Overview

tile backsplash
Illustration by: Gregory Nemec
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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.
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    Tools List

    • two-foot level
      2-foot level
    • 16-foot tape measure
      Tape measure
    • rubber float
      Rubber grout float
    • tile nippers
      Tile nippers
    • 3/16-inch v-notched trowel
      3/16-inch V-notched trowel
    • caulk gun
      Caulking gun with tub-and-tile caulk
    • bucket with sponge
      Bucket and sponge
    • tile cutter
      Score-and-snap tile cutter
    • wet saw
      Optional: Motorized wetsaw,
      rents for about $45 to $70 a day, plus blade rental, is invaluable for notches and other complex cuts

    Shopping List

    1. DECORATIVE TILE

    2. LISTELLO TILE

    border



    3. CERAMIC FIELD TILE

    4. BULLNOSE TILE

    5. UNSANDED TILE GROUT

    6. ACYLIC TILE MASTIC

    1 gallon for every 50 to 60 square feet



    7. CLEAN CLOTH

    8. 80-GRIT SANDPAPER

    9. CANVAS DROP CLOTHS

    to protect floor and countertop