Do You Put Backsplash on Side Walls? The Complete Guide

Backsplashes are an important design element in any kitchen. Not only do they protect the walls from water damage and stains, but they also add visual interest and tie the whole space together. But should you install backsplash on the side walls in addition to the back wall behind the countertop? There are pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to put backsplash on side walls.

What is a Backsplash?

A backsplash is a decorative, protective wall treatment installed on the wall behind a countertop, most commonly behind a kitchen sink or stove. The purpose of a backsplash is twofold:

  • Protect the Walls – Backsplashes prevent water damage, staining, and food splatter on the walls behind sinks, stoves, and countertops. The water-resistant materials used for backsplashes such as ceramic tile, metal, glass, and stone make them easy to clean and durable.
  • Add Design – Backsplashes provide an opportunity to add color, texture, and personality to a kitchen. They can complement the countertops and cabinetry and help tie the whole kitchen together.

Backsplashes are typically made of tile (ceramic, stone, glass) but can also be created from metal, wood, laminate, and other materials. They range from 4-6 inches in height on average and run horizontally along the wall behind a counter surface.

Should You Install Backsplash on Side Walls?

The key question many homeowners face is whether they should install backsplash only on the back wall behind the countertop or if they should extend it onto the side walls as well. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros of Adding Backsplash to Side Walls

Continuous Look – Extending backsplash to the side walls creates a continuous finished look on the walls from countertop to cabinets. This can make the space look larger and feel more put together.

Additional Protection – Having backsplash on the side walls provides extra protection from water, grease, food stains, and damage. This is useful if the side walls are right next to a sink or stove.

Design Impact – Carrying the backsplash to side walls allows you to create a more impactful design statement. It enables continuous patterns, accent stripes, mosaics, or designs that wrap around corners.

Consistency – If only doing a small backsplash area behind the stove or sink, covering the adjacent side walls creates a more consistent finished look.

DIY-Friendly – Tile side walls are often easier for DIYers than drywall finishing. It can tidy up rough edges and flawed paint lines.

Cons of Adding Backsplash to Side Walls

Higher Cost – Obviously installing backsplash on additional walls will increase material and labor costs compared to a single back wall application.

Visual Busyness – Too much backsplash can make a kitchen look cluttered or smaller depending on tile pattern and color choices. Simple is sometimes better.

Functional Overkill – The back wall behind a counter experiences the most spills, splatters, and needs protection. Additional backsplash may exceed the functional need.

Darkens Room – Covering numerous walls in tile or other materials can potentially make a kitchen feel darker if opting for darker colors versus light walls.

Moisture Issues – If backsplash seams are not properly sealed, extending the installation to side walls introduces more potential for leaks and moisture issues behind the tile.

Factors to Consider for Your Kitchen

There are several factors that may influence your decision on whether to add backsplash to the side kitchen walls or limit it to just the back wall:

  • Your budget – Backsplashing additional walls will increase cost. Make sure it fits within your kitchen remodeling budget.
  • Kitchen size and layout – Smaller galley kitchens can benefit from opening up visual space by minimizing backsplash. Larger kitchens have more room for creative side wall backsplash designs.
  • Your design style – Do you want an all-white minimalist contemporary look? Or a bold, colorful, traditional style? Your backsplash vision should align with your overall kitchen aesthetic.
  • The look you’re going for – For a seamless, upscale appearance, continuous backsplash is great. But for cottage or farmhouse styles, less can be more.
  • Stove or sink placement – Are these elements on an interior wall or on the outside kitchen wall? Backsplash is most useful right behind them.
  • Existing kitchen elements – If your surfaces, paint, cabinets, and counters are in good shape, limit backsplash. Use it to accentuate worn or flawed areas.

Consider these factors as you decide the best backsplash approach for your unique kitchen and goals. Don’t be afraid to mix and match either. You may want a full back wall backsplash but only decorative accents on the side walls.

Full Back Wall Backsplash

Installing backsplash tile or other materials on just the back kitchen wall is a classic, simple way to incorporate this important design element. This delivers functionality at the workspace as well as vibrant style.

Back Wall Only Backsplash Ideas

  • Complete back wall – For a seamless, upscale look apply continuous backsplash across the entire back counter work area.
  • Above sink and stove – Focus backsplash installation on just the wall portions behind and surrounding the sink and stove/range.
  • Accent sections – Use backsplash selectively in focused accent areas on the back wall for splashes of color and texture.
  • DIY back wall – Even a small simple 4-6 inch strip of backsplash tile across the back wall provides elegance and protection.
  • Island back walls – For open kitchens with a center island, consider a coordinating backsplash on the island back wall for continuity.
  • Outside back wall – Make the most impact by limiting backsplash to only the more visible outer kitchen wall if you have an interior back wall as well.

