How to Herringbone Backsplash

A herringbone backsplash can add a classic, timeless look to your kitchen. Installing a herringbone pattern on your backsplash is an intermediate DIY project that requires some tiling experience and attention to detail. With proper planning and preparation, you can achieve a stunning herringbone backsplash in your kitchen.

What is a Herringbone Pattern?

A herringbone pattern refers to an arrangement of rectangular tiles set at 90-degree angles to one another so they resemble a “V” shape. The rows interlock to create a continuous zigzag design. Herringbone patterns have been used in architecture and design for centuries. The interlocking rows provide both visual interest and strength to structures.

In a kitchen backsplash, a herringbone design can be created using subway tiles, rectangular ceramic tiles, glass tiles, or natural stone. The symmetrical and clean look of a herringbone backsplash can complement many kitchen designs from modern to traditional. The pattern manages to look both classic and contemporary.

Benefits of a Herringbone Backsplash

There are many advantages to choosing a herringbone pattern for your kitchen backsplash:

  • Timeless and classic look that suits both modern and traditional kitchens. The zigzag design has been popular for hundreds of years.
  • Interlocking rows are more durable and rigid than running bond tile patterns.
  • Visually draws the eye to the center of the backsplash surface adding depth and dimension.
  • Elegant visual texture and interest while still being a clean, orderly design.
  • Works with variety of rectangular tile materials: subway tile, ceramic, glass mosaic, natural stone.
  • Easier DIY installation than more intricate tile designs. Straight cuts are required.

Overall, a herringbone backsplash can add a touch of timeless sophistication to your kitchen. The interlocking tile pattern is elegant yet understated.

How to Plan a Herringbone Backsplash

Careful planning and preparation will ensure your herringbone backsplash installation goes smoothly. Follow these planning steps:

Choose your tile material: Subway tile, ceramic, glass and stone tiles all work well in a herringbone pattern. Choose the size, texture, and color that fits your kitchen.

Measure the space: Measure the height and length of the backsplash area to determine how many tiles you will need. Remember to account for uneven walls and backing materials.

Make a layout: Sketch the backsplash area showing outlet placement, windows, etc. Plan the tile layout and determine the center point.

Calculate material needs: Factor in 10% extra for cuts and waste. Don’t forget the mastic and grout. Match grout color to your tile.

Gather tools: Use a tile cutter, spacers, trowels, and sponges made for your tile material. Have safety gear on hand too.

Prime the surface: Seal porous drywall or apply mortar to cement backerboard. This provides adhesion for the tile.

Pick pattern direction: Decide whether to run your herringbone vertical or horizontal based on backsplash dimensions.

With thoughtful planning, you can feel confident starting your herringbone tiling installation. Take time to make decisions and calculations to avoid issues down the road.

How to Install a Herringbone Backsplash

Once you have done the prep work, follow these steps for a successful DIY herringbone backsplash installation:

Step 1: Mark Your Starting Point

  • Identify the center point of your backsplash area. Mark a vertical and horizontal line through the center point using a level.
  • These reference lines will guide the layout. All tiles should be aligned and angled based on these marks.

Step 2: Dry Lay Rows

  • Start in the corner and dry lay bricks in the herringbone pattern out from the center lines.
  • Use spacers between tiles to simulate thin-set mortar lines. Ensure tiles align properly.
  • Dry lay a few rows adjusting as needed to evenly distribute cut tiles. Don’t install tiles yet.

Step 3: Mix Thin-Set Mortar

  • Mix thin-set mortar adhesive according to manufacturer directions. Consistency should resemble peanut butter.
  • Use a mortar suitable for the tile material. Only mix enough thin-set for area you can tile in 20 mins.

Step 4: Apply Thin-Set Mortar

  • Spread thin-set using flat side of trowel to rough coat the area.
  • Use notched edge of trowel held at 45 degree angle to create ridges for tile adherence.

