Backsplash design involves selecting materials, colors, and patterns with visual and practical matters taken into consideration. The backsplash is a key part of the kitchen aesthetic and serves as a protective surface making the backsplash selection process integral to the overall kitchen design.
The backsplash is not just a design feature in a kitchen. It is a crucial element in the kitchen in that it acts as a protective surface for the wall behind your countertops, appliances, and sink. I wrote another blog post if you want to read about Why You Need a Backsplash in Your Kitchen.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture. In this post I will show you some kitchen backsplashes from our projects and discuss some design options.
When designing a kitchen backsplash I start by asking my clients one question. Do you want the backsplash to match the rest of the kitchen, or do you want it to stand out? If you want to keep it simple and consistent, then a matching backsplash may be the way to go. You can match a backsplash in color, tone, texture and style.
In the picture below you can see an all white kitchen with a matching white backsplash to white cabinets and countertop. This creates a very uniform white on white look. Everything here works together and has visual consistency.
Use A Unique Backsplash
The kitchen backsplash does not need to match the kitchen. If you want to have a design element that stands out in your kitchen it can be the backsplash. Using a unique backsplash that brings contrast to the kitchen can be a visual pop adding a dramatic affect and individual character to your kitchen. This is where you may want to let your personality come out, after all it’s YOUR kitchen.
Below you see a white kitchen with white cabinets and countertop, but with a contrasting and unique backsplash. In this kitchen the backsplash really stands out. It has color and texture against an all white kitchen. This is in a Townhouse we renovated in Brooklyn, NYC. This was a 100 year old townhouse and the owners liked to garden. This choice of a clay earth tone backsplash fit the context of the home and the owners’ personalities. Here, the backsplash stands out and makes a strong design statement by bringing contrast in 3 ways: color, texture, and style.
When selecting the type of backsplash for a kitchen, one needs to decide between tiles or slabs. If you are looking for a more seamless modern look with a cleaner detail and consistency, a slab backsplash may be the right choice for you.
A slab backsplash is made of a large piece of stone or composite material called a slab. This is not only much larger than a tile, in length and width, but also thicker. The slab backsplash will have a more continuous look and will not have grout lines throughout. The slab backsplash can be the more expensive option because of the material cost.
The major difference in a slab backsplash vs tile backsplash is the continuity. Tiles are individual pieces and have joints between them typically filled with grout, slabs are large pieces. In the picture below you will see a quartz slab backsplash. Notice how the backsplash has no grout lines. This is because there are no tiles, just one very large quartz slab. Of course you can use slabs in other materials such as granite, marble, concrete, or solid surfacing. This is a much more uniform look, but material selection is critical to the overall design. This particular quartz has very little detail, but you can go many other directions with this,
Seamless Kitchen Backsplash
The number one advantage to a slab backsplash is that it is seamless. This is important for a modern kitchen design.
In the photo below you can see an all white kitchen with a white marble slab backsplash. Because the backsplash is made from a large marble slab it is a seamless backsplash, which gives a much more modern and luxurious look. This kitchen is in a 4,000 square foot loft in Tribeca, NYC, and luxury was the goal here. This type of seamless backsplash provides the right type of high-end feel for this kind of apartment.
The most common choice for a backsplash is to install tile. There are many different options, but subway tile is a classic and timeless look for any kitchen backsplash.
Subway tile is a low temperature fired glazed ceramic tile that is named for its similarity to the tiles traditionally used in the New York City subway system. Subway tiles come in different colors and sizes with 3 x 6 inch being the most common size and white the most popular color.
The one thing about subway tile is that this is a classic look and will be pretty much timeless. A subway tile can go with almost any kitchen and is a great go-to as far as kitchen backsplash design ideas go. It is simple and affordable, making this a very popular option. In the picture below you will see a white subway tile backsplash with a running bond. The running bond will be your most common subway tile pattern. It means that the tiles do not line up, but rather the vertical courses are offset to the halfway point of each consecutive course.
There are two different ways to have a brick backsplash: you can have an exposed brick backsplash or a brick veneer.
If you have an existing brick wall in your home, you can expose the brick and leave that as the backsplash. One problem with this option will be that at the back edge of the counter there is nothing to stop spilling behind the countertop. You can seal this with caulking, but it must be sealed properly.
