Visible Difference

Today’s backsplashes are high-profile
By Alice Liao
April 27, 2011

Once purely utilitarian, backsplashes have evolved into a significant component of the look and feel of any kitchen. And now with more kitchens opening up to other living spaces, they have taken on even greater visibility. According to Tristan McManaman, marketing director for Walker Zanger, today’s backsplashes have “a higher design function,” often providing a focal point for the kitchen, as well as a visual link to adjoining rooms.


Thankfully, homeowners are catching on. According to Raymond Moore, director of architectural sales for Nemo Tile, more seem willing than ever to invest in attractive, quality backsplash materials, even if it means spending less, say, on a floor. Glass continues to be a popular choice, especially in rectangular or linear formats. Subway tiles, for example, which cost more in glass than in ceramic, are finding much favor, said Moore, as they offer “a whole different look and you can get great color.” Designer Jennifer Gilmer, of the eponymous firm, has seen a growing interest in back-painted glass, which allows her to customize size and color while virtually eliminating grout lines. “It’s a really clean look,” she said.
Boldly colored backsplashes formed of back-painted glass are finding their following among Gilmer’s clients. A popular color is orange. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd.

The emphasis on less fuss also applies to stone and ceramics, which are being used in sizes as large as 4 in. x 16 in. to minimize seams. Ann Sacks’ latest, Soleil, comes in a 6-in. x 18-in. format that can cover a typical backsplash with just three rows of tiles stacked on top of each other, noted DeeDee Gundberg, senior design director for Ann Sacks. And Gilmer has used stone floor tiles on backsplashes, so “you only have vertical grout lines.”

But not everyone seems to mind a little grout, as smaller tiles and mosaics in stone, glass, ceramic and even quartz are doing equally brisk business. And their shapes are many. In addition to the ever-popular rectilinear variety, manufacturers have introduced trapezoids, hexagons and penny rounds to spice up many a backsplash, as well as diverse textures, embossed patterns and mixed materials. All provide subtle ways to add interest. “We’re seeing a lot of backsplashes in one color with a play on different shapes, textures and materials,” said Gail Drury, of Drury Design.


But what color? Although the jury may be out on which hues fare best, most experts agree monochromatic is currently the way to go. Both Gilmer and Drury have employed bolder colors, such as orange or red, in contemporary environments, while others point to the continuing reign of neutrals, as well as muted blues and greens.

Metallics still enjoy a following, according to Nancy Jackson, president of Architectural Systems Inc., but they may have lost some of their sheen. As McManaman said, “They’re not shiny and brassy, but soft like burnished gold or burnished silver.” Their continued popularity reflects “a very stylized industrial look” that some homeowners are requesting for their kitchens, Jackson noted. “People like barnwood and they want something that looks new and fresh to complement it.”

So what will look new and fresh in the future? Opinions vary. Interestingly, Gundberg has noticed an uptick in demand for rustic, hand-painted decorative tiles, which are then being used to create modern, updated looks. McManaman thinks glass may become more “sophisticated,” assuming “larger formats, increased thickness or more intricate interlocking shapes.” Whatever the future holds, backsplashes are never “going to go back to being just a utilitarian surface,” he said.

Looking for backsplash ideas? Check out these new options.

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