Large Subway Tile Backsplash Classic Tile Design with Modern Touch

A large subway tile backsplash can add a classic yet contemporary touch to any kitchen. Subway tiles are rectangular tiles that resemble the tile used in old subway stations. Their elongated shape and slightly beveled edges create a sense of movement and flow. When installed in a brick pattern using large format tiles, a subway tile backsplash imparts a sleek, modern look while still being rooted in traditional design.

In this article, we’ll look at ways to design a stylish and functional large subway tile backsplash that bridges traditional and contemporary aesthetics.

Why Choose a Large Subway Tile Backsplash

Subway tiles have been popular for generations, but many of the original installations used small 3×6 or 4×8 inch tile sizes. Today’s large format subway tiles, like 12×24 inch sizes, offer expanded design options. Here are some benefits of using large subway tiles for your backsplash:

  • Fewer grout lines – Larger tiles have fewer grout lines which creates a cleaner, less cluttered look that highlights the beauty of the tile itself. The large scale adds drama and impact.
  • Contemporary vibe – Oversized subway tiles lend a modern, industrial edge to kitchens. Their pared down look provides an up-to-date feel.
  • Classic style – While 12×24 inch subway tiles offer a contemporary twist, they still have the nostalgic, vintage appeal of traditional smaller subway tile. Their elongated shape and beveled edges retain subway tile charisma.
  • Continuity – Having fewer grout lines allows for a greater feeling of continuity and flow. Large subway tile can make a narrow kitchen appear wider.
  • Quick installation – With large tile sizes, fewer tiles need to be installed which speeds up installation time. Fewer grout lines also equals less grouting.

If you’re looking for a backsplash design that marries a contemporary, clean-lined aesthetic with timeless subway tile charm, large format sizes can be an excellent choice.

Choosing the Right Subway Tile Size

Subway tiles come in a range of sizes for backsplashes. Here are some of the most common large sizes and their best uses:

12×24 Inch Tile

The 12×24 inch size offers the elongated look of subway tile in a scaled-up proportion. Twelve inches equals roughly the height of standard kitchen upper cabinets.

  • Great for backsplashes in high-traffic areas like behind a range or sink where smaller tiles could get damaged over time.
  • On average, costs less than larger format sizes.
  • Standard grout line (1/8 inch) width is proportionate to the tile size.

16×32 Inch Tile

At 16 inches high, this extended length tile suits high-ceilinged, modern kitchens.

  • Makes a dramatic style statement for contemporary kitchens.
  • Longer length creates uninterrupted lines, making kitchens appear wider.
  • Beveled edge is retained for subway tile appeal.
  • Wider grout lines (3/16 inch) should be used with the longer length.

4×16 Inch Tile

This narrower tile is the size of four stacked standard 3×6 inch subway tiles.

  • The thinner width allows for working in tight spaces between upper and lower cabinets.
  • Versatile size suits both modern and cottage kitchen styles.
  • Smaller proportions keep traditional subway tile spirit.

Get creative mixing sizes too. Combine 12×24 inch tile on the lower portion of the backsplash with 4×16 inch tile along the top near cabinets for contrast and visual interest.

Design Ideas for Large Subway Tile Backsplashes

From color choice to layout, there are many ways to design an eye-catching large subway tile backsplash.


Stick with classic white subway tiles or go bold with color. Here are some options:

  • All-white backsplash – For a crisp, clean aesthetic, install large white subway tile from counter to ceiling. White reflects light which makes kitchens appear larger.
  • Colorful tile – Make a bold color statement with aqua, navy, emerald green, or even black subway tiles. Limit colorful tile to a single accent wall or the backsplash area directly behind the lower cabinets.
  • Multicolored tile – Add visual intrigue by combining white tiles with a pop of color randomly interspersed or in a regular pattern. Try light gray and white tiles with occasional tiles in a contrasting navy blue.
  • Metro tile – These specialty subway tiles offer color variations within each tile creating a subway tile that resembles natural stone or concrete. The overall look is more muted than solid colored tiles.

