Your Kitchen. What comes to mind when you think about the room you probably spend a good part of every day in?
As the “heart of the home,” you require a lot from your kitchen. It must always be:
Today’s modern kitchens are more than just the utilitarian spaces they once were. Large or small, contemporary families expect to use the multi-function area for everything. It provides a nourishing breakfast nook at the beginning of each day, a welcoming snack and homework spot weekday afternoons, a room for lively conversation over a home-cooked meal each evening, and a gathering place for friends and family for special occasions at night.
By definition, the American Heritage Dictionary says a backsplash is “an upright surface or border, as of tile, that protects the wall behind a sink or stove.” Of course, this may have been the primary function of a kitchen backsplash in the past, but today’s decorative features mean it can do so much more.
You may be asking: “Do I really need one?”. And the answer is a resounding “Yes.” To find out why, let’s review those critical features listed above to see if a backsplash meets the criteria:
True to its name, a backsplash protects the wall area behind both the sink and stove from water and grease “splashes.” While you may feel as if you can be careful, painted drywall left exposed to continuous moisture and oily residue will eventually become damaged, discoloured and dirty.
Without a backsplash separating your countertop workspace from the vulnerable wall behind it, dents, dings and holes can become permanent reminders of meal preparation. Accidents from sharp or hard objects (knives, cutting boards, hot pots and pans) being pushed against the wall can leave your kitchen looking worn and unsightly.
Add a shielding backsplash to the area that abuts the countertop or stove to keep your walls mar-free.
With an endless choice of backsplash materials available, selecting one that can easily be wiped down won’t be a problem. Everything from tile to metal and everything in between can offer a sanitary surface to an area that can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Left unprotected, hard-to-clean cracks and crevices between drywall and your countertop can hold moisture and lead to mold and mildew growth. Backsplash materials provide the perfect solution to maintain a clean, healthy kitchen.
Who likes to spend hours cleaning up the kitchen after a big meal or entertaining? Low-maintenance backsplash products make clean-up quick and easy. No need to drag out the rubber gloves and cleaning supplies, many materials only require a quick wipe down with mild soap and water to keep it looking its best. Time-saver? Check. Efficient? Check.
Smooth-finish backsplashes provide a convenient place to store and hang everything from cooking utensils to kitchen towels and spices to fruit. A collection of hanging baskets and magnetic strips can help you free up counter space while keeping the things you use every day close at hand. How’s that for convenience?
Establishing a relaxed and comfortable feeling is the essence every homeowner strives to achieve when renovating their kitchen. Add a backsplash with an attractive design or coordinating style to the centerpiece of your home, and it will most definitely become everyone’s favorite space.
This is the fun part! All the other characteristics of your new backsplash are extremely important, but in the end, everything comes down to the look. Whether you prefer traditional or contemporary, have a lot of room or just a little, are a do-it-yourselfer or need some professional help, this is where you can show off your personality and make the room your own.
Where do I start?
With so many options available, you may be overwhelmed and wondering what to do first.
The very first step is choosing a colour scheme.
If you’re only doing a minor reno project, you may be limited to the components already in place. However, if you’re doing a major overhaul, you’ll want to establish a colour palette starting with the countertop, then moving on to the cabinets, appliances, flooring, and of course, the backsplash. Wall and hardware colours will tie the entire room together at the end.
The second step is determining if you want your backsplash to be an accent to the other items in the room or the focal point.
There is no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of taste. As a focal point, you’ll want to select bright colours or spectacular patterns or a unique material for your backsplash and the rest of the room limited to more muted or subdued hues. Choosing a highly pigmented granite countertop AND a wildly colourful mosaic backsplash tile will leave the room feeling cluttered and uncomfortable, so this step is important.
Step three is to find the right material.
You’ll be amazed at the variety of options available today. Here are some of the most popular:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are among the most used backsplash options for their durability, variety of styles and colours, the large number of edge treatments and accessories, and their affordability. They can be a little challenging to install if you’ve never done it before, so you may want to consider hiring a contractor, especially for complex patterns.
- Subway Tile—Classic and timeless, this can be installed in a traditional horizontal pattern or as follows:
- Brickwork—Staggered, rectangular tiles similar to what you would see on the exterior of your home.
- Herringbone—Staggered, rectangular tiles placed on an angle.
- Stacked Columns—Stack rectangular subway tiles in neat columns. They can be run the full height of the wall or kept low to create a low profile.
- Square Ceramic or Porcelain Tile—Available in 4-inch, 6-inch, and 8-inch sizes. Consider using a larger tile to reduce grout lines and minimize cleaning.
Solid surface countertop installers often recommend running a 4-inch high backsplash along the back of the countertop. While this may offer a matching border made from the same granite, quartz or other natural stone product used for your countertop (and hide gaps between the counter and the wall), it will be for purely utilitarian purposes and offer very little to the decor.
Natural stone offers a warm, distinctive style that will provide an artisan-inspired look to your kitchen. It is slightly thicker than ceramic or porcelain tile and is more porous. This means that it must be sealed and will not be as easy to clean. However, as the stunning focal point of your room, you probably won’t mind that it will take a little more time to care for it.
- Tumbled Tiles—These start out as large stones pulled from a stone quarry and are then tumbled in a large drum with abrasive materials to polish it. The finished product comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes and no two are alike. Although natural stone seems as if it will last forever, it will require a little care. Here are a few of tumbled tiles you might like to incorporate into your reno project:
- Granite—Igneous rock combines with natural minerals to create a unique, highly durable backsplash. It can be installed as a slab or cut into smaller sections. It is very porous and should be sealed annually.