Tips for Back Wall Only Backsplash

  • Only apply to clean, flat walls for proper installation
  • Use bullnose edging tiles on side edges for a finished look
  • Accentuate backsplash with under cabinet lighting
  • Combine mix of materials like metal and glass for interest
  • Incorporate outlets and switches seamlessly into the design

Full Backsplash – Back Wall and Side Walls

For a unified, expansive backsplash look, extending the installation onto the side walls can create a gorgeously finished kitchen. Blending protection and beauty throughout the work area.

Full Backsplash Design Ideas

  • Continuous clean lines – Install identical backsplash across all surfaces for a seamless contemporary look. Great for sleek subway tile.
  • Wrap around peninsula – Extend backsplash to wrap all the way around a kitchen peninsula for dramatic impact.
  • Varying heights – Go above usual height on specific accent walls or sections to draw the eye up.
  • Mix up materials – Use a combination of materials (marble on back, metal on sides) for more character.
  • Pattern play – Use shifting patterns, mosaic designs, inlaid metals to transition the backsplash installation across spaces.
  • Contemporary concrete – Create a modern industrial feel with polished concrete backsplash on multiple walls.
  • Matching side walls – On both sides of stove, sink or other elements, mirror the same backsplash design to tie it together.

Tips for Full Backsplash Installation

  • Plan adequate ventilation to avoid moisture issues behind extensive tile
  • Accentuate edges and transition points in the design for interest
  • Work in harmony with cabinetry, paint, and counter finishes
  • Group outlets conveniently and camouflage into the design
  • Expect a professional installation process requiring multiple days

Partial Backsplash – Side Wall Accents

If covering every kitchen wall in backsplash seems excessive, consider integrating beautiful backsplash accents along key side walls. This allows you to strategically supplement the back wall installation.

Partial Backsplash Design Ideas

  • Blended accents – Add side wall backsplash as blended extensions of the backwall design flowing organically onto side areas.
  • Focal points – Create strong focal points with intense backsplash art or patterns on specific side wall sections.
  • Frame range/stove – Flank the cooking area with matching backsplash strips on side walls to frame it.
  • Protect vulnerable walls – Spot treat high traffic side walls prone to damage near entries, tables, or work areas.
  • Accent window – Install a backsplash component like a strip, medallion, or geometric shape around a kitchen window.
  • Dramatic end cap – Anchor one end of the kitchen with an end-to-end backsplash installation on a side wall.

Tips for Partial Backsplash Installation

  • Tie side wall accents in with back wall color and/or content
  • Use bullnose edging for clean look where backsplash ends
  • Only apply to fully clean, prepared, level walls
  • Outside corners are prone to cracking – reinforce with backerboard
  • Avoid abrupt endings by tapering side accents gradually

Backsplash Height Considerations

Proper backsplash height is both a stylistic and functional consideration. Some common approaches include:

  • Standard – Typically installed at 4-6 inches above the counter surface. Provides essential protection while allowing display of decorative walls.
  • Full height – For full impact, backsplash can extend all the way from counter to cabinets, approximately 18 inches. Requires meticulous installation.
  • Focal points – Incorporate occasional higher points over 12 inches for added drama, like behind a stove hood or on an accent wall.
  • Half wall – For a lighter look, backsplash from counter to 36-42 inches high. Gives more visibility to wall paint.
  • Floating – Install the lower ledge above the counter, and a matching smaller top ledge near the cabinets, with wall exposed between.
  • Above range – When backsplashing a cooktop wall, protect above the stove with tile extending to the range hood.

Backsplash Styles and Materials

From sleek stones, ornate mosaics, rustic woods, polished metals, and radiant stained glass, backsplash possibilities are endless. Consider the abundant backsplash styles and materials to realize your kitchen vision:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

  • Subway – Classic 3 by 6-inch rectangular glossy tiles in endless colors.
  • Mosaic – Small artistic tiles forming stunning patterns and imagery.
  • Spanish – Colorful, intricate, hand-painted ceramic tiles.
  • Arabesque – Thin, elongated octagon or hexagon shape with ornate designs.
  • Crackled – Glazed ceramic tiles mimicking aged cracked finishes.

Natural Stone Tile

  • Marble – Elegant veining with upscale classic charm.
  • Travertine – Sophisticated neutral tones with natural holes and texture.
  • Slate – Rustic layered character and pleasing grey/purple hues.
  • Limestone – Understated, organic look with creamy whites and tans.
  • Onyx – Vibrant, translucent striated patterns.

