12 January 2011

SENSIBLE STYLE - Backsplash Bling

I recently purchased a townhome, which I plan to update over the coming months and years. So when Kitchens.com's editor extraordinaire, Kim Sweet, suggested a Sensible Style post on backsplash ideas, I thought, perfect...That's one of the items on my project list. So while I check out what's new and sensibly stylish for y'all, I'll be researching resources for Chez J, too!

Currently, my kitchen has a four-inch splash of the same material as the countertop. The 14 inches between splash top and wall cabinets is painted the same shade as the rest of the kitchen. I'm betting many of you have the same arrangement in your kitchen, if it hasn't been remodeled. Most production builders use this formula.

Practical Pointers

Here are some things to take into account before finalizing any backsplash plans or buying any material:
  • If you're planning on changing your countertops, as I am, do that before you change your backsplash. Otherwise, there's an excellent chance it will get damaged during the top removal. You're also giving yourself potential fit issues unnecessarily.
  • Consider whether you want to use the opportunity of new wall coverings to add lights under your wall cabinets first. Again, you don't want to rip out your new splash to accommodate wiring later.
  • Overall kitchen electrical placement needs to be factored into your backsplash design, too, so that a focal point isn't marred by an unfortunate disposal switch or GFCI label!
  • Consider the grout color your selected backsplash colors dictate. My experience in Florida convinced me that I don't ever, ever, ever want to have white grout in my kitchen again -- not on the floors, not on the walls, not in this lifetime, never at all! I found it incredibly hard to keep white, even with a talented housekeeper. (If you have a cleaning solution that unfailingly works, dear readers, please share it with the group.)
  • Consider the maintenance issues required for your selected backsplash material. Will it need to be sealed periodically, like marble or granite? If so, how often, and who will handle this added chore?
  • If you are planning a focal point for your backsplash, be sure you've got the right scale and space for it. You're going to need enough room not just for the design element, but for field tile above and below to frame it. Usually, a range hood will accommodate this scale. An over-the-range microwave won't give you space for a major statement.
  • Consider the durability of the material. How will it stand up to a pot handle being banged against it?
  • Consider the "trendiness" of the material. Will it date your kitchen in five years? Will you still love it after the fad expires, as they always do?
  • Determine whether you want a backsplash organizing system. If so, factor its visual clutter and hardware requirements into your backsplash design plan.

Tile Style

Tile is one of the most popular choices for kitchen backsplashes, and it offers tremendous versatility. Tile itself is a very durable material. You can find tile floors in Rome, Greece, Morocco and Spain that are centuries - even millennia - old and still beautiful. It's the grout component that can be challenging. As I so strenuously noted above, I try to avoid white grout in kitchens as much as possible. Here are some tile backsplash options that can look great with less work.

Have fun with ModDots by Modwalls

Update a classic: Debris Series recycled subway tile by Fireclay

Add drama with Modern Mythology by Crossville

Other Ideas

While most of the kitchens you'll see published have tile backsplashes, they aren't your only option. Here are some viable alternatives:

  • Tin tiles can install on a backsplash instead of on the ceiling. They're usually perfectly sized for this space, too, with the standard being six by six inches and a full-height backsplash being 18. There are so many color and pattern options to choose from now; you're no longer limited to vintage-look silver! Tin tiles are also typically pretty easy to maintain, which certainly fits many of our lifestyles.

Be a tin man (or woman) with ceiling tiles by The American Tin Ceiling Co.

  • Paint can be your backsplash's (and budget's) best friend. One of my neighbors in Florida had a very handy husband. He painted a harlequin backsplash for her that looked just like tile - without the work or cost. Because he used kitchen-friendly paint, cooking splashes just rubbed right off! It was also an incredibly economic solution.

Chez J's Splash of Choice!

Here's the option I'm seriously considering. I love pattern, and I love easy maintenance. Caesarstone's Motivo offers both, along with great durability and style. I believe this floral relief will suit the transitional style of my townhome's kitchen (and fireplace surround), and work beautifully with the creamy white I've picked for the cabinets and solid black quartz countertops.

I'll be sure to post pictures when it's eventually installed done!

Add-on Opps

I often suggest to clients, and will implement this idea Chez J, that they carry the backsplash material into other areas of their public space. Natural opportunities for style extension include fireplace surrounds and powder room wainscoting. These also tend to be small areas that can be enhanced inexpensively because of the minimal material needed.

Depending on the material selected - e.g., porcelain stone - your backsplash material could become the powder room floor, rather than wainscot, or, if there's a medallion available in the tile series you selected for a backsplash, you could create a great companion focal point in the entry way.


  1. I love the tile you're planning to use for your backsplash - it's beautiful!

    Lots of good tiling tips here. My two tile pet peeves are subway tiles (I just can't get past the fact that they literally make me think of subway stations), and grout that's darker than the tiles.

    Our kitchen backsplash tiles are beautiful brown mother-of-pearl mosaic tiles from Mirage Glass Tiles. When the sun hits them just right, they glow like copper. Stunning!

    Happy 2011, Jamie!

  2. Thank you Jamie for including our moddotz penny tile in this terrific blog post.

  3. Great choice for your backsplash Jamie - and so easy to take care of. Very sensible!

  4. I love the tiles! They sure bring a dramatic effect on any room!

  5. Hi Jamie -

    I just found your blog online and love it!!! Lots of interesting ideas!!

    As a tile distributor in the Midwest, we see lots of people wanting light colored grout. A few things we always recommend -

    - Epoxy grout is the only stain proof grout
    - If you don't use epoxy grout, we suggest sealing your grout to keep it from getting dirty.
    - Be aware, when cleaning tile, the water or cleaner you use can leave a dirty residue which makes your grout look dirty. Rinsing with fresh water after cleaning is a must!

    Hope this helps!

    Patty Pollard

  6. Thank you, folks, for all the great feedback! Patty, fabulous tips. I would love for you to contact me about a guest post.


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