At its most basic, the backsplash is a wipeable surface that collects kitchen splatters. But it’s also a golden opportunity to add more creativity to an otherwise utilitarian space. Just like with art, which you can create yourself or purchase from professionals, so it goes with an artistic backsplash. Our guidelines will help you decide whether your new backsplash should be an affordable do-it-yourself project or a professional masterpiece.
THE "SAVE" FIX: Do It Yourself
The look: Whether you’re a metal head, a mirror lover or a colorful personality, there are many inexpensive backsplash solutions that you can install in a weekend (see below for a few ideas). You’re only limited to your imagination.
When it makes sense: If your kitchen needs a new look but you don't have the budget or time for a professional remodel, making over the backsplash can add a new dimension to your existing space. It makes even more sense if you have an artistic inclination—or know someone who does.
What’s involved: Creativity, smart shopping and a little sweat. The sky’s the limit on possibilities, but here are a few manageable ideas that can work with any budget:
Paint: Because of a backsplash’s limited area, experimenting with color here is a low-stress project. If you make a poor choice the first time around, keep trying until you find the right hue. For a different spin, try chalkboard paint that comes in an array colors. Combine it with magnetic paint for a look that's as useful as it is fun. Buy from: Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware
Mirrors: Whether you choose inexpensive mirrored tiles from a big-box home improvement store or have your local glass shop cut slabs to the exact dimensions you need, the dazzling impact will make the space feel larger. Buy from: Lowe’s, Home Depot
Metal: If mirrors are too much, add a subtle twinkle by choosing materials like tin ceiling panels, stainless steel wall panels, or faux copper plates. Even repurposing everyday construction materials like flashing will offer a new look without hurting your wallet. The large sheets make the job go quickly, too. Buy from: American Tin Ceilings, Armstrong, Architectural Depot
Wall art: A vibrant wallpaper design that’s too intense for an entire room might be perfect for a backsplash—and even if it's pricey, a single roll ought to be more than ample. Peel-and-stick appliqués offer the same high impact without a long-term commitment. When you’re tired of it, peel it off and replace. Humidity and water spray won’t hurt the appliqué as long as it is properly applied and completely smooth before exposure. Don't spray it with chemical cleansers, though. Buy from: RoomMates Décor, Home Depot, Dezign with a Z
The cost: You should be able to keep it under three figures. Paint is $80 a gallon or less. For mirrors, prices vary depending on size, but self-mounting 12" x 12" tiles are as little as $10 per six-pack. Metal sheets run from $7 per 24" x 24" tile for tin ceiling panels to $59 for 25" x 35" stainless steel wall panels. Though wallpaper and decal prices vary, $100 or less gets you some serious style.
Things to consider: Make sure your materials are just as durable and washable as they are aesthetically pleasing. When it comes to paint, a semi-gloss or glossy finish will clean up the fastest. For wallpaper, make sure you choose one that will stand up to steam and scrubbing. Same goes for any metals that can become discolored if acidic liquids aren’t cleaned up quickly. To remove the old backsplash, you’ll need a good dose of elbow grease, a hammer and screwdriver and/or crowbar. To prep the wall, sand down its surface with sandpaper, a sanding block or an electric sander, depending on level of smoothness required. For painting, at a minimum you’ll need to invest in the right quality applicator (roller, brush or sponge), a tray and a drop cloth. For wallpaper, you'll need a tape measure, cutting device and adhesive. For metal or mirrored panels, you’ll also need mineral spirits to clean up any stray adhesive.
Photo by: Karyn Millet
Designed by: Pepe Studio, Inc.
THE "SPLURGE" FIX: Call in the Professionals
The look: Elevated and one-of-a-kind. In a world where appliances and cabinet materials are often the same in looks, the backsplash presents itself as a canvas where unique, custom materials take center stage. In addition to perennially popular tile, other splurge options include stone (such as limestone, marble and soapstone), resin and elaborate metalwork. All require a pretty penny, but the payoff is big, too.
When it makes sense: If you want a more complicated design or higher-end material, and you're not artsy or handy with tools. If you hire the right people, your backsplash can make an impressive and long-lasting statement that reflects your personality.
What’s involved: Enlist the aid of an interior designer. He or she can help you design the backsplash, and connect you to the tradespeople who can create and install it. Here are some ideas to whet your appetite.
Tiles: If your heart is set on tile, scope out a good company: Shops like Walker Zanger, Ann Sacks and Heath Ceramics offer an endless array of possibilities. Also check out these 10 smaller tile companies who boast beautiful collections, too. If you can't decide on one, arrange a mosaic, like this kitchen did. To help with the decision process, bring your measurements and snapshots of your kitchen when you're shopping for materials.
Mural: Imagine coming face to face with your favorite piece of art every time you prepare a meal. A designer will be able to steer you toward some artists in your area. Otherwise, peruse a local or national referral service to find an artist to your liking.
Slabs of Stone: Why let your kitchen counters steal the stone spotlight? The backsplash is an ideal place to show off nature's most beauitful surfaces. We love this kitchen, which features a dark soapstone backsplash with golden veining.
Wood: As long as it’s properly sealed, a wood backsplash provides a natural look with amazing texture. Whether you choose to go with reclaimed or exotic wood, a skilled carpenter will know how to cut, place and finish it for the right look and function.
The cost: Installation aside (labor will vary by region and desired project), materials for a custom backsplash can be pricey. At Walker Zanger, prices start at $9 per square foot for a basic white subway tile to $125 a square foot for tiles featuring true silver or gold leaf. If you want a totally custom tile mosaic, expect to pay anywhere from $75 per square foot to upwards of $100 a square foot if a CAD drawing is necessary. For a muralist or carpenter, expect to pay an hourly rate of around $30 and up depending on the artist's level of skill. Keep in mind that a good-quality, classic backsplash will have a long life, so the cost will pay off over time.
Things to consider: Make sure you have a budget in mind before you start looking at options, as materials and labor can add up quickly for customized backsplashes. Once you’ve come to terms with the expense, you can enjoy your beautiful and unique work of art.