Making a Splash: Backsplash Styles and Trends

Backsplash designers talk trends and techniques

By Marina Blythe Davalos

Pictured above:
Poona and Chanda glass hexagon mosaics by Original Style glisten and glitter in different lights.

With so many tile choices nowadays, from metallic and glass tiles to large-format and custom tile, the design options seem limitless. We talked with two designers about traditions and trends—from uses for subway tiles and mosaics to some other up-and-coming materials we think you’ll find fascinating.

            Riding the subway trend

Clean and classic, “Brilliant White Metro Gloss” subway tile with a beveled edge from Original Style is a look that is here to stay.

Subway tile is here to stay, and designers and clients are finding new and exciting ways of using it. “The great thing about tile in general is you can move it,” says Karen King of Transitions Kitchen & Bath in Norwell, where she has worked for over a decade. King explains that subway tile can be patterned in ways different from a traditional subway layout. It can be stacked for a more linear look, or even turned into a herringbone design. “Tiles are made to be moved in every direction,” King points out.

A popular trend is to mix accent tiles with subway tiles, such as oil-rubbed bronze or brushed nickel liner or accent pieces. Listello tiles come in mosaic form and can be used to outline the backsplash—a kind of segue from where the countertop ends and the backsplash begins. Listello tiles are typically three to four inches tall and 12 inches long, and they usually have some kind of design in them, according to King.

“You definitely want to take into consideration the design of the rest of the house, and how the kitchen moves into that space,” King advises. A coastal kitchen might incorporate single blue subway tiles interspersed with the standard white ones, for example. While subway tiles come in all colors, King observes that the majority of New Englanders choose whites or grays.

Save the best for last

Designer Robin Decoteau, of Supply New England in West Yarmouth, says that for design purposes, it is wise to save the backsplash installation for last. “Even folks who know what they want at the beginning will often change their minds during the construction or remodeling process,” says Decoteau, who’s been with Supply New England for 10 years and a designer for 17. “All the new ingredients change the lighting in a space,” she says, adding that she once had a client who knew the color subway tile she wanted, so Decoteau brought it, along with an alternative shade of white, to the client’s home. “She ended up using the other one because the lighting was different in her house than in the showroom.” Decoteau adds that while standard subway tiles come three by six inches, the trend is moving toward larger, four by eight or four by 12 subway tiles. “Tiles in general are becoming larger.”

Charming handmade and hand-painted raised fruit tiles from Original Style are interspersed with standard ceramic tiles in a neutral palette.

A new spin on old favorites

Another trend is mosaics. Traditionally used as accents, mosaic designs are now being used to fill an entire space. And not just squares and rectangles. “The shapes are changing, moving toward more organic patterns such as leaves or flowers.” Blends of glass and stone, or glass and ceramic, are also being incorporated into mosaic designs. “It’s a trend, but I think it’s an evolving trend,” says Decoteau.

Also popular is white porcelain tile with gray veining that mimics the look of Italian marble. Tiles like these are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from the subway tile look to the octagonally shaped.

Westminster Grey half tile and Morning Dew glass tile, both from Original Style, mixes ceramic and mosaic for a look that is on trend.

Making its way into the American design psyche is a new, ultra-modern 3D tile that has a texture of a wave or a three-dimensional cube, for example. King, who is designing a client’s backsplash using 3D tile to create the shape of an ocean wave, says that 3D tiles come in different forms, such as trapezoidal or trianglular or basket-weave.

King and Decoteau agree that while the space above the oven range continues to be the focal point of the kitchen, designs utilizing this space have changed from elaborate to minimal. “The space behind the range was more decorative [in the past], says Decoteau. Now we see simpler, a little straighter, toned down, more neutral [designs].”

With so many styles, sizes, colors and materials to choose from, homeowners may not even be aware of all the backsplash design possibilities. “It’s up to the designer to
educate the client,” says King, “and then let the client decide.”


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