Selecting your Kitchen or Bath Backsplash; Accent Tile or NOT?

I have seen so much dated and downright ugly accent tiles in my design career, that when I choose them for my clients, I prefer to select neutral finishes and repeat them. Keep this in mind when you read this post. If you are madly in love with the accent tile you have just installed or are about to, then read no further.
The following opinions are completely biased based on the above statement. . .

The hot look in accent tile was mosaics in 2009 (but UPDATE in 2015 accent tile trends have changed 3 times since), and if you are going to use them, go big or go home.

Like in this bathroom (above) or in this kitchen (below). What works about the backsplash here, is that it’s the most important feature next to the Caesar Stone Countertop. This way it becomes the background instead of competing for attention with the limestone mosaic backsplash.

The backsplash tile in this bathroom [below] is colourful and fun, but what if you moved in and did not like orange? It’s pretty hard to ignore the tile here as it’s definitely the focal point. Better to have picked a more neutral tile and still painted the bathroom orange which can then be easily changed on a whim.

By the way, this brings me to another tip; with newly installed tile or granite, I like to pick a colour that coordinates with it, then it looks like you actually love your new finishes. To pick a colour that doesn’t relate at all [to your finishes] starts to look like you have just moved in and have decided to ignore them with your colour choices.

The accent tile in this kitchen [below] at least makes some attempt to coordinate with the granite but I would have left it clean using just the subway tiles. I always tell my clients that it’s the colour and accessories that pull a space together. Unless you are someone who plans on replacing your tiles every 5 years, it’s better to keep them neutral as they are so expensive and messy to replace.

This tile [below] in your bathroom or kitchen [for example] pretty much dictates the colour scheme. Here your choices would be limited to some version of gold, yellow beige or [ouch] the green.

If you are going to get this artsy and creative [below] with your backsplash tile, then at least make sure it’s the most important element in the kitchen. In this kitchen, combined with the busy granite, it’s hard to know what we should be looking at. Busy granite and a busy backsplash does not equal beautiful, it just screams ‘we-should-have-consulted-with-a-designer’.

images from flickr
Colour Tip for anyone worried about choosing a white cabinet colour to go with white tile. Take some basic whites like cloud white, Mountain Peak White, Ivory White and Vanilla Ice Cream or White Down and paint up some larger 11 x 17 samples. Then hold the white tile right on the sample vertically and it will be obvious which is the right one!
What’s your opinion on accent tiles? Do you love them or hate them?
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  1. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  2. Since the husband gave the green light to remodeling our kitchen, I have spent every night since November pouring over cabinet, backsplash, and countertop styles and colors – usually into the wee hours. My problem is, since I live in a part of the country with narrow, traditional design ideas (gold is still popular-blech!), I wouldn't find a designer here that I trust. So that leaves my brain strangled with choices and options and design algorithms. I'm losing my mind!

    In the beginning, I fell in love with a backsplash tile with hints of blue-gray. I thought I wanted white cabinets, because the overall feel I want is "airy" and "beachy." Like the Something's Gotta Give kitchen. But somehow I forgot, and ordered a kitchen-full of tasteful, but NOT WHITE, cabinet in a pewter-tone stain and wash. I like it because it's different, and the color spoke to me. I love taupe on white and how it feels. But now I don't have white cabinets arriving this Friday, so I feel I need to compensate by having white countertops, which I love. But that restricts me to quartz, but when I took the door to the granite store, it looked GORGEOUS with a Volga Blue and another somewhat busy black. NOT BEACHY!

    See? My brain is all twisty and tortured. And the countertop and backsplash decisions are closing in way too fast. Your blog has brought me comfort, if not a tiny bit of clarification. Thanks!

  3. Beth,
    Stick to quartz, you'll get bored of everything else, your first instinct is usually the best one.

  4. Thanks, Maria! I just found your response here, but I was able to see the light about the quartz, and last week I fell in love with the perfect backsplash tile. We had to fire our first contractor but now are in good hands with a brilliant contractor with design sense.

    Thanks again!


  5. Decorative Wall Tiles

    I agree with Patricia. It's always tricky adding any accents, tile or otherwise. But with a good design or designer- it can also be the best visual in the room and the piece that ties everything together.

  6. Argh! What to do?? I have the bay oyster cream cabinets picked out with chocolate truffle Caesarstone and subway tile that exactly matches my cabinet color. I am using oil rubbed bronze pulls and faucet and was thinking of incorporating some oil rubbed bronze accent tile with the subway, but this post is making me rethink and just keep it simple subway, no accent tile.

