5 Questions for Finding the Perfect Backsplash

By Kate Van Dis

A well-chosen backsplash can be the thread that ties together your kitchen’s design and makes it cohesive. Because the backsplash can have a big impact, it’s important to be thoughtful in your selection.

Here are five questions to help you determine which style is right for you.

1. What is the style of your home?

You’ll want to start by considering the overall style of your home. Do you love modern or rustic? Are you a minimalist, or do you love playing with color and texture? When deciding on a specific design element, consider how it will fit into your home’s overall design aesthetic.

If you prefer a sleek, clean look, select a tile that provides a soft contrast to your countertops and cabinets. A neutral gray paired with stainless steel fixtures and white cabinetry is both modern and minimalist. Design details—like installing tile vertically rather than horizontally—can add texture and visual interest to an otherwise simple palette.

For a more rustic style, warm colors create a cozy backdrop, especially when paired with natural elements like wood countertops or terra-cotta tile floor. Subway tile often has a modern feel, but install it in an off-white or pale yellow and you’ll maintain a comfortable, homey atmosphere.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, playing with neturals is the best approach for a backsplash. Small, boxy tiles in pale neutrals like white, sage, rose, and beige can create an earthy, pebbled effect. A neutral palette like this one is striking but still subtle enough to let the classic elements of your kitchen shine through. You don’t want a busy backsplash detracting from the beauty of an oversized farmhouse sink or gorgeous wood cabinetry.

2. How big is your budget?

Before you start pricing out backsplash materials, consider whether or not you can use features already available in your kitchen. Original wainscoting or exposed brick walls never go out of style and add tremendous character and charm. Just remember that these materials might be harder to clean than a tile backsplash.

If you're using an exposed brick wall, a glass panel behind the stove will protect the brick without obscuring its texture and color.

If a luxury look is what you’re going for, it’s never a bad idea to invest in marble. Very few design elements in a kitchen have the visual impact of a large piece of marble, especially when it's custom cut to the dimensions of your kitchen. This really is the ultimate in elegant sophistication.

If marble isn’t in your budget, less expensive materials like glass can still look luxe, especially when they are reflecting high-end finishes or a particularly great view.

3. How big is your backsplash area?

In general, the backsplash is installed in the area behind the stove and sink, where messes are most likely to happen. But the height and width of backsplashes can vary greatly. Some go only midway up the wall while others fill the entire space between the countertop and the bottom of the cabinets. In some kitchens, the backsplash will stretch all the way to the ceiling.

Before you decide on your backsplash material, determine how much space you’ll be filling. The amount of space you need to cover will inform the degree to which you can play with pattern.

Patterned tiles add visual interest, color, and character to a kitchen. But, like wallpaper, too much patterned tile can make a space feel busy and claustrophobic. A hand-painted tile in a floral design adds a cottage feel to a small kitchen, and is beautiful when paired with wood countertops or other natural elements.

Similarly, a row of quilt block tiles in blue neutrals feels old world and classic in a traditionally styled kitchen. Still, these patterned tiles are most beautiful when used sparingly.

4. How often do you cook?

If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen entertaining friends, cooking for your family, or experimenting with new recipes, you’ll need a backsplash that will hold up to frequent splatters and daily clean-up. Some backsplash materials are easier to clean and more durable than others, so consider not just the frequency with which you use your kitchen but also how you use your kitchen.

For the true chef, a classic subway tile will not only invoke the feel of a restaurant kitchen, but will also be easy to clean and maintain over time. Big messes can be easily wiped away with a sponge or a damp cloth. Using a black or dark-colored grout between white subway tiles produces a striking visual effect, and has the added bonus of making stains less visible.

Sheets of glass tile are another great option for a busy home chef, especially one who appreciates a sleek and polished look. With a backsplash of this kind, the lack of seams allows for simple cleaning without the worry of splashes staining the grout. Also, the large sheets make for impactful design.

5. How do you want to feel in your kitchen?

The color and style of your backsplash will have a big impact on the space’s overall atmosphere, so determine the mood you hope to feel each time you step into your kitchen, and build your backsplash accordingly.

If you’re a zen chef who views the kitchen as a sanctuary, calming neutrals are a great choice for a backsplash. Narrow, rectangular tiles in a smokey gray give a soothing, ethereal feeling to the space, especially when paired with other pale neutrals. If you like color but want to maintain a feeling of tranquility, cornflower-blue subway tiles placed horizontally are evocative of still, reflective water.

For home chefs who love to entertain and view their kitchen as a social space, pops of color in the backsplash will energize the kitchen’s design. A cheery mix of orange and pink add a lively, retro vibe to an otherwise neutral kitchen. For bold chefs who love color, another exciting option is pairing a clean, white backsplash paired with vividly colored cabinets.

If you love bold styles, but find that a bowl of oranges on the countertop is about all the color you can handle, go with metallics. This is a classy trend with a touch of the sensational, perfect for the social chef who wants to show off a stylish kitchen.

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