Subway tile kitchen backsplash DIY

subway tile kitchen backsplash DIY

The story of our non-traditional Subway Tile Backsplash Project


It was a fun family project. Better said, let’s put the wives together so they can DIY.

I said non-traditional DIY because, despite all the researching and staring at subway tile backsplash pictures on Pinterest for hours, we followed absolutely no instructions in this project.

BUT! it turned out great, and I want to share our easy DIY subway tile backsplash tips with you.


On a sunny Sunday, Julie and I decided it’s time to fix the eyesore wall of the kitchen island and refresh her kitchen’s look with white subway tiles.

laying subway tile kitchen backsplash

We were looking at the ugly wall for a while with questions like “How to install subway tiles at the corners?” and “How we’re gonna tile around the electrical outlet” or “What kind of layout pattern we’re gonna choose?”.

Most importantly, where to start?

Well, here it goes. Keep scrolling and reading… who knows probably you’ll get inspired for a subway tile DIY project soon. 🙂

What did we need for this tile backsplash project?

what do i need for tile backsplash

Our tile toolset was the following:


Can you put tiles on drywall?

how to layout subway tile backsplash

When we started the project, we discovered that the paint is a little chipped in some places.

Most likely, the white paint the previous owner used on the wall had some moisture damage. I sanded down, and we found out that below the surface, we got drywall.

Water-resistant drywall is a good backer board to install backsplash tiles around sinks and other places in the kitchen. These kitchen surfaces might get high humidity, and it could affect regular drywalls. The boards are made from water-repellent gypsum and are covered by water-resistant paper.

So, the short answer is yes; you can put tiles on drywall. Just make sure if you install the subway tiles around sinks and splashy areas, choose a water-resistant backer board.


Where to begin a backsplash subway tile project?

We prepared the wall for the tiles.

We only needed to protect the floor and used an old bed sheet for that. If you need to protect cabinets, counters, etc. you might want to use painter’s tape.

We also removed the outlet cover (Remember when you deal with outlets and switches you want to do it with the power off)

Since this kitchen island won’t have any sink in it and we don’t have to worry about water and moisture, we decided to apply the white subway tiles directly to the painted drywall.

However, I sanded the paint down a little bit with medium-grade sandpaper.


How to layout subway tile backsplash

There are so many cool subway tile installation patterns. Go ahead, google it or jump on Pinterest and do a little research.

Here is a pix about the most commonly used subway tile layouts.

laying out backsplash tile

If you scroll back up, you can see this kitchen already has a subway tile pattern with the most common one (number 3 on the pix above). So we decided we won’t complicate things and followed the same pattern.

Once you decide on the subway tile layout pattern, you can jump into the next step.


Installing subway tile without spacers

We used OmniGrip 1 Gal. Maximum Strength Tile Adhesive to put the tiles.

Julie is right-handed; therefore, she started to put the tile adhesive on the right side of the wall. (I would start from the left:).)  Anyway, I took over the trowel and applied the glue to the wall in small sections at a time.

Once we had a thin layer applied and only one big trowel to work with, I held it in a 45-degree angle to take off the excess. This not only removes extra adhesive but also creates grooves that will make the tile stick and stay on the wall forever.

Once the wall had the groove, Julie started to put the tiles following the classic subway tile pattern. For this layout, you have to cut the tiles in half in every second row.

subway tile backsplash home depot

Remember? We used no instructions.

So just grabbed the first tile and lined it up with the beginning of the right edge close to the floor. The margin on the floor was our guideline because it is fairly leveled.

To apply your tile in a subway pattern, start with a full piece of tile on your first row, then cut a piece of tile in half to begin your second row.

You’ll have several minutes before the adhesive sets, but remember to work step by step and small sections at the time. It will give you time to do little corrections like if one tile isn’t straight or too far away from the other.


How to cut subway tile without wet saw

And now we got to the fun part. Soon enough, you’ll get to the end of the row, and you’ll have to cut a tile.

We had no wet saw. BUT, we had less than 27 square feet wall to work on. Our backsplash DIY project was small, and we were up to the challenge to use a manual tile cutter.

subway tile kitchen backsplash diy

So when we had to cut a tile in half or when we got to the outlet, we had to cut and used the manual ceramic tile cutter.

We marked the tile with a pencil where we needed to cut and went outside to make the magic happen. Here is a super quick video of how to use a tile cutter. 