If you do not have an existing brick wall and cannot use exposed brick you can always add a veneer brick. Veneer brick is a thin brick or reclaimed brick that has been cut down in thickness. These are applied like tiles, usually on a metal backer board. If you are going to install a brick veneer backsplash in your kitchen you want to think about the type of bricks. Do you want them to be uniform and regular, or distressed and irregular? The look of exposed brick is popularized through its use in old buildings, so making it too perfect will not have the same cachet as older bricks.
I am from New York, where exposed brick is a very popular and sought after aesthetic. Brick is a great look and can really add character, especially when exposing old bricks. As you can see in the picture below, these are original exposed bricks in a 100 year old building. Perfect new bricks will not have the same feel as this 100 year old red brick backsplash.
Backsplash Same As Countertop
One backsplash design trend that has been popular for quite some time now has been the practice of making the backsplash in the same material as the countertop. If you make a granite countertop you can use the exact matching material for the backsplash. This is a highly modern and uniform look that can go well in many kitchens.
In the picture below you see a kitchen where the continuous backsplash is the same marble slab material as the countertop. This kitchen also has a side backsplash which is a very good idea as the backsplash is a protective surface and all areas around the kitchen counter are subject to a lot of abuse.
Back Painted Glass Backsplash
One good modern alternative kitchen backsplash design idea is the use of back painted glass. I am not talking about glass tile, but rather large sheets of back painted glass. This has been used for quite some time but is not the most popular option, as you typically only find it in kitchens with very modern and minimal designs. A back painted glass kitchen backsplash is a more expensive option than glass tile, which is much more common. It is also a very different look.
Wood Look Porcelain Backsplash
You can sometimes see a wood kitchen backsplash, but this is not always a great option. If you like the look of wood in a kitchen backsplash, I would recommend you look at wood look porcelain tile. Porcelain is a very durable nonporous material that is great for a kitchen backsplash.
When it comes to wood look porcelain some of these look better than others. I always go see them in person and touch all the samples before selecting one myself. They are also available in large pieces from certain manufactures so you can make a seamless backsplash in porcelain as well.
Glass Tile Kitchen Backsplash
Glass tile kitchen backsplashes have been very popular for quite some time now. I caution you on the selection of these tiles as many glass tile backsplashes just look cheap. Use good judgement and make the design work together. Glass tile backsplash in a kitchen is a certain type of look, and it is not my favorite. Keep it simple and stay away from the gaudy options.
White Backsplash Tile
White backsplash tiles in the kitchen are a classic and timeless look. Subway tile, as we already discussed, is a very common option for a white backsplash, but of course there are many other types of tiles you can use for a backsplash.
In the kitchen below you will see white cabinets with a white backsplash. The faucet is gold and was meant to pop against the all white kitchen. You want to take into consideration the difference between blending and contrasting parts of you kitchen. If you want something to stand out changing the color and material can be a great way to do it. If you want something to be a background make it monotone like white on white.
Black tile is another popular option. Whether black subway tile, as in the backsplash photo below, or another type of tile, black tile can be a great option for your kitchen. You can use black tiles to blend in with the kitchen if you have a dark kitchen, or if you have a light kitchen the black tile can pop.
Earth Tone Kitchen Backsplash
Clay, terracotta, and Earth tones can have their place in the right kitchen. If this is for you it adds an earthy feel and is good for a country house or townhouse. It is your kitchen, it’s your backsplash and the choices have to suit your tastes.
I do not want to make this post about picking backsplash colors, so I am only going to say that you have all the colors in the world to choose from when selecting a color for your backsplash. The most important thing is that you design the kitchen as a whole. Make sure everything works together and that it looks cohesive.
One important aspect of a kitchen design is the lighting. I think undercabinet lighting is standard at this point. Its primary function of course is to be task lighting. It adds light when you need it but also makes for a real design feature. The lighting makes the backsplash and countertops bright especially accenting the backsplash. It can add drama and vibrancy to the kitchen. I would not consider building a kitchen without undercabinet lighting.
Backsplash Ideas For The Kitchen
There are many choices for the kitchen backsplash but the one overriding concept that must be considered in the design is that it all has to work together. The backsplash is an important part of the kitchen and is one of the first things you can notice. With the popularity of open kitchen design you can see the backsplash from anywhere in an open plan living space. This means it is a critical decision and will be an important part of your overall design.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Kitchen Backsplash Ideas
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.