Make a Backsplash

Make a Backsplash

Over the past few years, backsplash tiles have evolved from low-key, functional wall protection to a vast array of decorative statements, available in more colors, patterns and materials than ever before.

There are two schools of thought on how strong a statement to make.

“The backsplash is more for aesthetics,” says Joanne Palumbo, owner of Home Styling 101 in Yorktown Heights, New York. “We really play off the countertop, which is chosen for function over aesthetics, because it’s more likely to have to stand up to wine stains and that sort of thing.”

In this line of thinking, the backsplash is the place to be adventurous because it’s easier to change a small section of wall tiles than, say, built-in cabinetry.

“The height between the counter and the cabinets is typically only 18 inches, which is a pretty small space, so you might as well have fun with it,” says Josh Mogal, founder of Eco + Historical Homes in San Francisco.

Another view is that it’s time-consuming and expensive to pull tiles off walls and adhere new ones, so homeowners should play it safe and bring character into the kitchen with accessories that are easier to replace.

Either way, the first thing you should ask yourself when choosing a tile is, who are you choosing it for?

“Is this a choice for the purpose of giving you happiness and pleasure, or are you… cognizant of what friends, neighbors and future buyers will think?” asks Sarah Barnard, owner of Sarah Barnard Design in Santa Monica, California. Once you’ve answered that question, you will narrow down the huge number of options considerably, Barnard says.

Materials and Styles

Some tiles lend themselves better to certain architectural styles than others. A highly decorative ceramic tile fits a historic home, for instance, whereas glass leans toward modern design.

Subway tile is the safest, all-around good choice, Barnard says: “Whether you have a contemporary kitchen or a historic home, it’s timeless.”

Remember that backsplashes are part of a unit and should exist harmoniously with cabinets, countertops and the overall feel of the room. “If you have a countertop with a lot of differentiation in color and pattern, like a marble with a lot of veining, then keep the backsplash more simple,” Palumbo says. “If it’s a stone without a lot of differentiation, then you can choose a backsplash with more colors and patterns.”


As for color choice, consider what functions the kitchen will serve, suggests stylist David Zyla, author of “Color Your Style” (Plume, 2011).

“If you’re designing a kitchen that is going to be used to put parties together and entertain, then maybe you can do something more dramatic,” he says. If the kitchen will serve as a family space or “heart of the home,” he recommends lighter, airy colors.

Warmer colors go nicely with wood tones, and cooler tones have “a more high-fashion vibe that will look better with stainless steel or granite. They have a harder edge to them,” Zyla adds.

Grout and Patterns

Additional options for kitchen backsplashes are grout lines and tiles placement. Larger grout lines are better for tiles with imperfect edges, and thinner grout lines should frame more uniform tiles with perfectly straight lines.

Also, the color of the grout can either match the tiles to make them look seamless, or contrast with them to make them pop.

Rectangle-shaped tiles placed in a horizontal brick pattern trick the eye into seeing a wider room, but the same tiles placed vertically make rooms look taller. A consistent grid appears more traditional, whereas tiles mounted in a more eclectic layout take a space more contemporary, or depending on the texture, rustic.

Don’t stress too much about budget, Mogal says.

“I don’t let ego get into the process,” he says. “I am perfectly happy to use tiles that cost $3 a square foot or tiles that cost $25 a square foot. It just depends on the goals and the context.”


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