Kitchen Backsplash 101

If you’re looking for a way to spruce up your kitchen without a major overhaul a new backsplash could be part of the answer. When combined with a new countertop, painted cabinets, and new hardware, you can give your kitchen a whole new look for a fraction of the cost of a renovation.

Backsplashes are fairly easy and inexpensive to install so if you’re up for a DIY project give it a try.

Glass Backsplash

Which Comes First – The Counter or the Backsplash?

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. But if you want my personal opinion, I believe that to get the most value out of your space the countertop should come first and be the focal point, and the backsplash should just be there to support it.


Choosing a Backsplash – Materials

Tile comes in a ton of materials from traditional ceramic and porcelain, to marble, slate, glass, pressed tin, and more. Here’s what I 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.


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 literally endless). One of my favorite things to do 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.

There are hundreds of different patterns you can use but I generally stick to the following backsplash patterns.

Backsplash Patterns


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.

Grout Lines

Backsplash Tips

  • Avoid decorative inlays (like you sometimes see behind a stove). These personalized details are unlikely to appeal to potential buyers and if you ever go to sell your home it could be a deterrent.
  • Marble backsplashes look great but if you’re installing it yourself be very careful. Since marble is veined and porous it cracks easily when attached to uneven surfaces.
  • If you don’t like backsplashes, don’t put one in! Contrary to popular belief, backsplashes are not always necessary. If you’ve got a good quality, washable paint behind your counters there’s no reason why they can’t be kept looking fresh and clean.


The most important thing to remember when it comes to backsplash ROI (return on investment) is to keep it fairly simple. Your backsplash shouldn’t fight your countertop for attention but should compliment it. Keep it simple, elegant and classic.


All photos courtesy of Skit Inc.

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