A little texture can go a long way.

Nickel hardware (from Lumber 1 Home Center; lumberonehomecenter.com) and stainless steel appliances (by LG; lg.com) prevent
Photo: Helen Norman

There is no denying subway tile's takeover in the past few years. From kitchens to showers, it has become the surface of choice, and for good reason. It's classic, easy to clean, and inexpensive. According to a 2017 study by Houzz, 44% of renovating Southern homeowners choose white cabinets, 30% go for white backsplashes, and 20% choose white countertops. It makes sense that subway tile is the perfect addition for a clean and tidy all-white kitchen. In the era of all-white kitchens, subway tile is the MVP; it can balance the elegance of marble, and polish up rustic butcher block.

And certainly grout is a serious consideration when installing subway tile. Dark really plays up dramatic contrast while white feels elegant, and practically sparkling clean. See how the white-on-white helps this petite kitchen feel airy and open:

But make no mistake—there's one more often overlooked way to make a statement with subway tile: handmade tiles. (And often, you can find handmade-look for a more attainable price tag.) These tiles feature naturally uneven surfaces, that create an extra sparkle when light hits them. They add a slight patina, and rustic quality, to otherwise somewhat straightforward and sometimes plain subway tiles.

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The texture added from using handmade (or handmade-look) tiles can go a long way when it comes to a big wall full of shiny white tile. Not only that, special glazes also add crackling and texture, and when combined with a gorgeous color, completely change the game.

Try options like the Catalina Vanilla Ceramic Subway Tile ($8.97 each, homedepot.com) for tile that feels classic, thanks to its color and shape, but with a little instant character.

Home Depot / Splashback Tile

Or splurge a little for the perfectly crackled, dreamy hued options at Fireclay Tile, like the "basil" subway tile. ($28 per square foot, fireclaytile.com)

Fireclay Tile