Cutting a subway tile with a wet saw is so much easier and time saver. If you have it, use it. If you really wants that precious little thing, rent it.

how to tile around electrical outlets

Very carefully!

subway tile diy

Once we got close to the outlet, we marked the tiles with a pencil and cut it.

The good news is, even if you use a manual tile cutter and your cut isn’t perfect, the outlet cover will hide the imperfections. So don’t be afraid; just keep going with the project.


How to install subway tile backsplash corners

And now we got to the other fun part.

Make sure you don’t cut a lot of tile in advance to the same size. Often happens the wall is a little bit shorter or longer in the different rows. Go figure…

We waited to finish each row and marked the last tile with the pencil before cutting it.

Since the wall was leveled and it is kind of hidden under a big counter, we decided we don’t use spacers, but I strongly suggest if you think your eyes will see every little imperfection use them. They keep the tiles level and evenly spaced.

That’s it! We didn’t grout yet, but when we will we won’t use a dark color as they did on the kitchen wall. I’m not sure why the previous owner decided on the dark grout color…

how to layout subway tile

Now the kitchen looks more welcoming and it got a nice farmhouse charm with the subway tiles.


Subway tile kitchen backsplash DIY was fun and easy.

So easy it attracted the little one to help us out too. 😉

how to tile around electrical outlets

Let’s see what we learned by DIYing this kitchen backsplash:

  • Labor was for free. For sure, we saved hundreds of dollars.
  • We had no strangers in the house the whole day long.
  • It took only half-day for two people to finish this project.
  • We had fun and learned how to install subway tiles.
  • I truly believe we made less mess than a crew of workers.

While the women were working on the kitchen makeover, my husband was working on a super cool entryway bench. Can’t you tell the whole family loves DIY home decor? 😉

If you like DIY projects and want more ideas, check out our home improvement posts:

  1. How to reclaim on old wooden table 
  2. How to update your backyard on a budget
  3. Bean bag chair tutorial
  4. Colorful spray painted planters


Have you worked with subway tiles? Let me know your tips in the comments. 

As always, don’t forget to pin it and share so others can get into the DIY groove too. 

layout subway tile backsplash

Do you wanna DIY more?


  1. Denae

    Ah I love this! The Metro 1 in budapest has the prettiest tiling, and this reminds me of that!

    • Andrea

      Oh wow, Denae! You have a great memory. Yes, the old Metro in Budapest has subway tiles too. It is actually one of my favorite Metro in Hungary.

  2. Tracy

    Wow this is amazing! I am hoping to begin a kitchen renovation in the spring and this post will definitely help. I love the layout ideas!! Thank you for sharing.

    • Andrea

      Thank you, Tracy. I hope you’ll remember to look up this post and follow our steps. It will save you time and you’ll end up with a nice farmhouse kitchen. 😉

  3. Mellissa

    I love that look! I’m planning a kitchen remodel, and this is definitely getting added to the list of possible designs! Thanks for sharing!

    • Andrea

      Mellissa, even if you don’t end up with subway tiles you still will be able to follow our easy DIY steps to renovate your kitchen.

  4. Laura

    My brother needs to put in a back splash in his kitchen. So, I’ll share your tips with him. Thanks!

    • Andrea

      It was definitely a fun kitchen renovation project. I sure your brother’s backsplash will turn out beautiful.

  5. Jessica

    You did an amazing job. I love subway tiles they look clean, modern and a little country at the same time. I can’t wait to do this too my kitchen when I buy a house.

    • Andrea

      We have a weird kitchen in our house and I wouldn’t be able to do something like that there. It made me so happy when our family decided to do a subway tile backsplash in their kitchen. It was a fun DIY project!

  6. Stephanie

    This looks great! My husband and I love DIY projects! We might just have to try this one out!

    • Andrea

      It was fun and easy! If you are thinking to renovate your kitchen give it a try. You’ll love the clean, farmhouse look the white subway tiles give.

  7. Ivana Mearns

    oh, wow, that looks amazing, well done and thanks for sharing x

    • Andrea

      Thank you, Ivana!

  8. Jennabel

    Looks great. I am not handy but would like to learn how to tile. Beautiful kitchen!

    • Andrea

      Jennabel, it was a really easy DIY project. You don’t have to be super handy. Follow our steps and you’ll be able to tile your kitchen too. Remember we haven’t tiled before either and learn during this kitchen renovation DIY.


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