  7. This reminds me of the time my friend's husband decided to remodel the kitchen while she was in the hospital. They already had everything "picked", but just hadn't gotten the time to execute their plan. So as she spends 6 days in the hospital recovering from a double mastectomy, he gathers 10 of his closest handy friends to remodel. Sounds like a lovely plan right? It was. Except when she got home, the green/purple vineyard accent tiles she chose (yuck, but I won't go there) were ALL INSTALLED UPSIDE DOWN. The grapes were "hanging" up. LOL!

    But what do you do when your husband and his friends go out of their way to make such a lovely gesture? She kept the tiles up. 🙂

    My sweet friend has since passed on from her third battle with breast cancer, but her family has left the tiles as is for now. It's a reminder of the grace she gave to her husband with his sweet heart. (But I think as soon as they ever decide to sell the house, another remodel will probably solve it as a resale issue. Ha!)

  8. All Our Fingers in the Pie

    I am near the end of a complete home renovation and will be ready to choose backsplash tiles soon. So glad to hear that simple and basic is still 'in'. I like a simple white square or subway tile in the kitchen and bath. As a realtor for 30 years, I have seen too many dated accent tiles!

  9. Maria I think I messed up my kitchen. I have santa cecilia granite (golden, black, carmel and a touch of burgandy) I choose a backsplash with bullets of taupe and mosaic squares in brown and black that run vertically down. I color co-ordinated this with a lady from a speciality shop. However, I wish I would have read your blog because I think its to busy. I think I received the wrong help but there is nothing I can do now. When I looked at the sheet of tiles the tiles with the mosaci were beautiful and the colors were right. However when put together a total difference look.

    • You can have your backsplash painted whatever neutral color works with your cabinets and counter. It is the same technology as the people who re-finish bathtubs. I had my 1990s jewel-tone navy blue backsplash painted BM vanilla ice cream to match my painted cabinets for $250 and it looks so beautiful!

  10. So after reading this blog entry and especially the last statement “in choosing a white cabinet colour to go with white tile…take some basic whites like cloud white,etc” is Maria saying that if I already have cloud white cabinets I should pick a white that definitely ‘matches’ the cloud white of the cabinets? Cloud white has a creamy-white color in our kitchen and to get that perfect match I would have to pick the creamy color (like sand or bisque) not the pure white. Wouldn’t that be too much sameness or could I use the pure white which also matches the white appliances I have? (and looks great with the cloud white cabinets) My countertops and floor tiles have the creamy color, white and a little touch of yellow-beige. So help – what subway tile would you choose and why?

  11. Can I add, if you are going to install glass doors on your cabinets, pay the extra and have the interiors of the cabinets stained to match. If they like the two-tone look, paint the interiors a shade of beige that matches the counter top and tile.

  12. Help

    Knotty pine cabinets , flagstone floor rusty and buff color, old time pine plank walls. Want to replace counter top with granite Absolute white. I think I have made a mistake.

  13. well I thought I should put up some special tile… all the design shows do it, right? well I know Maria… and her love of the subway tile… we were told about them at her class a few years ago, we sat in our hotel room my girl friend and I and looked it up on google, lol everyone does that right ! we looked at each other and said, subway… as in the Paris subway… its from the 20’s … it’s so the only tile to do… its totally timeless…. now that I am days from my new counter top being installed (so exciting !) and that I only saw a small sample piece, I am waiting to see the whole counter in place… I now know to pick subway tiles after so I can see just how it will look with the counter so I do not do busy with busy ! fingers crossed my idea of carara marble subway tiles is ok with the counter, totally fingers crossed xx

  14. Hello Maria

    I met my new clients today who have asked me to renovate their kitchen which is in flow with a great room which has a large stone fireplace. Since they are going to gut the whole kitchen, I know that I can start by coordinating the color with the stone fireplace and continue it into the kitchen. The color I have chosen for both the kitchen and the great room is Agreeable Gray which is what they liked best in comparison to the other two choices which were Anew Gray, and Useful Gray. They have Pine floors which are original to the house and they want to keep those. I had suggested continuing the wood into the kitchen area with pantry area behind. The kitchen is two steps above the great room so I am looking for Tiles as an option if I am not able to match the wood in the great room. This is my first kitchen renovation project and I will be reading your posts for guiding me to the right choices and to make it as smooth as possible.

    you’re awesome


  15. Do you consider 12 x 24 3-dimensional white wave pattern tiles completely trendy? I have two contemporary bathrooms in design; both owners are wanting this option. Thanks for sharing your insight.