This week I had lunch with my friend Tracey Gulli. Lunches with her are a mix between a mom support group, a design workshop, and a gossip session rolled into one. She has worked in the tile industry for years, so she’s a wealth of knowledge on tile. She also is the boss at designing tile applications. I’d been planning to do a tile blog and while I didn’t plan on interviewing her at lunch when I tole her about my planned post a quasi-interview commenced. So, I decided to incorporate her thoughts and our discussion into the blog. Without further ado… Making a (back)Splash!
Julie: So what is your approach to designing a backsplash?
Tracey: Well, you know backsplashes are like jewelry. They can really pull a kitchen or bathroom together, but they can also be overkill. Especially when they’re the last finish selected in the kitchen. Which is often the case with [backsplashes]. They’re an afterthought. The tile can compete with the other elements in the kitchen. Especially in really big kitchens with a lot of specialty cabinets and decorative appliances.
Me: Yeah, especially when the counter surface has a lot of movement or a strong pattern.
Tracey: Right. In cases like that, you really want a backsplash that just blend in and is a workhorse. People will spend $1500-2000 on high end, decorative tiles that just make cleaning more difficult.
Me: Right, uneven surfaces behind the sink and range can be really hard to clean. Particularly when the colors are very light or very uneven.
Tracey: Like with stacked stone backsplashes. Sometimes I think people meet with the builder and just want to et everything selected and see something like stacked stone, which is popular and looks nice, but it doesn’t perform well. Especially when you plan to cook a lot. Sometimes you just need something that is in the background and is a workhorse.
Me: Yeah, I think of red sauce caught all in the little crevices. I think if you want a great backsplash, you almost have to design to it, rather than the other way around. If a client really wants a gorgeous backsplash, if that’s their priority, then I am starting the design with it because the client wants to invest there.
Tracey: Or, I always tell people to live in the space for a little bit. Figure out what’s going to work for you. If you keep a ton of stuff on your counter, you probably shouldn’t have a design that runs along the bottom or through the middle of the tile. Also, electrical outlets can be an issue. Since code requires an outlet every 4 feet in a kitchen, they can interfere with the lines and any decorative design that goes through the middle of the tile.
Me: Right, kitchen backsplash design can get dicey that way.
Tracey: The good thing is you’re not limited to the positioning of the outlet. So it can be turned horizontally, moved closer to the counter or even higher, closer to the cabinets to keep the tile design continuous. I always tell people, if your working with a builder, leave the backsplash alone until you’ve lived in the space a while. Figure out how much stuff you keep on the counter or how much you’re going to cook, know your space before you make the investment.
Me: Speaking of investment… Backsplashes can be pricey.
Tracey: Compared to counter surfaces and cabinets, they aren’t as expensive and add a lot of personality to the space, even when they’re simple. The tile can be a cheap as $1.25/square foot. Cheap, white field tile can be turned on an angle or made into a pattern and look like a million bucks. I did this for my sister. [shows me the image of a tub surround] The least expensive off-white field tile and a glass mosaic from Home Cheap-oh.
Me: Wow! That looks amazing!
Tracey: It can be a big investment, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind that installation is going to cost at least as much as the tile. Mosaics and small pieces can be hard to position correctly and are time intensive for installers. Glass tiles have to be applied using a certain method or you’ll see trowel marks.
Me: And it’s so easy to take it off the wall and switch it out later. So, any pet peeves? Mine is the little 4″ counter surface backsplash with a random mosaic stacked on top. It really shortens the are between the cabinets and counter surface and a lot of times it’s too busy.
Tracey: Oh my gosh that the worst! I hate that. People think its cheaper, but it’s not. Really its about the same price. A lot of builder don’t want to do tile from the top of the counter because they have to cut the counter so that it’s flush with the wall.
Me: And tile is cheaper that counter surface anyway. Counters can be upwards of $75/sf.
We rambled on about tile a little longer and some projects that we’re working on. But those are the most salient points:
- Plan ahead OR live in the space a while. If you know you want a beautiful backsplash, own it and make it your centerpiece. Or, live in your home and then figure out what you need and want from a backsplash.
- You don’t have to spend a ton of money for tile, but you can. If you’re very budget conscious, you can create a great design with white field tile by using pattern instead of color.
- Don’t have your counter dealer or your builder install the 4″ counter backsplash. It breaks up the line of the tile and shortens the area between your cabinets and counter surface.
- If you select a counter surface that is busy, let your tile rest in the background or use the counter surface on the walls. If you want a beautiful, colorful, highly patterned backsplash, select a counter surface that is more homogenous in its coloration, like solid surface, recycled lass, or quartz.
Hope you all enjoyed this installation. Let me know if you like the interview. I’m thinking of doing a few more of these with some of my designer friends. If you want a fantastic backsplash and need a designer to help you, Tracey “the tile guru” Gulli is the master! Contact me or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch!
The client likes the “farmhouse modern” style made popular by a certain “fixer-upper” couple and plans to use that style when she completes the final remodel. We selected a simple white shaker cabinet door and oil rubbed bronze finishes. The counter surface was a neutral quartz with a “low movement” pattern. It has some reddish brown color variation to tie in the color of the floor. The “low movement” pattern was selected so that we will be able to easily find a coordinating pattern when the full remodel is completed.
A small project like this can have a big impact on the functionality and beauty of a kitchen. The $3100 price tag might seem steep, but when you breakdown the various costs and skills needed to pull it together, you can see how the costs can add up. At a “big box” store a project like this would have been at least $500-750 more because of increased pricing on the cabinets and lighting.