Step 5: Install Tiles in Sections

  • Working in small sections, lay the starter tile against your horizontal line.
  • Build out rows using spacers. Gently press and wiggle tiles into the thin-set. Check alignments.
  • Cut edge tiles as needed for ends/outlets using tile nippers and wet saw. h4. Step 6: Allow Thin-Set to Cure
  • Let thin-set mortar cure for at least 24 hours before grouting. This allows full adhesion strength.
  • Don’t walk on tiles and avoid water contact during curing. Check for raised edges to press back down.

Step 7: Mix and Apply Grout

  • Mix grout with water per package instructions. Apply grout using a rubber grout float.
  • Spread grout at a 45-degree angle pressing into mortar lines to fully pack joints.

Step 8: Clean Excess Grout

  • Let grout become firm, then wipe across tiles diagonally using a damp sponge.
  • Rinse sponge frequently to remove excess grout residue and keep water clean.
  • Use minimal water. Too much water can cause grout discoloration or cracking.
  • Allow grout to cure fully for 72 hours. Avoid heavy cleaning during this time.

With focus and care, you can achieve professional-looking herringbone pattern tile results! The interlocking zigzag design will add a touch of timeless sophistication to your kitchen backsplash.

Tips for Achieving a Perfect Herringbone Pattern

Follow these tips as you install tile in a herringbone layout:

  • Maintain the proper angle between rows which should be 90 or 45 degrees. Consistent angles are key.
  • Keep tile edges aligned and spaced evenly using plastic spacers for clean grout lines.
  • Ensure your starting point lines are truly vertical and horizontal using levels.
  • Work methodically in small sections for easier installation than doing all at once.
  • Make slow, controlled cuts when nippering edges. Rushing leads to jagged edges.
  • Blend cut edge tiles throughout rows. Avoid clustering them together.
  • Check patterns for straightness and alignment as you go back frequently.
  • Use tile leveling systems if struggling with keeping tiles flush and aligned.
  • Be patient! Herringbone patterns take concentration and time. Don’t rush.

Following a meticulous process will help you achieve the signature sharp symmetrical herringbone design.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

It’s easy to make slight mistakes that disrupt the symmetry and clean lines of a herringbone pattern. Be mindful of these common errors:

  • Rows are uneven or tiles don’t align resulting in a crooked pattern.
  • Tiles are spaced inconsistently creating uneven grout line widths.
  • Cut edge tiles are concentrated in one section instead of dispersed.
  • Grout lines don’t form continuous straight lines intersecting at 90-degree angles.
  • Tile edges chip, crack, or become uneven when making nipper cuts.
  • Thin-set mortar is uneven leading to tiles set at incorrect heights or angles.
  • Working in large sections causes tiles to become unaligned or slide out of place.
  • Rushing the job and not allowing proper cure times for thin-set and grout.

With care and vigilance, you can avoid these mistakes in your herringbone backsplash project.

Herringbone Pattern Variations

While the traditional herringbone has rows meeting at 90-degree angles, some design variations put a unique spin on the classic pattern:

Chevron Herringbone

The rows point outward from the center in a sharp chevron shape rather than zigzagging. Provides a bold geometric look.

Vertical Herringbone

Thin brick-shaped tiles are installed in the herringbone pattern vertically up the wall rather than horizontally. Allows tall installations.

Double Herringbone

Tiles are laid in opposite directions creating a diamond pattern. Provides enhanced shadow and texture.

Stacked Herringbone

Rows are stacked closely almost touching rather than the traditional spacers between rows. Offers bolder contrast.

Herringbone with Accent Tiles

Colorful glass, metal or ceramic accent tiles are integrated into the herringbone pattern to add pops of color and visual interest.

Get creative with the angled shape of the classic herringbone pattern! The simple zigzag design can be customized to suit your unique style.

Tile Options for Herringbone Patterns

A wide variety of tile materials are suitable for use in a herringbone pattern backsplash:

Subway Tile

Classic 3 x 6-inch glossy or matte subway tiles are a budget-friendly option. Use contrasting grout lines for added definition.

Ceramic Tile

Available in endless shapes, sizes, colors and finishes. Check ratings for kitchen backsplash use. Porcelain is very durable.