Other Impactful Materials

  • Glass – Sleek, shiny, modern glass tiles or mixed natural pebbles.
  • Stainless steel – Sleek, professional look for contemporary kitchens. Easy to clean.
  • Wood – Warm, organic, cozy look. Often used vertically for slat walls.
  • Tin – Retro, industrial aesthetic mimicking a corroded metal look.
  • Laminates – Budget-friendly faux finishes like faux stone, brick, and wood.

Backsplash Installation Tips

Proper backsplash installation is critical to achieving a long-lasting, high-performing result. Here are top tips for a successful installation:

  • Thoroughly clean and prepare the wall surfaces prior to beginning installation. Remove existing wallpaper or other coverings.
  • For tile, select a high quality adhesive appropriate for the tile and wall material. Many also require sealant.
  • Meticulously apply the adhesive to create a uniform thickness and use a notched trowel for even distribution.
  • Carefully follow proper tile spacing standards for the specific tile type to prevent cracks and adhesion issues.
  • Use plastic tile spacers to maintain even grout line thickness between tile edges.
  • Make precise cuts, especially around corners, outlets, or edges for a seamless look. Use bullnose tiles along visible side edges.
  • For finished corners and edges, install trim pieces intended for walls, not floors, for proper fit and appearance.
  • Wait proper adhesive cure time (12-24 hours) before applying grout between tiles.
  • Clean grout lines thoroughly before grout fully cures. Follow with a quality grout sealer for stain protection.
  • Caulk between backsplash and countertop or cabinets to prevent water intrusion behind the tile.

FAQs About Backsplash Installation

Should backsplash go all the way to the ceiling?

Not necessarily. Standard backsplash height is 4-6 inches. Full height can look great but requires high quality installation. Partial height options like a 4-inch backsplash with floating ledge near the top offer a lighter look.

What is the maximum backsplash height?

There is no absolute maximum height restriction. Full floor-to-ceiling kitchen wall backsplashes are possible. However, heights above 6 inches require expert installation and are prone to cracking and adhesion issues from moisture, grease, movement. 12-18 inches is common.

How far should backsplash extend on side walls?

This depends on your goals. For just an accent, 6-12 inches onto side walls can work well. For a fully wrapped look, extending to 18, 24 or more inches can be impactful. Keeping side extensions in harmony with back wall height usually looks best.

Should backsplash match on side and back walls?

Uniformity across surfaces can look clean, modern and upscale. But mixing up materials, styles, or designs between the back and side walls offers more character. There’s no right or wrong – just personal preference based on the look you adore.

What height should backsplash be above stove?

It’s recommended to extend backsplash at least 8 inches above the stove burners. Even better is to go all the way up behind a range hood or exhaust fan. Full coverage of the wall behind and around the stove protects this high heat, splatter and grease zone.

Innovative Modern Backsplash Ideas

While timeless classics like subway tile never go out of style, don’t be afraid to push boundaries with bold, innovative backsplash ideas:

  • Vibrant colors like jewel-toned turquoise or crimson red used creatively can bring kitchens to life.
  • Don’t limit to just ceramic or porcelain tile. Get creative with wood, patterned laminates, or metals like hammered copper or rusted tin panels.
  • Take inspiration from Moroccan, Spanish, Indian or other global design motifs and patterns for an exotic feel.
  • Install irregularly stacked slabs of stone or reclaimed barn wood for an organically rustic appearance. The imperfections become the charm.
  • Make a modern minimalist statement with sleek solid surface backsplashes in white or concrete grey tones.
  • Script meaningful quotes, poetry, or song lyrics across your cookspace for an artsy vibe.

Backsplash Maintenance Tips

While backsplashes are built to handle the demands of a busy kitchen, proper maintenance keeps them looking like new:

  • Seal grout lines regularly with a penetrating grout sealer according to manufacturer directions to prevent staining and damage in grout joints.
  • For grease splatters on tile, promptly clean with warm soapy water or degreasing cleaners formulated for kitchen tiles.
  • Stick to non-abrasive soft scrub pads or sponges to avoid scratching the tile surfaces during cleaning.
  • Rinse completely after cleaning and dry with a soft cloth to prevent soap scum buildup.
  • Be cautious with acidic cleaners like vinegar or lemon juice which can etch and dull the tile over time.
  • Re-apply caulk regularly between the backsplash and countertops/cabinets to prevent moisture penetration behind the tile.

Achieving Your Dream Backsplash

Determining whether to install backsplash across just the back wall or to extend it onto side walls as well revolves around personal style, kitchen layout and practical needs. For a contemporary seamless look, full wrapping backsplash can look stunning. But limiting to key accent areas can stretch your budget while still adding depth.

Whichever route you take, investing in this critical kitchen element delivers beauty, protection and joy every time you cook for years to come. With thoughtful planning and design considerations and professional or meticulous DIY installation, your ideal backsplash awaits. Bring your kitchen dreams to life!