Remodeling 101: Five Questions to Ask When Choosing a Kitchen Backsplash

Okay, I admit that this is a little off-topic for my site and business, but.., I’m a woman!  I love articles like this and I’m sure that there are plenty of other people who feel the same (Joan).  Hope you enjoy the article!


Issue 7 · The New Eclecticism · February 19, 2015

Marble Hex Tile Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Hexagonal Carrara marble tiles form a backsplash with an unfinished border. Styling by Jackie Brown for Real Living Magazine.

1. Which comes first, the countertop or the backsplash?

There’s no right answer to this question; even the experts disagree on the best approach. The key is to decide which of the two is more important to you. It may boil down to whether you have a dream material, or whether you favor functionality (countertop) or a focal point (backsplash) in your kitchen’s design.

Whichever material you choose first, there’s no arguing that the first selection will drive the second. The two materials meet at the wall line, so the general rule is they ought to coordinate or complement each other in color and texture.

Countertop First: “In my opinion, backsplashes are not the most important elements and should be selected only after other decisions are made,” says architect Elizabeth Roberts of Elizabeth Roberts Design/Ensemble Architecture. “Countertops and cabinets come first.” Not as easily switched out as backsplashes, countertops need to be hard-wearing (for use as a work surface) and are typically also the bigger investment in terms of budget, kitchen real-estate coverage, and longevity.

Backsplash First: Interior designer Alison Davin of Jute Design believes that the backsplash decision should always come first: “The backsplash is more of a focal point because of its placement,” she says. “The countertop should complement the backsplash.”

Alison Davin Jute Kitchen Terra Cotta Tile Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Alison Davin‘s favorite combination is marble countertops in earthy/putty tones paired with terracotta backsplash tiles.

Elizabeth Roberts Warren Mews Townhouse Marble Countertop and Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: A third option is to use the same material for both the countertop and backsplash to create a unified look. Elizabeth Roberts chose veined marble for the countertop and backsplash—carried all the way up the wall—in this Brooklyn townhouse.

2. What look are you after: a statement or subtlety?

As its name suggests, a backsplash is there to protect the wall from splashes (not to mention cooking grease). But unlike the counter, it doesn’t need to accommodate hot pans, sharp knives, and food prep. So the choice is largely an aesthetic one—with many, many possibilities. Whittle down the choices by zeroing in on the effect you’re after. And keep in mind that countertops and backsplashes shouldn’t both compete for attention, only one should be statement-making.

Consider Color

Angela A'Court Kitchen Yellow Tile Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Artist Angela A’Court introduced a bright backsplash when she renovated her kitchen. “The house is pretty much white and gray all over; I wanted a burst of color, hence the yellow Sicis Glass Mosaic Tiles,” she says. They sit between concrete countertops and stainless steel shelving. Photograph by Ty Cole. See Rehab Diaries: An Artist’s NYC Kitchen Renovation for more on the project.

Play with Pattern

Blue and White Cement Tiles Biscuit Film Works, Remodelista

Above: Contrasting patterns and textures of handmade blue-and-white Fez encaustic cement tiles (fromGranada Tile in Los Angeles) bring the backsplash to life in the Biscuit Filmworks kitchen in Los Angeles by Shubin + Donaldson (featured in the Remodelista book). The countertops are gray-veined Carrara marble. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

Toy with Texture

Textured White Backsplash Tile, Remodelista

Above: Neutral backsplashes can be dialed up with an interesting surface, as shown in this San Francisco kitchen by Medium Plenty that features white tiles with origami-like folds. Photograph byMariko Reed.

Explore Shapes

Blakes London Gray Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: A gray glass backsplash gains personality with cutout corners in a kitchen by Blakes London, a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory. It’s paired with a white solid-surface countertop and integrated sink. Photograph courtesy of Blakes London.

3. How much cleaning and maintenance can you handle?

An often overlooked issue when considering backsplashes is the day-to-day cleaning requirements of different materials. This may only be pertinent in the areas behind the stove and sink, but it’s important. Gather information about how to clean the materials you’re considering. Tiled backsplashes have grout that can collect dust and grime. Solid slabs lack dirt-gathering seams, but some natural stone materials can react poorly to grease and other cooking byproducts. And will that glimmering glass or stainless backsplash require nonstop polishing?

