A Quick Guide to Tile Patterns, According to an Interior Designer

Here's how to choose the right patterned tile for any space, from backsplashes to flooring, so that it makes a lasting impact.

Fresh salad greens being prepared in stylish kitchen still life
Photo: Getty Images

We all want spaces that strike a balance between universally on-trend and individually on-brand, and one material that can pull this off is tile. Given the wide range of sizes, shades, and finishes, tiles can pull a room together, but finding the right pattern and design can be a struggle.

"Sometimes you want the tile to be the statement in the room, and sometimes you want it to work in harmony with other dramatic accents in a room," says Orlando Soria, interior designer, author, and TV host.

To determine the best tile pattern for your project—whether a kitchen backsplash, a living room floor, or a bathroom vanity—know what your options are. Here, Soria explains the three most common tile patterns and offers tips to help you think like a designer as you create your own masterpiece.

The Three Most Common Tile Patterns

Finding the right tile is a whole lot easier if you stick to of-the-moment styles. Not only will it significantly narrow down your choices, but it will also make the ordering process much more straightforward.

"The most common tile patterns out there are subway, hexagon, and scallop," Soria says. "There's obviously a ton more out there, but these are the three you can find readily available almost anywhere that sells tile." Here's what to know about each one:

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Subway Tile Pattern

white subway tile from lowes

Subway tile is the most traditional and popular tile pattern, and it typically comes in a rectangular shape of all degrees and colors. The most well-known pattern is akin to offset bricks. However, you can also "stack" them vertically or horizontally. "They may seem boring, but you can do so many creative things with them," he says. "My favorite pattern to make with subway tiles is parquet because it's unexpected."

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Hexagon Tile Pattern

white hexagon tile

The shape you once knew from geometry class has made a major comeback as hexagon tile in bathrooms and kitchens, thanks in part to its clean-lined appearance. "People like it because it feels a little edgy, but it's actually quite classic," Soria notes. "I love this tile in a distinctive color, finish, or material, like concrete that gets a patina over time."

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Scallop Tile Pattern

lowes scallop tile

This tile is slightly more unconventional than its counterparts but can make for a fun twist on a small canvas, like a wet bar, or a larger one, like a countertop-to-ceiling backsplash. "Depending on how you orient these fan-shaped tiles, they can look like fish scales, ginkgo leaves, or fans," Soria says. "They're a beautiful way to incorporate some curve and movement."

How to Choose a Tile Pattern

Since tiles usually become a statement in any room they're used in, it's best to consider all of the other factors in a space as you shop. A modern home with lots of white surfaces can likely contrast well with a busier tile, for instance, while a more traditional space would probably complement a more subtle choice.

Another way to narrow down your tile choices is to determine your budget—tile prices vary widely, and the labor to install them can also be pricey. "Generally, the more interesting and handmade a tile is, the higher the price. You can get inexpensive subway tiles for $2 a square foot, but higher-end tiles can be $60 a square foot and higher," Soria says.

If you can afford handmade tiles, Soria says to go for it, particularly if there's something unique about their design. "But if you can't afford to plop down thousands of dollars on tile, then you can get creative with patterns," he says.

Patterned Floor Tiles

"Think of your home the way it is now, and the way you'd like for it to be," Soria says. "Spanish patterned tile got really popular about 10 years ago, for example, so people started putting it everywhere, including places it didn't always make sense. I've seen a lot of Spanish tile used in super-modern contemporary homes and usually it hasn't been a successful application. For a contemporary home, a solid tile probably works better." Solid tiles can be made more interesting with colors and shapes, and one pick Soria recommends is blue tiles in kitchens.

"If you're designing with resale in mind," he says, "I'd stick to a pretty strict palette of white, black, grays, and neutrals—you can always bring in color with paint." A "forever home," on the other hand, can take more design risks and should reflect its owners. "But make sure to try tiles out in the space before you install them," Soria suggests. "The color a tile may appear to have in a showroom might be completely different once it's in your home."

Backsplash Tile Patterns

Choosing a patterned tile for a backsplash depends on the style of your kitchen and the surrounding palette of the countertops and cabinets. That's why it's so common for this space to be filled with a familiar favorite.

"The simplest, most universal pattern for a kitchen backsplash is subway tile laid horizontally, staggered, in white," Soria says. "I know people are sick of this pattern, but it really never looks bad." A kitchen with a lot of eye-catching features—like bold lighting, brightly-colored cabinets, and shiny appliances—may need a classic backsplash for balance. But pared-back kitchens should use patterned tiles to make an exclamation point in the design.

"Think outside the box with color and pattern," he says. "If you're looking to add some visual interest to a room but want to keep the color palette equally monochromatic, adding a unique pattern is a really pretty detail people will notice."

Bathroom Tile Patterns

It may not seem like it, but the small footprint of a bathroom can come with big challenges. "There are often a lot of tiles competing with each other on the floor, in the shower, and potentially around the sink," Soria says. "I like to choose a distinctive tile pattern for one, but not all three, of those elements. So if I go with a more ornate pattern in the shower, I'd go simpler with the floor tile."

He says it's usually best to go for neutral hues in the bathroom for a timeless finish. "Everyone wants their bathrooms to feel clean and bright, so I find using lots of light hues and materials with some shine in the finish makes a bathroom feel like how it's supposed to feel." Usually, Soria goes for marble rectangles on the main floor and smaller-scale tiles for the shower floor so that both sizes complement rather than compete with each other. "Also, the more grout lines, the more grip you have," he says.

No matter which tile pattern you choose, Soria notes that this is a very subjective process—and it should be thought of as more fun than stressful that there's so much to choose from. "There's a lot out there for everyone," he says. "Overall, try to select patterns that feel classic and won't look so 'now' that they still read '2021' in 2031."

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