Glass Tile

Small glass mosaics reflect light beautifully. Penny rounds or crackled glass add texture. Use care when cutting to avoid shattering.

Natural Stone

Materials like marble, travertine and granite provide organic beauty. Requires extra care cutting to prevent cracking tile edges.

Metal Tile

Adds contemporary shine. Stainless steel, copper, bronze and other metals make a bold statement. Use care when nipper cutting edges.

Mix and match materials for further visual interest. For example, pair shiny metal penny tiles with neutral white subway tile in your herringbone pattern.

Backsplash Designs to Complement a Herringbone

While a herringbone backsplash makes a striking statement itself, you can enhance the design by pairing it with other patterns and materials:

Accent Border

Frame a herringbone backsplash with a border of contrasting colored subway tiles or mosaic tiles.

Decorative Listello

Add vertical strips of decorative listello tile between sections of herringbone for an eye-catching accent.

Mixed Geometric Patterns

Incorporate herringbone with horizontal, vertical, and diamond-shaped tile designs.

Three Dimensional Tiles

Fireclay tiles with relief add handcrafted texture when combined with herringbone.

Marble Inserts

Thin marble pencil liners or geometric marble tile adds hints of luxury.

A herringbone backsplash can act as a classic neutral backdrop for all kinds of creative embellishments. Let your design imagination run free!

How to Maintain a Herringbone Backsplash

A herringbone backsplash requires simple ongoing maintenance to keep it looking fresh:

  • Use non-abrasive cleaners to avoid dulling natural stone or glass tiles. Avoid acidic cleaners on marble.
  • Seal grout periodically with a penetrating grout sealer to prevent stains and discoloration.
  • Re-apply grout in any areas that become cracked or hollowed over time. Match color carefully.
  • Check for loose, cracked or damaged tiles. Remove old thin-set and replace tile if necessary.
  • Use caulk instead of grout at the countertop/backsplash joint. Caulk tolerates movement better than rigid grout.
  • Wipe up spills promptly to avoid discoloration of grout lines or tile faces.
  • Consider applying a tile sealer on porous natural stone tiles to increase stain resistance.

With regular cleaning and observation, a herringbone backsplash can stay looking like new for years of beauty and enjoyment in your kitchen.

Herringbone Backsplash FAQ

Get answers to common questions about installing and living with a herringbone backsplash:

Is a herringbone pattern hard to DIY install?

The repetitive angled pattern does require more precision than a basic grid layout. Having some tiling experience is beneficial. Taking it slow and using levels/guides ensures a professional look.

Does tile orientation matter for herringbone patterns?

Yes, tile should be installed with the length parallel to the countertop, not the height. This prevents lippage between rows.

What thin-set mortar is best?

Use white thin-set meant for the specific tile material. Latex modified thin-set has more flexibility. Get the consistency right – like thick peanut butter.

Can you use large format tiles?

It’s not recommended. The small grout lines in herringbone need the stability of smaller tiles. Large tiles are prone to cracking and height variations.

Is herringbone only for subway tile?

No, it works with any small rectangular tile including glass, ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone. Just make nipper cuts carefully on fragile materials.

Should grout lines all be the same width?

Yes, keeping grout line width consistent using spacers maintains the clean symmetrical look of herringbone. Some variance is inevitable.

Can herringbone go to the top of the wall?

It can, but ending at the standard backsplash height (18-24 inches) is most common. Extending to the ceiling makes for a major tiling project!


A herringbone backsplash brings a distinctive look of classic elegance to your kitchen. Setting rectangular tiles in shifting angles creates cool visual interest with texture and pattern. While installing a herringbone design requires patience and precision, the gorgeous results are well worth the effort for many DIYers.

With appropriate planning, materials, tools and care, you can achieve a stunning herringbone backsplash that injects sophistication into your cooking space. The interlocking zigzag tile pattern manages to look simultaneously vintage and fresh when done properly. Let creativity guide you in making a herringbone backsplash that showcases your personal style. This timeless look will bring you joy for years to come!