Michelle Gage

Published on March 15, 2020

In the world of kitchen backsplashes, subway tile reigns supreme—but it’s also a tad predictable. Instead, see the area between your countertop and upper cabinets as an opportunity to add a dose of character to an otherwise ordinary space. Even though it’s often overlooked, the kitchen backsplash is a spot brimming with untapped potential.

When it comes to selecting the appropriate tile, shape, style, size, and finish all warrant careful thought and consideration. Although here’s the thing: There isn’t one right answer. If you know you want to go bold but aren’t sure where to begin, we’ve got you covered with eight drop-dead gorgeous spaces in which the backsplash is the undisputed star.

Take It to the Ceiling

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTEN FRANCIS; DESIGN BY JESSE PARRIS-LAMB

In order to make this heavy, dark Spanish terracotta tile from Walker Zanger feel modern in this contemporary Brooklyn home, designers Amanda Jesse and Whitney Parris-Lamb covered every possible surface in the stuff, including the vent hood and a small window ledge. The result is minimal yet monolithic—and far from old-fashioned.

Stick to the Cooking Area

white and wood kitchen with earthy materialsPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEPHANIE WILEY; Design by Natalie Saunders

Drawing inspiration from Morocco and Mexico, Natalie Saunders and her husband, Louis Litrenta, kept their Joshua Tree kitchen as natural as possible with plaster cabinets, reclaimed wood doors, and an olive green backsplash by Clé Tile applied only behind the stove. The splash of color, which the couple chose to mirror the shades of desert flora, is all the flavor this space needs.

Pair Clashing Hues

pink and green kitchenPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESIGN BY DABITO

The graphic Moroccan cement tiles Dabito put in his guesthouse kitchenette act as a barrier between the pink walls and the green cabinetry, as well as a visual break from the two whimsical hues. This way, the space reads playful not overwhelming.

Embrace Tiny Details

blue and white line tilesPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW SMITH; Design by Colour + Shape

A backsplash can feel dynamic, even when it features the most straightforward geometric forms. The secret? Vibrant grout. When you step back from this blue and white design, the lines create a textile-like pattern on the wall.

Be Gutsy With Neon

neon yellow tilesPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY YOSHIHIRO MAKINO; Design by Reath Design

Brynn Jones didn’t have to make a statement with a moody cabinet color or dramatic marble countertop—the electric yellow-green backsplash says it all. The hit of chartreuse also calls attention to the mini shelf running along the length of the cupboards, which houses her ever-growing collection of vintage glassware. 

Turn Your Tile on Its Head

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Photo Courtesy of Sarah Sherman Samuel

Take a lesson from one of Sarah Sherman Samuel’s latest kitchen projects for graphic designer Bri Emery and lay out half your tile horizontally, half vertically. Depending on where you look, the result is either classic (the swaths of simple stripes) or totally contemporary (where the lines meet).

Swap Subway Tile for Zellige

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Photo by Zeke Ruelas

If you gravitate toward the clean look of a white subway tile backsplash but want to push the envelope a bit, try Moroccan zellige instead. The glossy glazed squares are equally timeless, but the handcrafted texture is refreshingly different.

Save by Going Small

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Photo by Aaron Bengochea

This kitchen ticks multiple boxes in the trend department, including farmhouse sink and rustic-mod cabinetry crafted from plywood. But it’s the backsplash that takes things to the next level. The mini hexagon tiles immediately capture your attention, and best of all they’re inexpensive! 

This story was originally published in December 2018 and has since been updated with new information.

See more stories like this:
How to Care for Every Type of Backsplash
The Cement Tiles We’re Craving Right Now
Metallic Tiles Are Having a Moment

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