As an interior designer, I spend the majority of my time and energy focused solely on the kitchen. Part meeting place, part family confessional, the kitchen is truly the heart of every home. Each component, every nut and bolt, of a kitchen’s design must serve a purpose. Incorporating both individual function and personal style, while maintaining all the necessary technical standards, the kitchen can pose an extreme design challenge. In this era of the open-concept floor plan, there’s not much room for superfluous elements in a well-planned kitchen.
Enter the humble backsplash. Often a budgetary afterthought, the backsplash gets lost in the renovation shuffle and isn’t always given the full consideration it deserves. Consider its actual function: the tile creates a protective splash guard on the wall behind the counter, particularly at sinks and cooking areas. So why not just paint the drywall and call it a day? Well, drywall doesn’t respond so well to overflowing sinks, cooking grease, and if you’ve witnessed the permanent stains that little hands plus crayons can leave behind, then you know how much time and effort will be spent repainting.
With any kitchen design, backsplash choices should be decided from the outset to create harmony between all kitchen surfaces. Or for the more adventurous, thoughtfully planned ‘disharmony’ can be established at this stage. Think of the backsplash as the countertop’s younger sibling. Eager to please and nipping at heels, the backsplash should typically follow the counter’s lead. If you choose a textural, colourful countertop, such as deeply-veined granite, it’s best to consider a simple, monochromatic tile in a larger format. If your countertops are more muted, like solid quartz stone, then you can accentuate it with a multi-coloured or smaller scale mosaic tile backsplash.
Let’s do some arithmetic. The standard distance between the countertop and the underside of the upper cabinetry is 18 inches. This measurement rarely changes, even if we drop or raise countertops. Based on this number, we must consider tile size, format and how it will be cut to fit into this space. Ideally, we try to minimize the look of grout in the backsplash. To do so, reduce grout width to either 1/8 of an inch for handmade, artisanal tiles or even 1/16 of an inch when paired with slick polished glass.
Matching the grout colour to the tile’s base or background colour gives a clean, uniform look. A dynamic, contemporary twist to the classic (and cheerfully cheap) white subway tile is to use a mid-tone grey grout. Like pinstriping on a suit, the darker grout adds sophisticated definition. Statement grout; who knew? In this case, installation is best left to the professionals as the darker grout lines will draw attention to any crooked tiles. Or, do away with grout altogether and go totally on trend with full slabs of back painted glass or the same material as your counters. Super durable and sleek, these can be the most expensive of the backsplash possibilities.
Another audacious alternative is to mix different tile types to form a bold statement backsplash. Small details in a backsplash, such as trending geometrics, can make a big impact. But be forewarned, creative patterns require careful planning; the key is proportion. Utilize the length of the aforementioned under-cabinet space with alternating rows of linear shapes.
Accentuate the expansive height behind the range with tile insets or change the tile pattern altogether. Think classic motif like herringbone. Or alternatively, a chevron pattern or vertical brick-lay for a more modern vibe. Whatever you choose, choose wisely and for harmony’s sake, include backsplash on your kitchen reno list from the get go.