Layout Patterns

Aligning large subway tile in a classic brick pattern remains popular. But angling tile or stacking shapes introduce appealing new textures.

  • Offset brick pattern – Rows are offset half a tile width rather than lining up vertically. This pattern has a staggered ashlar look that adds dynamism.
  • Herringbone pattern – Angled tiles form a V shape creating interest and movement. Looks great in a white-on-white color scheme.
  • Penny tile rounds – Stack contrasting rounds interspersed between rows of large subway tile. The rows of circles provide beautiful graphic contrast.
  • Three-dimensional – Use tile spacers to install subway tile a small distance away from the wall. The dimensional effect makes tile appear to float on the wall for artistic appeal.

Backsplash Height

Standard backsplash height is 4 inches above countertops. But why not extend the impact of large scale subway tile to the ceiling?

  • Full height backsplashes – Carry 12×24 inch or 16×32 inch tile from counter to ceiling for a bold statement. Looks fantastic in contemporary kitchens.
  • Partial backsplash – If you prefer less tile, install an 18-20 inch high backsplash area behind sinks and ranges. Use trim or pencil liner at the ceiling.
  • Two-tone heights – Try two-thirds height behind the range and full height tile on the remaining backsplash area. Varying the height adds appealing asymmetry.

Grout Considerations

Grout color and thickness influence the overall look of subway tile backsplashes. Follow these guidelines:

  • Stick with white grout – For traditional backsplashes, bright white grout highlights and blends with white subway tiles.
  • Match grout to tile – Grout that matches or closely coordinates with colored subway tile minimizes grout lines for a sleeker look.
  • Use darker grout with white tile – Charcoal or light gray grout adds definition and a modern vibe to white subway tiles.
  • Wider grout for longer tile – The standard 1/8 inch grout line works well with 12×24 inch tile. Bump up grout width to 3/16 inches or 1/4 inches for the longer 16×32 inch tile to maintain grout line proportions.
  • Grout sealant – Seal grout lines to protect the surface and prevent staining and discoloration, especially for light grout colors. Reapply annually.

Transition Options from Backsplash to Countertops

The transition from the lower edge of a backsplash to countertops deserves special decorative consideration. Here are some edging choices:

  • Bullnose tile edging – Bullnose tiles with one rounded finished edge have a smooth profile from tile to counter. Match bullnose color to backsplash tile.
  • Pencil tile trim – Super slim, narrow tiles (1/8 inch wide) in a bead of trim or listel shape make a clean delineation between tile and counter.
  • Metal trim – Brushed aluminum, stainless steel, or bronze trim installs along the lower edge of the backsplash to nicely finish the line between backsplash and countertop. Offers a contemporary look.
  • Caulk bead – For an invisible transition, seal the lower edge with a neat bead of clear, neutral colored caulk that blends with the countertop and tile.

Preparing for Installation

Carefully preparing your backsplash area ensures proper installation of large format subway tiles.

  • Remove old backsplash – Eliminate any existing wall tile, grout, or adhesive so the new tile will lie flat and adhere properly.
  • Clean thoroughly – Use TSP cleaner to remove grease and soap residue from walls so tile mortar and grout bonds well. Rinse with clear water.
  • Surface flatness – Any dips, bumps or uneven spots on the wall surface will show. Use drywall joint compound to skim coat and smooth walls for flawless results.
  • Primer/sealer – Prime and seal the backsplash installation area with an appropriate water-based primer to aid adhesion and prevent moisture penetration.
  • Mark center point – Determine the exact center point of your backsplash installation area and use a level to mark plumb vertical and horizontal lines out from the center. This allows you to plan the tile layout and spacing.
  • Adhesive and grout – Choose polymer-modified thinset mortar suitable for the wall surface material as well as grout that matches the tile and application. Have adhesive and grout supplies on hand before starting installation.

Step-By-Step Installation Guide

With proper prep work complete, now you’re ready to install large format subway tiles for your kitchen backsplash. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Determine Tile Layout

Dry lay a few rows of tile on a flat surface to verify your desired layout pattern. Ensure you have the surface measurements and tile cuts calculated correctly for full tiles on the perimeter.

