Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Where Should You Start and Stop Your Backsplash?

by Yanic Simard

Consider these tips and tricks to work around cabinets,
windows and more for a finished look in your kitchen

Wondering where to end your backsplash? Never even thought about it? It can be a surprisingly complex question. These tips will help you find the right place to stop your backsplash to get a crisp look in any kitchen.

From a designer perspective, the best time to stop a backsplash is … never! After all, when you’ve chosen a beautiful material, why wouldn’t you want more of it? Taking a backsplash wall to wall and counter to ceiling makes for seamless lines and definitely a dramatic effect.


Of course, in reality it isn’t always an option to cover every inch of wall in a coveted stone. Even in this luxe kitchen someone had to decide: Where should the finish end on the range wall? Above the range hood? Below it? In your project, the decisions can be simple or quite complicated, depending on multiple factors.

General Rule No. 1

Opinions differ on this, but for a polished look I typically tile just the main walls of the kitchen (those that back the cabinets), ending at the corners rather than wrapping around to finish the sides, if there are any. In the case of an odd corner (like on the left here, where there is likely a pipe in the wall), consider the whole corner part of the “back.”

In some cases, a “sidesplash” on a noncabinet wall can be functional and beautiful, but skipping it is the simplest way to avoid situations where elements don’t line up neatly. Typically, the counter, upper cabinets and wall all end at different places on the sides, leaving no definitive stopping point.

In this example, the tile ends at the corners instead of wrapping onto the small wall with the doorway. If it did wrap onto that wall, the two sides of the door would be hard to balance and likely a bit awkward.

Kitchen Size

Small kitchens. Fully covering the wall usually is your best bet in a small kitchen (or in a larger kitchen that has just a small area for the backsplash).

This sort of layout, with just a single backsplash area between the fridge cabinet and side wall, is common in galley kitchens in apartments and condominiums. Tiling the entire area in one material makes for the tidiest finish, which can help make the kitchen look its biggest.

Big kitchens. In the case of a very large kitchen, or one with dramatically tall ceilings, taking tile to full height can bust the budget or completely overload the look. In a case like this, ending the tile vertically at the same line as the upper cabinets gives a better finish.

If you use a darker color for the tiles than the remaining upper wall, it can actually help bring down the apparent ceiling line so the room feels a little more intimate.

In spaces with taller ceilings, a bulkhead often is used to fill in the void above the uppers. This also gives the tile a natural place to finish, so everything looks pleasingly framed in and there’s no empty space left to collect knickknacks and dust.

General Rule No. 2

Knowing where to stop the tile horizontally is easy if your kitchen runs wall to wall, but what if it ends partway along a longer wall? In a case like this, where the kitchen cabinetry ends midroom, the best option is to end the upper cabinets, lower cabinets and backsplash all on one crisp line.


Notice at the right side of this kitchen how the backsplash aligns with the upper and lower cabinets — while the counter hangs out over that line a little bit — rather than extending to the end of the counter and sticking out past the upper cabinets (which to me would be much less tidy).
Of course, this requires the upper and lower cabinets to align crisply, which can take careful planning when laying out the kitchen. Using filler panels and adjusting the spacing around a window can help make cabinets end at the same place on the top and bottom, even if the widths of each cabinet don’t match perfectly above and below.

Other Considerations

Peninsulas. What about times when the upper and lower cabinets don’t align? A common place for this to occur is U- or L-shaped kitchens where the uppers end over a peninsula. In this case, I would suggest ending the backsplash in line with the uppers, so you still get a crisp vertical line.


Windows. Sometimes there will be very small areas of wall between windows and a counter or cabinet. It may be tempting to leave these areas empty (and often easier on the tile installer), but the overall effect will be subtly tidier if you imagine the window does not exist when planning where to end the tile.

In this space, the tile continues to the end of the counter, as ending at the upper cabinet would be far too early.


Here, the tile continues all the way to the corner and up to the height of the upper shelves so that from a distance the line of the upper cabinets is unbroken. It’s a subtle difference versus simply ending at the window, but these little details can make a kitchen feel so much more finished.

Modern slab backsplashes. In a kitchen with modern styling and a cool slab backsplash, it’s extra important for the elements to align pleasingly, or the look can become sloppy. Here, the cabinets and counter are sized to line up perfectly. When installing a peninsula with an overhang, you can also add or subtract an inch or two of counter to make the math work out just right.

Traditional slab backsplashes. Going for a more traditional or farmhouse-inspired look? A charming slab backsplash like this benefits from having some negative space left around it and doesn’t really need to line up with anything — in fact, it can be almost better if it doesn’t.

Edgy tiles. If you’ve got an interesting tile shape, such as a playful hexagon, you can consider ending the tile with a messy edge to give a more relaxed appeal.

This can apply to the horizontal ends and the verticals. This tile fades slowly to white vertically so that the vibrant blue doesn’t have to carry all the way to the ceiling, and it makes for a unique feature.
Cabinet-free walls. In L- or U-shaped kitchens that have large areas — or entire walls — with no upper cabinets, you can tile the empty wall full height or simply continue the upper line of the backsplash around the entire room, as done here.

Ending the backsplash with a shelf, even a shallow one, can give it a nice cap on walls where there are no other particular ending points such as a window or cabinet.

Differing heights. In a kitchen with many items at different heights, I would still use the bottom of the cabinets as a main stopping point, with possibly a little exception at the range for a taller backsplash up to the hood. Ending at the windows would leave an awkward sliver of space below the cabinets.


In more traditional kitchens, sometimes the tile will run even a little above the bottom of the cabinets, which gives a pleasing overlap that feels more relaxed and reduces the need to cut tiles into tiny slivers.

Another way to solve any backsplash height conundrums is to use an elegant short backsplash, just a few inches tall. This way, you can run it around the entire counter at one unbroken height and leave the rest of the wall a uniform color.

You can also pair a short backsplash with a second backsplash material, so you have one style (usually the more high-end material, such as a stone slab) run continuously and then a second material in pieces where needed to fill in.

One Last Idea

Keep in mind, a full-height backsplash might not be as budget-busting or as visually overwhelming as you might think. A classic porcelain tile, with an optional contrast grout, can give a sophisticated, classic look for just a few dollars per square foot, meaning it can actually be the more luxe-looking option than a higher-end material used in a conservative dose.

Need a designer to help you create the desired look for your kitchen?  To get started, stop by Cabinet-S-Top located at 1977 Medina Road, Medina, OH  44256 ~ 330.239.3630 ~ www.cabinet-s-top.com





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