The backsplash is the perfect union of form and function in the kitchen. As its name indicates, the backsplash protects the kitchen wall from damage and cooking messes. It also provides an easier surface to clean than drywall. With the right materials and design, the kitchen backsplash can become the focal point of a kitchen or serve to augment the kitchen’s overall aesthetic theme. There are numerous materials to choose from, and design options are limited only by the homeowner’s imagination.
A hand-painted mural of the Tuscan countryside on fresco tile. Photo courtesy of Charles Tiles, Inc.
Focal Point or Bit-Part Player Before selecting a material, design or color, the homeowner needs to step back and consider the big picture. “Think about the whole room,” advises Dana Jones, CKD and founder of The Kitchen Consultant. “Sometimes the backsplash can be the focal point of the room, but a lot of times some other element should be drawing the eye.” The range hood, island or some other fixture within the room might best serve as the attention-grabber. In these scenarios, the homeowner’s kitchen may be better with a more subtle or subdued backsplash display.
On the other hand, a well-conceived backsplash can effectively distract the eye away from potential eyesores, like a window with a terrible view. When considering the backsplash as part of the big picture, Jones considers where homeowners would want the attention drawn. She also considers how the homeowners and guests would most likely enter the kitchen and is careful not to overexcite the senses. “You have to give the eye resting places,” she says. “You have to give it a place to stop.” An expansive tiling job that stretches the length of the wall, incorporates multiple materials and features many diverse elements or colors can threaten to overshadow other attractive aspects of the kitchen design.
Drawing Inspiration The endless options within each backsplash material category are both blessing and curse to the homeowner. With the sky the limit, choosing a winning combination of material, shape, size and color can be a challenge. To avoid getting lost in the sea of endless possibility, the homeowner should draw on existing elements in the kitchen for inspiration. According to Jessica Horne, floor manager for Charles Tiles, Inc. of Stockton, N.J., homeowners shopping for backsplash materials in the store showroom do so with any number of bits and pieces from their kitchen. “They’ll bring in samples of cabinet doors, the countertop, knobs, big swatches of paint and fabrics, and sometimes even particular plates they are trying to work around,” says Horne.
The more information a homeowner can offer a salesperson or designer, the better the end result. Actual pictures of the kitchen space will also help a salesperson or designer pull out colors and select accents for the backsplash that will complement the kitchen’s artistic theme.
Backsplash Material Options Choosing a backsplash material is one of the more important decisions to be made. To help narrow down the options, here’s a list of some materials to consider:
Ceramic tile backsplashes remain a very popular choice among consumers. The wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes within the ceramic tile family makes this option a versatile one. It is also low on maintenance needs; unlike stone, a ceramic tile backsplash won’t require regular sealing to prevent staining.
Porcelain is a step up from ceramic. Where ceramic is made from clay, porcelain tiles are made from pressed porcelain dust. Porcelain is harder and more dense than ceramic, making it a more durable option. It is also harder to cut and requires a wet saw.
Stone is a backsplash material family name with more than a few members. Within this larger category there is limestone, slate, marble and granite, among others. The stone backsplash can match a countertop material carrying a consistent color and texture to the wall that can be accented in any number of ways. Stone is also a great material for a mosaic backsplash project. Stone tiles may need to be sealed to prevent staining.