- Limestone—For a softer, sandblasted look. May contain fossils for a one-of-a-kind look. Porous composition that must be sealed to prevent stains.
- Travertine—This is the top-of-the-line product. It is more expensive than other natural stone products, so you may want to consider a statement piece like a medallion over your stove for an Old World, Tuscan-style look. Similar to limestone, but it’s non-porous and stain-resistant.
- Saturnia—A type of Travertine but contains small holes and/or fossils. It’s also non-porous and stain-resistant.
- Quartzite—This natural stone contains pieces of quartz and mica, so it will sparkle in the light.
- Marble—It provides a beautiful backdrop to any decor. It has a “veiny” appearance and is available in a variety of colours. Although it can be very durable, it will require sealing. Marble can be custom cut, like glass, to create unique designs like:
- Marble Mosaic—Comes in a mosaic pattern but uses 12″ x 12″ sheets.
- Marble Checkerboard—It’s laid in a harlequin pattern.
- Marble Brickwork—Installed in a staggered pattern to look like bricks.
- River Rock—These pebbles are mainly used on shower floors, but work well to create an unusual, non-conventional effect with free-flowing edges.
Manufactured Stone Veneer
To create the sophisticated look of real stone without the complex installation issues, manufactured stone veneer simplifies the process. This man-made product mimics the textures and finishes of stone but is comprised of Portland cement, aggregates and iron oxides. These tiles typically come on 12″ x 12″ mesh sheets and don’t require grout. It can be challenging for a do-it-yourselfer as it is still quite heavy and may present problems adhering to the wall. Stone veneer tiles will require a sealant to keep the finish looking like new.
Just as you’ve seen an explosion of stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, so will you notice metals being introduced more often in backsplash materials. These are light-weight and easy to install. They clean up easily and are extremely stain-resistant. They can scratch so care should be taken not to use anything abrasive on it. These metals can be used on their own or in combination with other tile styles:
- Stainless Steel—Provides a bright, reflective surface that requires little effort to clean. Also comes in brushed and quilted tiles to add contrast.
- Copper and Brass—Exposure to moisture and air will cause colour variations and naturally occurring patina. Use a pH-balanced cleanser to protect the finish.
- Bronze—These come in 3-D geometric designs and will naturally patina as it ages.
- Penny Tile—Round metallic tiles create a geometric design and a textured finish to make the backsplash “pop.”
- Tin—Water- and heat-resistant, comes in a variety of colours and patterns, easy to install, cleans up with mild soap and water, and is very affordable.
Thermoplastic (Faux Metal)
Plastic tiles give the look of real metal and come in 24.5″ wide x 18.5″ high panels. They can be cut to fit with scissors and installed with double-sided tape. They come in a wide variety of colours and finishes and are easy to maintain. The only down side is that they can’t withstand temperatures higher than 140 degrees F, so they are not a good option behind stoves.
Glass or Mirror
Glass and mirror tiles create a reflective surface that brightens the room and gives the appearance of looking larger. Colours never fade and with a 100 percent non-porous structure, wiping with glass cleaner is all that’s needed to keep your backsplash looking its best. Glass and mirror tiles are more expensive than ceramic tile and a prone to scratches, so you’ll want to be careful using anything abrasive on it.
Recycled glass tiles are environmentally friendly and are becoming increasingly popular. They come in every colour, size and shape imaginable. They’re often combined with other tiles to add contrast and design for an increased “wow” factor. Vintage antique mirror tiles give that antique look without detracting from the overall design.
There’s nothing more natural for a backsplash material than wood. It softens the look of stainless steel appliances and adds warmth to any size room.
- Salvaged Materials—Can be fashioned from anything from antique boat wood to hardwood flooring.
- Indigenous Wood—Using woods harvested from local forests blends environmentally friendly attributes with aesthetic designs.
- Repurposed Plywood—This affordable material allows for creative design. Cut into 6-inch planks and install into a shiplap layout. Painted plywood requires a little more care with cleaning up spills and making sure excess water is removed quickly.
- Pegboard—An ingenious idea for adding extra storage or display space. Use hooks to hang utensils and other kitchen tools and accessories.
Wallpaper is making a comeback as a decorative option for a backsplash material. Use it alone to easily add vibrant colours and designs, or use it in conjunction with marble to define key focal areas of the room. It has all the elements of an excellent backsplash material: it’s inexpensive, it’ easy to install, clean-up is a breeze, redecorating is as simple as tearing down the old wallpaper and installing new.
- Subway Tile—Classic and timeless, this can be installed in a traditional horizontal pattern or as follows:
Deciding on the size and height of the backsplash is step four.
- Do you want a small 4″ backsplash that runs the length of the countertop?
- Do you want your backsplash to make a statement? If so, run it the full height between the countertop and base of the upper cabinets.
- Do you really want your wall to be a focal point of the room? Take the backsplash to the ceiling.
When choosing a backsplash, consider all the design elements of your kitchen. Identify the key features of each material, and make sure they incorporate the essential characteristics: Practical. Clean. Efficient. Convenient. Comfortable. Beautiful. By keeping these in mind, you’ll ensure your kitchen will continue to be the most popular room in your house.