Step 2: Apply Adhesive Mortar

Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset adhesive mortar on the lower portion of the installation area where you’ll place the first tiles. Apply only an area that you can tile before the adhesive dries, about 4 square feet.

Step 3: Set the First Tiles

Beginning at the center point, set the first tiles in position. Push the tiles firmly into the adhesive and use light twisting motions to embed them. Ensure they are level and aligned with your guidelines. Use tile spacers between them for consistent grout line width.

Step 4: Continue Setting Tiles

Work methodically from your starter tiles, setting full tiles first then cut tiles on the perimeters. Check levelness and alignment periodically and make adjustments as needed. Cover all of your prep work adhesive areas before stopping work.

Step 5: Finish Grouting Tile Joints

Allow the tile mortar to fully cure per manufacturer instructions before grouting. Spread your chosen grout into the joints using a rubber grout float. Keep grout even with the tile surface. After it sets, wipe away residue with a damp sponge. Apply grout sealer once dry.

Step 6: Seal and Protect Tile Surface

Allow grout and thinset to fully cure, then apply a penetrating sealant to the installed subway tile surfaces. Avoid sealing over grout. This protects tiles from moisture and staining. Reapply sealer annually.

If preparing the walls, using quality setting materials, care during tile-setting, and proper grouting and sealing methods, your large subway tile backsplash can provide beauty and function for years of kitchen use.

FAQs About Large Subway Tile Backsplashes

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about designing and installing stylish large subway tile backsplashes:

What type of tile is best for kitchen backsplashes?

Glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles suit backsplash use best since their glassy surfaces resist moisture, stains, and are easily cleaned. Subway tile shapes are made in many tile types including these.

What tile sizes other than 3×6 inches are considered subway tile?

The rectangular subway tile shape comes in a variety sizes including 4×12, 4×16, 6×12, 8×24, 12×12, and 12×24 inches. Some manufacturers make extra long, thin subway tiles like 1×12 inches.

How are large format subway tiles made?

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are fired in high heat kilns which fuse the clay particles into a glassy finish. The firing and cooling process may cause tiles to slightly bow or curve. Quality manufacturers aim for very flat tiles.

Should subway tile backsplash go all the way to the ceiling?

Full height tile backsplashes extending from counter to ceiling create a dramatic impact, especially when using bold colors or large scale tiles like 12×24 inches. Partial height backsplashes are also popular.

How do you cut subway tiles?

Use a wet saw with a diamond tile blade to accurately cut subway tiles for fitting around corners, near outlets, or other obstructions. For small notches, a tile nipper tool works. Use safety gear like goggles.

Can subway tile backsplash be self-installed?

With some tiling experience and proper tile cutting tools, a subway tile backsplash is a DIY-friendly project. Carefully sorting quantities, preparing the wall surface, and technique during setting and grouting are key to achieving quality results. Patience is a virtue!

The Beauty of Large Subway Tile Backsplash Design

The versatile large subway tile offers endless options for backsplash designs that bridge traditional and contemporary kitchen aesthetics. By thoughtfully selecting subway tile sizes and colors, layout patterns, grout design, edging details, and the installation height that suits your kitchen style, you can create a backsplash with timeless appeal. A well-installed large format subway tile backsplash will bring you enjoyment for years to come.


A large subway tile backsplash can provide clean lines and modern style while still nodding to the classic appeal that makes subway tiles a quintessential backsplash design. With fewer grout lines and in scaled-up sizes like 12×24 or 16×32 inches, oversized subway tiles create a sleek, dramatic impact.

Choosing the right tile size for your space, opting for a neutral white or bold colored tile, and considering fun layout patterns in offset brick, herringbone, or combining various sizes are great ways to express your personal style. Don’t forget to factor in grout – its color and thickness are design considerations as well. Plus, properly prepping your backsplash area and carefully installing the tile ensures your project’s success.

With the right choices, a large subway tile backsplash can be a stunning focal point that blends seamlessly into your kitchen’s traditional or contemporary design aesthetic. This fresh take on a classic backsplash tile shape provides versatility for all decor styles.