Kitchen Design: Backsplash 101

Kitchen Design

Backsplash 101

A backsplash is a vertical extension to a counter which protects the wall from unintended splashes of water, grease splatter, or anything else. It can extend a few inches high or go as high as the ceiling. Backsplashes are more than just functional, though. Built with care and an eye toward the aesthetics, backsplashes can be a beautiful addition to your kitchen.They are much like jewelry and a classic black dress; too much jewelry ruins the look, too little does nothing for the dress. The same goes for kitchen backsplashes – you really need a trained eye to create the design and coordinate the backsplash with the countertops, cabinets into the overall design scheme. They can be one of the first things selected for a project – if you find an inspirational piece for instance, or most likely, it will be one of the last design details chosen.

Different designers will tell you different things, and the truth is that there’s no right answer. From a design perspective, some people like to make the backsplash the focal point and they play around with color and pattern. Regardless of when it is chosen, there are several important backsplash design considerations when planning.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Choosing your Backsplash Materials

Like all trends, kitchen backsplash trends, come and go. However, one thing that remains fairly timeless is a tile backsplash. Tile comes in a ton of materials from traditional ceramic and porcelain, to marble, slate, glass, pressed tin, and more. Here’s what we recommend:

Choose a material that isn’t likely to go out of style. There are some wild options out there, but what you love today you may get sick of tomorrow. There’s a reason people often go with white subway tile backsplash!

Be honest about how much work you’re willing to put into it. Some materials require a lot of maintenance. Stainless steel sheets for example can look great, but they require regular cleaning to get rid of marks and fingerprints. If you’re not willing to put in the work, choose a different material that will be easy to clean.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Your new kitchen backsplash tiles are going to be gorgeous — but will they be a pain to keep clean? Homeowners often select backsplash tiles for the style and character they add to the room, but ease of care is the point of installing wall tile in the first place. It’s there to protect your wall from splashes and splatters.

There are two main factors that affect how easy it is to keep a tile clean: the size and the material.

1. Tile Size- consider the grout line, the space between each tile, which is filled with sanded or unsanded cement-like material. No matter how strong and water- repellent your backsplash tiles may be, unfortunately, grout is porous. Eventually, it will start looking a bit dull and dingy and will require special care. You can minimize this problem by applying grout sealer about two days a week after installation, and repeating once a year. Another way to minimize grout lines is to choose large format tile. The bigger the tile, the fewer grout lines for grime to stick to.

2. Tile Material- When it comes to cleaning, not all backsplash tiles are created equal. Porcelain, ceramic, metal, and glass tile top the easy-care list because they resist staining, are naturally nonporous, and don’t require and special cleaners to do the job. Other tiles such as marble, travertine and other natural stones are gorgeous in a backsplash installation, but they have special care requirements. All natural stone needs regular sealing to resist stains and other damage, even when used as wall tile. You must also use cleaners that are formulated for natural stone. If your kitchen is a busy place, consider using marble-look porcelain instead of real marble. Porcelain tiles can imitate any type of surface. Inkjet-printed porcelain tiles can imitate any type of surface, including wood grain and textiles. Although porcelain brick has a texture that makes it slightly more difficult to clean, it’s much easier to clean than real brick.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Make a choice based on your budget. Tiles are priced by square foot and can range anywhere from a couple of dollars to several hundred dollars per square foot. Before you get your heart set on anything determine the amount you need based on the space you’re working with. Inexpensive tile can look great when you play with pattern and grout, so don’t feel you’re compromising on style for the sake of price.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Backsplash Patterns

One of the great things about tile backsplashes is that you can design them in a number of different ways (seriously, the options are endless). A favorite among designers and clients alike is take a really simple tile, such as a white subway tile, and arrange it in an interesting pattern. It’s a great way to add a subtle design detail while keeping things simple.


Grout is often an afterthought for many people, but it’s an important part of any backsplash. Not only does it lock in the tiles and give your backsplash a finished look, it plays an important design role. A dark grout used with white tiles creates a striking effect, as can a light grout with dark tiles. Consider all the options before making a final decision.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Fixture Placement

How can you ensure your backsplash is a clean fresh palette for your new design? We suggest using strip outlets and switches that are mounted just below the underside of the wall cabinets, this way they stay hidden by trim and don’t interrupt your tile design.

