How to Install a Tile Backsplash
A step-by-step guide to transforming a blank space into a ceramic focal point
Enter any attractive, well-designed kitchen and your attention - not surprisingly -will likely be drawn to the finely crafted wood cabinetry or gleaming appliances. You'll probably not even notice the kitchen's backsplash area, that innocuous sliver of wall running between the countertop and upper wall cabinets.
To help convert this boring wall space to an attention-grabber, we asked Jimmy Tiganella, owner of Classic Tile in Oakville, Connecticut, to show us how to install a glazed ceramic tile backsplash. For visual interest, this particular design uses tiles of various sizes, including decorative field tiles and fanciful border tiles. The result is an attractive, durable, easy-to-clean surface that greatly enhances the overall look and functionality of the kitchen.
In the design of a kitchen, seldom is enough thought given to the narrow strip of wall that runs between the counter and upper cabinets. This highly visible space -the backsplash - is usually just painted a neutral color and forgotten about. And that's too bad, because it doesn't take much more than a few boxes of glazed tile and a free weekend to bring this seemingly dead space to life.
In the kitchen shown here, we transformed this blank space into a beautiful ceramic-tile focal point - one that will take many more years of cooking spatters and soapy scrubbings than the painted drywall that was there before. The backsplash features a tiled mural, measuring 20 by 28 inches, behind the cooktop. It was created by combining 6-by-6-inch field tiles, 6-by-6-inch decorative tiles, and narrow listello border tiles glued directly to the drywall. Cementitious backerboard is a superior substrate for tile and should be your first choice for new work (and the only choice for bathrooms), but it's not necessary here. The tiles are adhered to the wall with tile mastic, which is a specially formulated, ready-to-use adhesive that doesn't require mixing. It's stronger than tile-setting mortar (known as “thinset”) at holding tile to a vertical surface. However, before troweling the mastic onto the wall it's very important to lightly hand-sand the painted surface with 80-grit sandpaper, without sanding away the paint. This often-overlooked step roughens the surface, greatly increasing the bond of the mastic to the wall.