On Gardenista, Michelle comes clean about her backsplash maintenance issues in My Dirty Secret, or How I Learned to Live with a Marble Backsplash.

Made-a-mano-Lavastone Tile Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Dark cabinets pair well with a backsplash of Lava Stone tiles from Danish company Made a Mano. Lava stone’s best attributes include its lack of maintenance: It doesn’t require a sealant or treatment. Read more in our Lava Stone Countertop Primer.

Research whether materials need sealing. In general glazed ceramic tiles don’t require a sealant, while natural (porous) tiles do. Sealing grout is strongly recommended.

Anstruther Kitchen Marble Countertop and Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Worth the upkeep? London designer Harriet Anstruther‘s classically beautiful marble-and-brass London kitchen. Photograph by Henry Bourne. For more of this kitchen, see Steal This Look: A Glamorous London Kitchen from a Designer with “Shitloads of Talent.”

4. Where will the backsplash go?

A backsplash generally covers the space between the kitchen counter and the upper cabinetry. It might wrap the entire kitchen or just be a small rectangle along one wall. Consider the size of your space when making a backsplash choice. Do you have no upper cabinets and want a backsplash that reaches the ceiling? Or do you want to limit the backsplash to high-use areas, such as behind the stove, sink, and kitchen desk?

Elizabeth Roberts Beadboard Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: If there’s already a lot going on in the kitchen, the best answer may be no backsplash at all. “We decided to use painted beadboard for the backsplash since there was already so much stone, concrete, and tile in the room,” says architect Elizabeth Roberts of this Brooklyn townhouse design. See more in A Greenhouse for Living and Steal This Look: The Ultimate Chef’s Kitchen in Brooklyn. Photograph byDustin Aksland.

Amanda Pays Kitchen Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: In the LA kitchen of designer Amanda Pays and actor Corbin Bernsen, backsplash tiles are limited to the area behind the stove. The patterned concrete tiles create a focal point that complements the gray concrete countertops and white cabinetry. Photograph by Matthew Williams. Tour the Pays/Bernsen kitchen in the Remodelista book, and take a look at the adjoining laundry room .

5. What’s your budget?

Knowing what you want to spend helps whittle down the possibilities. Here are some tips to help control costs:

  • Choose classic materials that won’t go out of style. White ceramic tiles, for instance, offer a great bang for your buck in terms of cost and longevity.
  • Consider using an affordable neutral field tile or stainless sheeting for the majority of the backsplash paired with a statement tile in a smaller focal point.
  • Natural materials, such as marble, are often much more affordable as tiles rather than slabs.
  • Be flexible and look for a bargain. At tile stores and even on Craigslist, it’s often possible to find tile seconds and overstock, as well as discontinued patterns and colors at a significant savings.

Chevron White Tile Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: Affordable white ceramic field tile can be anything but boring. The tiles in this backsplash are twice as long as standard subway tiles and are installed in a herringbone pattern. For more ideas, seeWhite Tile Pattern Glossary. Photograph by Nicole Franzen.

Medium Plenty Kitchen Backsplash Heath Tiles, Remodelista

Above: A decision to use Calacatta marble (not to be confused with less pricey Carrara) for the countertops in a San Francisco kitchen by Medium Plenty required that cost savings be found elsewhere. The client found the backsplash’s Dimensional Crease tiles marked down by 75 percent at a seconds sale at Heath Ceramics. Photograph by Mariko Reed.

Ian Read Medium Plenty Heath Seconds Backsplash, Remodelista

Above: As he remodeled his own house, Ian Read, a founding partner of Medium Plenty, practiced what he preached: flexibility. “Our kitchen tiles were seconds because the color variation was more than whatHeath Ceramics typically allows for in variance and the shapes of the tile themselves were more irregular than the norm. There were also some surface pockmarks that we are more than happy to live with,” says Read. “There are different approaches to sorting the variations and you can either group like tones or randomize them. In our kitchen we went for the randomized approach.” For more tips, see Tile Intel: A Budget Remodel with Heath Seconds. Photograph by Melissa Kaseman.

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