e-Design Before & After: Kitchen Backsplash

Two summers ago, a conversation on the beach with friends visiting from the Midwest, led to an e-design/remote project for me.  Our friends had purchased a home that they had completely gutted, renovated and added onto, but had come across some difficult design decisions.

One of those tough decisions, was what tile to use for their kitchen backsplash?  The conversation started out with my friend pulling up a photo on her iPhone, saying, “What do you think of this?”

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photo: Ei3s

At this point, I had no idea what her kitchen looked like, nor what the style of her home was like, but from this one photo alone, I did get a feeling for what type of design she likes.  I explained that I am a simple person — I like clean, straight lines, and calm, serene spaces — so, that said, I answered honestly, and let her know that for me, personally, the mosaic border seemed too busy, BUT for her and her kitchen, I’d need to see the space to advise her on her selection.  I told her if she really liked this tile, that I liked the 2″x4″ limestone with the hand-clipped mosaics bordering each tile — that the little mosaic tiles, were enough of a design element for me (again, me personally, if I was doing my own kitchen).  However, for a client, I would help select based on the overall design scheme and aesthetic of the home.

I asked her to describe the overall look of her kitchen — off-white cabinetry with Calacatta counter tops, dark hardwood floors, and oil-rubbed bronze fixtures and pulls — which gave me a baseline visual in my head.  And then she showed me another choice she was contemplating. 


photo: Ei3s

When she returned to Milwaukee, she was able to send me photos of her kitchen.

photo:  Ei3s

photo: Ei3s

Right off the bat, what caught my eye — the three gold and crystal chandeliers and the gorgeous strapped and riveted hood!  I went back to my initial reaction when she showed me her first choice — the New Ravenna limestone, hand-clipped Calacatta and Alexander mosaic border was too much scroll-y detail for me, especially with the chandeliers.  So off we both went…her in Milwaukee, and me visiting showrooms here…on a search for the right tile.  My friend’s only request/requirement was that the backsplash add a little “bling” to her kitchen — she wanted a little sparkle…not something flat or honed, and dull.

These are photos she had sent, of more options she had considered:


photo: Ei3s


photo: Ei3s

Glassy, metallic beveled subway tile for that “bling.”


photo: Ei3s



photo: Ei3s

Her favorite at this point was the center, hand-clipped mosaics in the wavy pattern.


photo: Ei3s

Consulting back and forth via emails and texts…some of my sound bites…


She had sent a varied group of selections — natural stone, glass, mosaics — and all different sizes.  The easiest decision would be to match countertops and use the same Calacatta in 3″x 6″ subway size, but that seemed too boring.  In addition, I thought that the size and scale of the tile was important to balance the size of the hood as well as the amount of surface area/wall space we had intended to cover.  But, another issue had been that the sizes of tiles might have to be smaller because of the two windows on either side of the stove.  Her contractor wanted to continue the tile into the bay areas of the inset windows.


photo: Ei3s


photo: Ei3s

Huh?  No.  My suggestion was to have her contractor frame out the windows instead of tiling inside, which would then allow us to pick the right sized tile for the scale of the wall and to balance out the main wall feature…the hood.

And finally, I found a material that would warm up the white, and bring out some of the dark tones of the woodwork…that would allow for a rectangular subway-sized simple look, and yet add a little sparkle to glam-up her kitchen without taking the eye off of the main features — the chandeliers and the range hood.

Onyx!  But wow, with different lots, and different vendors, “white onyx” actually wasn’t so white.


photo: Ei3s


photo: Ei3s

And the onyx that we went with…


photo: Ei3s

One of the challenges of remote design work, and not ever actually seeing the space in person, is that compromises have to be made.  Initially the plan was to run the tile the full length of the hood wall (counter-top to ceiling), but what I couldn’t see from photos was that the rivets from the hood along the outside edges interfered with the way the tile was cut and would lay out.  So, the decision had to be made to run the backsplash along the hood wall, only as far up as the bottom of the hood.

Here’s the final result.

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photo: Gabor Design Build

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photo: Gabor Design Build

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.55.01 AM

photo: Gabor Design Build

after photos of kitchen:  Gabor Design Build

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