With so many materials and styles to choose from, selecting the best backsplash can be confusing. Positioned between the counter and cabinets, a backsplash is a functional way to protect wall surfaces from stovetop splatter, sink splashes and countertop cast-off. But it is also a work of art that can become a focal point in your kitchen. “It’s another surface for the homeowner or designer to address,” said Ann Porter, CKD, of Kitchen Studio of Naples in Florida and publisher of the KitchAnn Style blog. “It looks unfinished when some treatment has not been done. Plus, one of the biggest benefits to a backsplash in the kitchen is cleanability; it’s not just a decorative element.”
We asked Porter (who custom designed the backsplash pictured) to breakdown the pros and cons of the different backsplash options. Read on for her explanations of everything from paint to glass beads—and why it might or might not be perfect for your kitchen design.
High-performance paints designed specifically to stand up to the demands of a kitchen environment are available in practically any color. Relief stenciling is also a great way to add texture to an ordinary wall.
Pros: Affordable, easy to install and easy to clean with soap and water, paint has a long lifespan and stands up to heat, water and fingerprints. Eco-friendly low-VOC paints create little off-gassing.
Cons: While the right color of paint can complement any kitchen style, a painted backsplash won’t make as much of a design statement as other materials unless used in a mural or other design, which makes its installation more difficult.
Available in clear, frosted, linear or iridescent finishes, glass tile can add sparkle to your kitchen.
Pros: Nonporous glass tile resists stains and mildew, making it great for high moisture areas. Tiles reflect light and can make a room look bigger or brighter. Recycled glass tile is manufactured with half the energy as ceramic, and one-quarter the energy of traditional cast glass tile. Plus, it reduces landfill waste.
Cons: Glass tile can scratch easily and generally requires more finesse to install. The grout will show through clear tiles so they must be “back buttered” and have no debris or air bubbles. They are more difficult to cut and more expensive than ceramic tile.
Many colors and sizes are available, including borders and special shapes. The tile can look like stone, wood or be printed with a picture.
Pros: Ceramic or porcelain tile is a relatively less expensive option. It is also easy to clean.
Cons: It can look inexpensive compared to other options. Glazed ceramic tile is more prone to cracks (porcelain tile is denser than ceramic).
This timeless option adds warmth and beauty to a room. Its look adds a feeling of quality to a kitchen, which is why it is popular with spec housing.
Pros: Stone tile is durable and can be repaired. Exposed (cut) edges can be polished for a finished look. Stone is naturally heat resistant.
Cons: Stone tile is not considered eco-friendly. It’s best if you can use a local quarry (slate) or select a stone that is in plentiful supply. It has higher maintenance costs because stone is porous and needs to be resealed. Plus, it is harder to install because a water saw is usually set up outside. Grout is almost impossible to remove from unsealed stone or crevices in tumbled marble.
Available in sheets and metallic tiles, copper adds warmth and creates a unique statement in any interior.
Pros: Copper offers a high polish option or even a “living finish” that will change over time, making it appropriate for contemporary or traditional designs. It is naturally bactericidal and highly recyclable.
Cons: A soft metal, copper will dent and scratch. A non-tarnishing sealer may be required. Copper can be expensive, but metallic laminate is a less expensive option that is also easier to maintain.
Stainless steel is available in tiles or sheets and a variety of textures, patterns and degrees of polish, such as brushed and pillowed or shiny and geometric.
Pros: Durable and easy to clean, stainless steel does not need to be sealed, oiled or waxed. It is heat resistant and has a long lifespan because it will not crack. It is highly recyclable. Stainless-steel sheets can provide a seamless, clean appearance.
Cons: Acidic foods can cause some discoloration if not wiped away. It will dent and scratch. While water resistant, it will show water spots and fingerprint smudges. A sealer is available to cut down on fingerprints but that means more time will be needed on maintenance. Metal laminate is a less expensive option that is also smudge-proof.
Homeowners can post coupons, recipes or memos on this attractive surface.
Pros: Cork can add sound insulation and it is a renewable resource.
Cons: Cork could fade and be damaged by sharp objects.
Mirrors can make small kitchens look larger and back-painted glass can be customized with the color of your choice, or painted in any image or abstract design. This seamless look fits in contemporary or traditional settings.
Pros: Glass sheets are easy to clean because they are seamless.
Cons: Glass shows dirt and grime easier. Measurements must be exact, so it is not a good DIY option. Glass is expensive.
Usually part of an exterior wall, acrylic blocks or acrylic sheets let in natural light.
Pros: Translucence can add light. Acrylic is recyclable and can be made from post-consumer recycled material.
Cons: Acrylic scratches easily and is not heat resistant.
Tiny glass beads are trowel-applied over base, which is sometimes metallic, creating a unique faux finish.
Pros: Glass beads are heat resistant and light reflective.
Cons: This high-cost option is not durable and is difficult to clean.
By Ellen Sturm Niz