should use this to emphasise the crisp angles and modern minimalism of your home, especially when combined with the swirling lines of natural wood.

Style #3 - Herringbone Pattern

Undoubtedly the most complex pattern for any tiles, herringbone subway tiles should probably be left to professional tilers to install. They are, however, all the more magnificent for the extra work. The herringbone style is achieved by laying metro tiles at right angles to each other to create a repeating zig-zag pattern (which resembles herring bones). 

This style might be a little too loud for an entire room, but a herringbone backsplash in a kitchen, or herringbone subway tiles used as a shower backdrop, can add a powerful sense of movement and energy to spaces which are otherwise synonymous with work and chore.

Style #4 - Vertical Brick Pattern (Verfical 3⁄4)

Turn the classic ‘Subway/Horizontal Brick’ pattern on its head, and what do you have? The vertical brick! Tall vertical columns of metro tiles are offset by a half tile height to give them a 90-degrees-rotated brick aesthetic. 


This pattern is quite unique, and may not be the favourite of many, but for those brave enough it can pay off dividends. Framing the bathroom vanity, or set as the kitchen backsplash, this vertical brick pattern pushes the floor from the ceiling to open up any space, whilst turning the classic Victorian style into something a little more modern.

Style #5 - Vertical Stacked Pattern

Arguably the most unusual pattern for subway tiles, laying them vertically in uniform rows (to create a strict grid pattern) can actually have some truly impressive applications. From heightening small, squat bathrooms, to accenting the modern minimalism of a sharp, angular kitchen, the ‘vertical stack’ is unusual, without being faddish.

Style #6 - Diagonal Brick Pattern (Vertical ½)

Like the herringbone metro tile pattern, laying your subway tiles diagonally takes a lot of work, and a lot of very precise cutting. Unless you’ve heaps of DIY experience, this one is best left to professionals! Also like its herringbone brethren, the diagonal brick design energises spaces like no other on this list. 


Drawing the eyes dynamically across the entire expanse of the tiled area, this pattern achieves its full aesthetic potential when created with a duality of colour – choosing two (or more) different coloured subway tiles to highlight a feature wall, for example.

Our Top Tips for Metro Tile Maintenance

Here at Tile Merchant, we’re often asked two things about our gorgeous range of subway tiles: Are they really that easy to clean? And: Is the amount of grout required an issue?

Are metro tiles easy to clean?

Yes! In fact, their inherent cleanliness was the reason they were designed in the first place! Back in 1904, when the New York subway first opened, the designers wanted a tile which could be easily maintained and kept glossy and attractive over many years, so as to make people unfamiliar with underground travel feel more comfortable with the idea. Wipe your metro tiles regularly with a hot, damp cloth, and they’ll be perfect for decades to come.

Is the amount of grout required for subway tiles an issue?

No! In fact, by carefully choosing the right grout to accompany your subway tiles, not only will they keep as clean as any other, larger tile, they’ll look better than most, at the same time. These days, there are plenty of grouting alternatives with inherent antifungal properties. Choose one of these, and keep the tiles and grout clean with a hot, damp cloth (as above), and you’ll experience no trouble with mold or fungus, even in the dampest, most humid areas of your house (such as the kitchen backsplash, bathroom sink, shower or bath). There are even a range of colours (in addition to the traditional black or white) with which you can grout your subway tiles.


At Tile Merchant, we’re always happy to assist you on your hunt for the perfect colour, style and application of tile, from grout to design. Just pop into our Dublin showrooms, browse our online shop for metro tiles, or contact us via our website.

Why Tile Merchant?

We offer extremely competitive pricing on our entire range of tiles and likewise. We stock a huge range of wall and floor tiles and our prices are competitive for retail and trade. Our stock is widely available in our showrooms in Dublin which are open 7 days a week.


Alternatively, if you’d prefer to shop our tiles online, we can supply you with samples delivered for free.



Blog by Calum
Tile Merchant
Cal Bannerman is a freelance writer, editor, podcaster and voice actor from the Scottish Borders. They run the storytelling podcast “Stories from the Hearth”, and live in a wee Glasgow flat with their partner and cat.