Focal Point

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

June 20, 2008 5 min read


New backsplash adds visual interest to the kitchen

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

Whether it's made of ceramic, glass, brick, stone or metal, a new, eye-catching backsplash can perk up any kitchen. Even better, you may be able to install it yourself.

With books, articles, do-it-yourself guides, online sites and advice from kitchen designers, there's plenty of information to help you select backsplash materials in a style that will make your kitchen unique. But don't count on a quick decision. You'll be choosing from thousands of materials, styles, colors and finishes. If you don't have the time or patience to do the research needed to create a backsplash that fits your kitchen and lifestyle, experts say it's best to retain a professional.

Like other architectural elements, a backsplash can help establish a kitchen's character. For instance, a brick backsplash paired with traditional cabinetry can give a ho-hum kitchen a warm, cozy feeling. A backsplash with playful patterns, mosaic murals or designer tiles can spell fun or formality, while stone, glass or metal may fit perfectly in a contemporary setting.

The first step? Pore over books and magazines for ideas and check out Web sites that focus on backsplashes. Don't overlook home center kitchen displays or model homes. Both use stylish backsplashes to bring attention to high-end cabinetry and countertops.

Ceramic tile is the most popular material choice for kitchen backsplashes and for good reason. Beyond its resistance to water and stains, ceramic tile comes in every size, shape, color, texture and price. And because it's easy to install, you can let your imagination run wild, adding a splash of color or handmade decorative tiles. With smaller mosaic tiles you can make the backsplash look like a quilt, abstract painting, even a city skyline.

New York ceramic tile artist Diane Holycross has found a ready market for her nature-themed custom tiles, especially her realistic leaves. Made with actual leaves whose veins are imprinted on the clay, the custom tiles in breathtaking colors have found a place in numerous kitchen backsplashes in the United States and Canada.

"It's timeless looking tile," the artist says, and for those who choose it, allows them to connect with nature.

"If you can't go out to nature, you can bring it inside," Holycross says. Leaves are not her only forte. Another of her kitchen backsplash designs, one that can be viewed online at, is a coral reef filled with a colorful fish, tropical plants and other sea life.

Glass is another good choice for a kitchen backsplash. Because it's waterproof, it cleans easily. And like ceramic tile, it's available in an assortment of colors and sizes and lends itself to customization such as the hand-cut glass mosaic and fused glass backsplashes designed by Tom and Saundra Synder of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Found in high-end kitchens across the country, the two and three-dimensional backsplashes - some backlit - range from landscapes and florals to abstract and geometric designs.

"It usually takes three to four weeks to complete a backsplash," Tom Snyder says, with the couple working from measurements provided by the client. "Some people know exactly what they want, others don't have a clue." But that doesn't faze the pair, whose work can be seen online at

Natural stone tiles like granite, slate or marble can produce a handsome kitchen backsplash, but because they are porous they must be sealed and periodically resealed to prevent damage from common household products such as ketchup, vinegar and wine.

Stainless-steel, copper and brass tiles can be pricier, tougher to work with and in some cases, harder to keep clean, but they make attractive backsplash accents when teamed with ceramic or stone.

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