Dear Gail: We’re remodeling our kitchen and would like some advice on what to do with the backsplash. Our kitchen is fairly small so we’d like to do something special. The three suggestions we’ve been given are: all granite, all tile or 6 inches of granite and then paint or tile. What would you do? — Rebecca and Joe
DEAR REBECCA and JOE: First, I love backsplashes; they’re such a great place in your kitchen to be fun and different. Since you have a small area, be bold and consider using more unique materials. You don’t have as much area to cover, so don’t be afraid to use a more expensive tile. It’s not something you’ll be redoing so take your time making your selections and design.
My first suggestion is not to do all granite. Years ago when granite was more expensive, it was the thing to do, but not any more. Granite is my preferred material for counters as there are so many different and affordable slabs to select from. In my opinion though, a full backsplash of granite can overpower a kitchen.
My first choice whenever designing backsplashes is to do all tile. To do 6 inches of granite and then tile is going to cost the same or more than using just tile. And then you’re limiting yourself to only 11 inches to work with, which isn’t much.
I only use paint when working with a limited budget, which is OK, because tile can be added later when the budget allows. But if doing paint, go bold. When painting anywhere in a home, I always ask, “How much will you see when everything is put back in place?” So with only 11 inches showing, make a statement.
There are so many different designs that you can do for your backsplash. Whether a small or large area, I really like to mix materials and the direction the tile is installed. My two favorite materials are tumbled stone and glass. Both have become very reasonable in price, especially glass. Tumbled stone is one of my personal favorites because I like the texture, feel and look of natural stone. It comes in more than six colors and multiple different sizes. Glass once was a product that we only used with a big budget, but not anymore.
When using only tile, you are no longer limited to just the standard 2-by-2, 4-by-4 or 6-by-6 sizes. Two of my new favorites are the 3-by-6-inch subway tile and pencil stacked. Normally, you can find all of these in stone, porcelain, ceramic and glass. And I have to mention when I’m designing a floor, I’m loving the 12-by-24 inch tiles.
When designing a backsplash I start with finding the tile and not the design. You’re basically unlimited with designs, especially when working with the full 17 inches. No matter what your budget is, you can do a decorative pattern. Don’t settle for just one type, color or size of tile and setting it straight. Even with the most inexpensive tile, you can have a great pattern and make a dramatic change in your kitchen.
Once you have some tiles, start laying them out to see what will work within your backsplash height. Even though 17 inches is standard, I’ve run into some that were 19 inches. So, make sure to measure. Most tile stores will give you a sample, but it’s worth it to purchase extra so that you can get a better visual of your design. Remember you’ll have grout joints, so don’t be upset when the top tiles will be cut. Unless you’re bending down and looking up, you’re not going to see the cuts.
When doing a design it is very important that you are present during the installation. Your installer will undoubtedly have questions because of your plug and switch locations; if you are not there, you can’t give them direction. Sometimes placing an accent tile every three tiles is not the answer as you don’t want to cut an expensive decorative tile because it falls where you have a plug or switch. Many installers are very creative and will know what to do, others will follow your directions to the tee.
Nothing is more heartbreaking than to come home excited to see your backsplash and it not look like what you thought it would. This is an investment that you’re not going to redo, so it’s worth the time to be there. Installers can’t be held responsible for following your direction, so it can end up being an expensive mistake for you — you’ll have to buy new tile and pay them to remove and reinstall your tile. Don’t leave this step to chance.
Another area to keep in mind is what is happening behind your faucet; not everyone has it in his or her kitchen island. Since we were present during the installation, we were able to address this area. In one of the accompanying photos, you’ll see two decorative tiles that were placed on each side of the faucet. This set it off and made it different. If we weren’t there, the main tile would have been used instead.
The area over your range must also be addressed. It is the focal point in your kitchen so take some extra time designing it. Again you have unlimited design options and if you are working on a budget, this is where I would spend most of it.
Have fun with your backsplash, it’s something that you’ll have for many years to come.
Photos from The Visual Tile Designer