Whiteworks: What’s Your White Tile Profile?

by clé tile | published: Jun 9, 2021

We’ve spent the last few posts looking at the surprisingly diverse world of white tile at clé – a wide-ranging collection we’ve dubbed whiteworks—and talking about how different types of tile express different aspects of this perennially popular hue.

Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and determine the right choice for you, based on your style, your space, and the specifics of the project at hand.

Ask yourself: are you just looking for basic, or are you ready to go beyond? And even if you said “yes” to basic, remember that because you’re working with a reasonably limited palette, the not-so-basic can still give you the subtle-but-interesting look you’ve been dreaming about. At the same time, we have a way to make “basic” so much more than basic.

So let’s look at your options.

Basic White Tile Need Not Equal Boring

two walk-in showers featuring cle tile ceramic penny rounds in white and black.
(left) design: anja michaels / photo: vivian johnson; (right) design/photo: klh custom homes

For most people, the first stop on the white tile journey is classic subway tile. Durable and versatile with a tight, smooth surface that’s easy to clean, ceramic subway tile is a safe bet for everything from kitchen backsplashes to bathroom walls. Its timeless style transcends trend and can be dressed up or down as you please, much like your favorite pair of jeans.


But just because it’s a classic, that doesn’t mean white subway tile can’t have personality. Lay it stacked instead of staggered? Sure! Vertically instead of horizontally? Why not? Clé offers five sizes of subway tile in both traditional glossy and modern matte finishes, so you can play with pattern, scale and placement to create your own take on this iconic material.

However you decide to lay your subway tile, don’t forget the near-magical ability of grout to change the look of any installation from background element to striking focal point, instantly, depending on the shade and width you choose.

(left) ceramic subway tile 3×6

A Step Beyond Ceramic

If you like the functionality of subway tile, but crave a bit more character, consider a slight twist on tradition with our Modern Farmhouse Brick.

These thin-glazed brick tiles have more surface variegation than standard subway tile, creating a play of light across the white glaze that changes with your angle and the time of day.

The effect is simultaneously more rustic and more glamorous than conventional subway tile, and yet every bit as easy to live with and love. Their longer, slimmer silhouette also lends them a touch of mid-century flair.

White cement tile, in the classic subway rectangle or any of the 12 other sizes and shapes clé offers, is the secret unsung hero of white tile. Silky smooth on the surface, these hand crafted tiles feature slight variations in tone, creating a subtle visual texture to enhance any surface. Or, for full-on elegance, consider our Carrara marble tiles, in straight-cut or beveled-edge subway styles, elongated planks or even penny rounds.

(right) clé’s modern farmhouse brick in matte white; design/photo: anja michaels

Into the Extraordinary

two images showing cle white tile: fornace brioni rocaille tile in white, and fornace brioni mantegna in cotto blanco.
(left) fornace brioni’s rocaille shells in white; (right) fornace brioni’s tavella cotto variegato Ø8 + mantegna grey Ø1 triangle

Now that we’ve got you thinking beyond ceramic, let’s consider leaving the subway entirely and explore some truly extraordinary white tile options. We’re big fans of the handmade creations of Fornace Brioni, a small Italian terracotta tile maker that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020.

The third generation of the Brioni family, collaborating with Milan-based designer Cristina Celestino, is crafting tile that melds traditional production techniques with a cutting-edge design sensibility. The results are breathtaking.

Their Trama tiles—tiny hand-crafted diamonds—form a mosaic that quietly dazzles, whether in pure white or mixed with grey or rosato. The three-dimensional pyramid peaks of their Mantegna tiles cast patterns of light and shadow that lend walls an almost plush, quilted look.

Shell-shaped, fluted Rocaille is Fornace Brioni’s take on the oceanic ornamentation of Renaissance grottos. And their Tavella collection, based on Italian flooring of the 16th and 17th centuries, swirls white terracotta with soft grey to create marbled patterns that change with every tile, bringing surfaces to life.

two images of cle casale rustico normale bundle installed on the kitchen backsplash floor
(left) fornace brioni + clé casale rustico normale bundle; (right) fornace brioni + clé casale rustico misto bundle

Even Fornace Brioni’s interpretations of the classic subway tile— Normale and Misto –are anything but ordinary, their hand-glazed surfaces rippling with light.

Fornace Brioni’s designs are just a few of the alternatives to traditional subway tile you’ll find in clé’s Whiteworks curation. Here are a few others that might lure you up from the subway and into the light of a new view of white:

shop clé’s whiteworks