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The primary purpose of a backsplash is practical: Protect kitchen walls with a splatter-proof surface. But it can make a major design statement, too. Here, honed antique limestone pavers cover the wall from the countertops up to the level of the range hood molding, creating the look of a country Italian kitchen. Beaded stone molding frames a mosaic-tiled niche above the range to provide a functional focal point for the room. Stone tiles need to be sealed with a low-sheen penetrating sealer to protect them from stains and water and to make clean-up easy.
Here stainless-steel mosaic tiles create a sleek, textured backsplash that extends from the stone countertop to the top of the cabinetry. It's as much a style statement as a utilitarian, easy-to-maintain surface in the cooking zone. Clean-up is easy with warm water and a sponge -- or in the case of sticky food splatters, with a little dishwashing detergent and water. Dry with a soft towel to keep the stainless steel spotless and gleaming. Although grease, steam, and food splatters won't hurt stainless steel, acidic liquids, such as coffee, tomato juice, or fruit juices, can cause discoloration if allowed to dry on the surface.
Matte-finish Vermont soapstone offers a more rustic, understated look than granite and is less porous, offering an easy-to-maintain surface for countertops and backsplashes. It's softer than granite, but nicks and scratches can be sanded out. The natural color of soapstone is gray, gray-green, or blue-green, but a sealer or mineral oil can be applied to darken the color to black. You'll need to reapply the mineral oil occasionally to maintain the dark color.
A creative alternative to common backsplash materials is plate glass. Cut to fit the area between the shelf and the black laminate counter, the glass is installed over painted drywall. The glass adds subtle, contemporary color and a sleek, reflective surface that's easy to clean with glass cleaner or vinegar and water. Glass mosaic tiles between the shelf and the cabinets add more sparkle and a change in scale for visual interest.
For cottage style or a farmhouse look, choose beaded board for the backsplash. Flat trim along the top and bottom edges where the backsplash meets the countertop and the cabinetry gives a finished look. For easy cleaning, use a durable latex enamel paint that can stand up to scrubbing and splashes.
Ceramic tiles that resemble brick allow you to install a backsplash that looks like an old brick wall but has a smooth, easy-to-clean surface. For an authentic, exterior-wall appearance, lay the tiles in a running-bond pattern and use wide grout lines to simulate mortar joints.
A resin panel embedded with bear grass doubles as a window and backsplash in this Asian-influenced kitchen. The resin panel, crafted by 3form Material Solutions (3-form.com), is designed for architectural applications. The adjacent backsplash continues the organic motif with a bamboo-pattern tile that picks up the color of the Belgian blue limestone counter. Although the tiles appear to be slender verticals, the mosaic comes in netted sheets roughly 12 inches square (Selvaggio in Grigio from Ann Sacks, annsacks.com).
Customize your backsplash to reflect your interests or the character of your home. This combination of a fieldstone backsplash behind the range and hand-painted murals above the countertops helps carry out a lodge-look scheme in a Vermont mountain cabin. The murals, framed by distressed wood painted to match the cabinets, celebrate the local scenery. To avoid breaking up the murals with outlets, designer Beverly Ellsley mounted power strips with outlets under the cabinets and installed undercabinet incandescent lights for ambience and task lighting.
Architectural salvage can be a distinctive and inexpensive material for a hardworking backsplash. These glazed clay tiles originally covered the roof of an old public library and were picked up for only $5 each. If they could stand up to rain and hail, they can weather splashing dishwater.
This backsplash also happens to be the exterior wall of the kitchen addition, which was built with concrete blocks made from crushed black rock instead of the more usual gray. If you like the urban industrial look of concrete and don't want to build with concrete blocks, choose a stone or ceramic tile lookalike and use black grout between the tiles.
In this contemporary Craftsman kitchen, slate tiles provide the color cue for the stained concrete countertops and link the countertops with the cabinetry color. Experts disagree on how porous slate is, but if you treat the tiles with a top coat or pre-sealer prior to installation, you shouldn't need to worry about moisture from the grout fogging the stone. Sealing the stone also ensures easy maintenance.
Made of kiln-fired clay and topped with a durable, glossy finish, glazed ceramic tiles are washable and impervious to stains, grease splatters, and steam. By mixing economical 4-inch glazed tiles with hand-painted decorative tiles, you can create a design that adds distinctive color and pattern to the room without spending a fortune. The one drawback to a ceramic tile backsplash is keeping the grout lines clean. Be sure your installer returns after a few weeks to apply a silicone or water-base grout sealer to the joints. Grout sealer should be reapplied every six months to keep the backsplash looking pristine.
A laminate backsplash that comes attached to the countertop is the most economical choice and the easiest to install. Laminate comes in a wide variety of colors, textures, and patterns and cleans with soap and water. The drawback to laminate integrated backsplashes is that they only extend a few inches up the wall, so you'll need to choose a washable paint for the walls. Behind the range, a ready-to-hang tile panel provides extra protection from grease and splatters and adds a decorative focal point.
Pressed-metal or tin ceiling tiles make a spectacular and practical backsplash. Installed behind the cooktop and along the adjacent counters, the panels in this kitchen have an overscaled, baroque design, but you can easily find more restrained, geometric patterns from online sources. Pressed-metal backsplashes are heat resistant and waterproof and can be cleaned with soap and water. Do-it-yourselfers can put up a backsplash in a weekend using construction adhesive to attach the panels to the wall.
Polished carrara marble is a classic, elegant stone, but be prepared to wipe off spatters from coffee, fruit juice, wine, or grease quickly, because marble stains easily. Clean with a damp sponge and a soapless detergent or a pH-neutral marble cleaner and wipe dry to prevent water spots. Vinegar and citrus-based cleaners are acidic and will damage the surface, but peroxide can be used to remove stains. The 12-inch tiles used here are set closely to minimize grout joints and create a nearly seamless look.
A line of decorative tile punctuates this backsplash of tumbled and aged limestone tiles. Laid in a running-bond pattern, the limestone tiles and white grout evoke the look of a rugged stone wall that has been painted and then distressed. Wider-than-normal grout lines enhance the effect of a mortared stone wall. Stone tiles used on a backsplash should be treated with an appropriate sealer to protect them from heat, moisture and grease.
Create a custom-designed backsplash by painting mosaic designs on 6-inch-square blank tiles. Look for artist's paints, such as Pebeo Porcelaine150 or Plaid Folk-Art Enamels. Both are water-base paints that adhere to tile and become permanent and waterproof. Pebeo paints need to be heat-set in a 300-degree F oven for 30 minutes. The paint is not recommended for use on food preparation surfaces. Plaid Folk-Art Enamels may be heat-set for greater durability and are non-toxic and dishwasher safe (therefore easy to clean on a backsplash).
Economical ceramic field tiles come in a wide variety of colors, and you can customize the installation by creating your own pattern. Here, the blue tiles are set on point in a diamond pattern bounded by straight-set top and bottom rows. Small specialty tiles inserted at intervals add personality and interest. White epoxy grout emphasizes the pattern of the installation and picks up the color of the cabinetry. Depending on the color scheme in your kitchen, you may want to use a colored epoxy to downplay the pattern of the tiles or to coordinate with flooring, wall color, or cabinetry.
Turn your backsplash into a work of art with pique assiette, the technique of creating a mosaic from shards of broken china and stoneware. This 30-inch-high backsplash was assembled by pressing broken pieces of Victorian Era china and pottery into tile adhesive. After the adhesive sets, sanded grout was applied between the pieces. To make the backsplash easier to wipe down after cooking, break the shards into flat pieces so they don't project too much from the surface of the wall.