When designing your tile layout, make sure your borders, liners or decorative accents do not run directly into electrical outlets or switches. There is nothing worse than seeing a pattern broken up by an ugly receptacle. This is impossible without an expert electrical plan. If you are working around an existing electrical plan, it will almost assuredly limit your design options. With the help of a professional you are able to avoid these limitations and stressors.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Light it Up

Highlight your kitchen backsplash with under-cabinet lighting to create the most impact. We recommend installing under-cabinet LED strips towards the front of the cabinet (it accents the splash more) and choosing one with a frosted plastic lens (it cuts the reflection on your countertop

Many traditional designs have a tile blanket serving as an accent piece above the range. In many cases, we use field tiles set straight or diagonal, with a chair rail border by the hood and range to highlight the area and add decorative plant-ons, inserts, or liners. Limestone, tumbled marble, slate, porcelain, metallic and ceramic tiles have all been used. Subway patterns are still a staple and have evolved. Some of them may even be set vertically instead of horizontally.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Full-height granite, marble or quartz is sometimes used as the backsplash and can be the statement piece of the kitchen.

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

For a more contemporary look, large format tile in simple colors with simple lines is often used. And even though they are simple, they can provide a striking effect! Another modern kitchen design option that is trending right now is stainless steel. Stainless steel can be incorporated lots of different ways – distressed, hammered, patterned, or brushed.

Backsplashes are the front and center of today’s kitchen designs. Gail Drury, says that she’s seeing “cabinetry and countertops are becoming more of a backdrop to create striking and artistic designs with tile, paint and other elements that are easily changed out and updated.”

Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101

Kitchen Backsplash Glass Tiles

Glass Tiles – Glass tiles were by far the strongest trend for number of years. Glass tiles bring brightness, color, and clean lines to a kitchen. They are easy to install and easy to care for. Drury designer, Samantha Schoell explains that the latest trends in design are “simple lines with contrasting colors, subtle elements of luxury through color and texture instead of carvings and fussy details.”

As a bonus, glass tile is extremely easy to maintain and care for: glass is non-porous so it never needs to be sealed, protected, or treated – simply wipe down with your cleaner of choice, and you’re good to go.

The only downside may be its hot/cold trendiness – glass tile backsplashes popularity comes and goes – they’ve enjoyed the limelight for a year or two now – and we’d predict that the trend will taper off and make way to some of the upcoming design ideas

Mosaic Backsplash

Mosaic Tiles – Mosaic tiles in a combination of glass, ceramic, and stone have also been on the steady rise. Providing a mix of clear and opaque tile on a backsplash creates an unrivaled depth and dimension. Mosaics can be a repeating pattern or custom designed, allowing you to find the exact combination of color, texture, and material that is best for your kitchen design.

 Stone Backsplashes

Marble or granite create a bright elegance to any kitchen. The clean lines and classic beauty provide a timeless look. Easy to clean and maintain (especially as a backsplash), polished or honed marble look stunning with dark cabinets and stainless steel appliances.

Ceramic Tile Backsplash

The chameleon of the backsplash arena, classic porcelain or ceramic tile can be whatever your kitchen needs it to be. Ceramic tile is available in a multitude of sizes, styles, finishes, and colours – making it a shapeshifter of timeless style and proven durability.

Ceramic options can both be playful and bold, and neutral and classic – and some even come with bevelled edges to accent their aesthetic appeal, thanks to their everlasting popularity. Being relatively inexpensive and easy to work with helps maintain the elevated stature of ceramic tile as a backsplash solution.


More of an installation pattern than a tiles style itself, herringbone installation design helps to elevate and exemplify the possibilities of ceramic tile and is reminiscent of a parkette floor in an old art deco building, or – the bones of a herring fish. It gets its lasting style from Roman roadmakers in ancient times and was carried over to structural and interior design work in Europe, Asia, and North America.

If most of your kitchen is white to reflect a crisp, modern appeal – changing things up with a complimentary, yet eye-grabbing herringbone design as a backsplash pattern is a great way to pull attention to the finer details in the space, helping create a curated aesthetic.

Your backsplash is a great area to compliment and tie in your kitchen cabinets and countertop material as well. When considering the different options, it’s important to remember the elements from the design style you already have or hope to have. Working with your designer, you can go through all the options of what will work best for your cabinets, countertops, and overall aesthetic.

Still not sure which tile is best for you? Take this backsplash tile quiz for some insight into making that big decision. There are so many different types of tile, including pre-meshed mosaics and inkjet-printed lookalikes, it’s not difficult to find backsplash designs that provide easy care while also creating a designer look in your kitchen or bath.

There are so many exciting products out there to make your backsplash personalized for your kitchen. Overall, the backsplash is a playground of endless possibilities and is key to your overall design effect. We hope that you have found some inspiration with our client-focused designed backsplashes featured in the above and let us know if we may be of assistance on your kitchen project. For further inspiration and kitchen backsplash ideas visit our kitchen design portfolio or go to the contact page and to let us know what backsplash ideas you had in mind!

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free ebook download Kitchen Design: Backsplashes 101