It may not cover as much surface area as your floor, countertops or cabinet fronts, but make no mistake: the wall above your sink is often the first place the eyes fix upon when looking into a kitchen. So if you want a room that makes a splash, back up and give careful thought to your backsplash, the experts advise.
“The backsplash is the one place in the kitchen where the owner can let his or her personal style shine,” says Mark Scott, owner of MARK IV Builders in Cabin John, Maryland. “Flooring, cabinetry and countertops are not usually distinctive as statement features, but because the backsplash is a small space, it can really be a spot to highlight design preferences. If you spend any time in the kitchen at all, you’re going to want a backsplash that makes you smile.”
Richard Subaran, project manager with Silver Spring, Maryland-based Aidan Design, says the backsplash fills an important role as the “pop” piece of the kitchen and can act as a border or frame for the countertops.
“Typically, you want your accent piece to be supported by the other finishes, so if you have a backsplash that draws your eye, the other elements become supporting pieces in the art of your kitchen,” Subaran says. “And from a functional standpoint, the backsplash protects the walls near the sink or oven from water, oil and other damaging elements and is a surface that can be easily cleaned.”
Lately, the top five backsplash materials are ceramic tile (selected by 85 percent of National Kitchen & Bath Association members polled in 2015), followed by natural stone (69 percent), glass (66 percent), quartz (41 percent) and granite (35 percent).
Mercedes Desio of New York City-based design firm Villalobos Desio says several interesting backsplash trends have emerged recently.
“Backsplashes are being extended to the ceiling to give some height and texture to the room, and tile is being laid out in interesting designs – such as a herringbone pattern,” Desio says. “New materials that traditionally aren’t chosen for backsplashes, such as wood veneers, are popping up. As for colors, neutrals such as gray and bone have staying power and remain on trend.”
Monochromatic backsplash designs that incorporate old-style handmade fireclay tiles with crackle can make a flowing, classic statement, and new products “like porcelain printed full slabs, which mimic natural materials such as marble, travertine, limestone, slate and basalt, are getting a closer look,” Subaran says.
Janice Harper, a homeowner in Tacoma, Wash., chose simple Talavera tiles with Mexican designs that add color, warmth and brightness as well as a low-maintenance, easy-to-clean surface to her newly renovated kitchen. The result is a striking but pleasant contrast between the bright backsplash tiles and the terra cotta and dark umber colors prevalent elsewhere in the room.
“Backsplashes are one of the last things people think to clean the kitchen, so even if it’s lovely, think about what it will look like when it hasn’t been cleaned in a few weeks,” says Harper, who suggests using a grout with a concealing color like grey and that includes a densifier premixed within the grout mix.
Whatever backsplash materials, patterns or approach you choose, be sure to take a big picture approach. “Make the backsplash part of the overall design concept for your kitchen, and consider the level of usage of your kitchen so that you select the right material that will be durable enough,” Desio says.
Also, ask important questions before embarking on a new backsplash project.
“How will the backsplash harmonize with your other kitchen surfaces and materials? Will it serve a function as well as give you the esthetic results you’re going for? And can it be used in a manner that will maximize its intended use?” Subaran asks.