A kitchen backsplash is an important design element that serves both form and function. Choosing the right backsplash location is key to maximizing its visual impact and practical benefits. This comprehensive guide will examine the optimal placement of backsplashes in kitchens of all sizes and layouts. We will provide tips on height, proximity to countertops and cabinets, and how far the backsplash should extend to create a cohesive look. Read on for professional advice on where to strategically install backsplash in your kitchen remodel or new construction.
Determining Backsplash Height
One of the first decisions when installing a kitchen backsplash is choosing the appropriate height. The standard backsplash height is 4 inches, but this can be adjusted based on your design goals and needs:
Full Height Backsplashes
A full height backsplash extends from the countertop all the way up to the underside of the upper cabinets. This creates a dramatic look that fully protects the wall behind a stove or sink. Full height backsplashes are recommended for:
- Freestanding stove installations – Prevents grease buildup on walls
- Messy cooks – Provides ample splatter protection behind cooktop
- Contemporary, modern kitchens – Creates a sleek, uninterrupted look
- Rooms with high ceilings – Draws the eye upwards for balance
- Tall, large tile use – Shows off large format tilework
Standard 4 Inch Backsplash Height
The most common backsplash height is 4 inches. This hits just below the bottom lip of wall-mounted cabinets. A standard 4 inch backsplash works well for:
- Traditional kitchen aesthetics – Matches typical backsplash proportions
- Budget-friendly installs – Uses less tile for material cost savings
- Standard cabinet heights – Aligns with typical distance below cabinet framing
- Protecting between countertops and cabinets – Catches spills and splatters in key areas
Partial Height Backsplashes
Some designers opt for a shorter backsplash that extends only 1-2 inches above the countertop. Reasons for a small partial backsplash include:
- Contemporary, minimalist designs – Keeps lines and surfaces clean and uncluttered
- Vintage, farmhouse aesthetic – Echoes the look of old-fashioned dry sink areas
- Glass tile use – Allows the beautiful transparent tile to shine
- Open shelving instead of upper cabinets – Allows wall surface to show through
Once you decide on the overall height, make sure your backsplash installation aligns properly with cabinets, countertops, ranges and sinks by using a level during the installation process.
Backsplash Placement Relative to Countertops
Another important planning step is determining where you want the backsplash positioned in relation to countertops below and cabinets above. Here are some standard placements:
Align Top Edge with Cabinet Framing
Having the top edge of the backsplash meet the bottom framing of wall cabinets creates a finished, integrated look. The two surfaces will be slightly offset but align gracefully.
Overlap Countertop Edge
Letting the bottom edge of the backsplash overlap the countertop slightly (around 1/4 inch overhang) ensures full coverage and no gaps where water could seep behind.
Inset from Countertop Edge
For a sleek, contemporary look, the bottom of the backsplash can be indented from the countertop edge. This creates a slender reveal line between the two surfaces. Make sure to caulk tightly to prevent moisture migrating behind.
Align with Inside of Sink or Range Cut-Out
When planning backsplash placement around sinks or ranges, aligning the tile with the interior cut-out edge results in minimal gaps to grout and caulk. This gives a tidy appearance.
Overlap Sink or Range Cut-Out Edge
Overlapping the edge of a sink or range cut-out fully protects the exposed wall edges from splashes. This is the most water-tight, seamless option. Take care to precisely match the overlap on the top and bottom if choosing this method.
How Far Should a Backsplash Extend?
The third key planning step is determining appropriate backsplash length. Here are some general guidelines:
Extend Length of Full Countertop Run
For a unified look, extend the backsplash across the entire length of counter. Having it end abruptly can look choppy and disjointed. Matching the entire counter run creates flow.
Cut Backsplash Around Appliances
To integrate appliances like refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers into the design, cut the backsplash around them. This makes the appliances feel like part of the backsplash composition.
Run Continuous Around Peninsulas and Islands
For peninsulas or kitchen islands with seating space on the outer side, run the backsplash continuously around the entire perimeter for a completed vibe.
Match Architectural Features or Wall Breaks
Aligning the ends of the backsplash with interior walls, changes in ceiling height or other architectural details will make the length feel intentional. Avoid ending randomly mid-wall.
Go Floor to Ceiling for Maximum Impact
Installing backsplash tile from floor to ceiling can create a huge visual impact. This works especially well in open concept kitchens as a focal point. Make sure to properly prep and waterproof drywall first.
Special Considerations for Unique Kitchen Layouts
Beyond the typical kitchen footprint, there are some special backsplash placement considerations for unique kitchen layouts:
Galley Kitchen Backsplashes
Galley kitchens feature two parallel runs of cabinets and counters. Backsplashes should be continuous down each side. Having them meet at inside corners is ideal for easy cleaning.
A common approach for kitchen islands is to do short partial backsplashes on seating sides. This allows the main wall cabinets and counters to be the visual focus.
Peninsula Backsplash Considerations
For peninsulas connected to walls on one side, carry the backsplash continuously around both sides for a finished look. An alternative is to do only a rear backsplash.
Backsplash Around Cooktop Separations
For divided cooktops with ventilation hood separation, either do two separate stacked backsplashes or one continuous backsplash spanning the gap.
Backsplashes for Oddly Shaped Countertops
Follow inside curves and coves of unusually shaped countertops with cut tile. Make sure to caulk gaps for water management. Conceal any uneven top edges with decorative trim.
Backsplash Finishing Options
Installing the tile is only one aspect of the backsplash. Proper finishing is equally important for a quality result:
Match Kitchen Edge Profiles
Edge backsplash corners and profiles to coordinate with the counter edging for a cohesive finished look. For example, use bullnose tile with bullnose counters.
Caulk Perimeters and Seams
Color-matched caulk between the backsplash and countertops, along corners, and around fixtures creates a near-seamless transition with no cracks for splatters to soak into.
Seal Around Electrical and Plumbing
Fill any gaps around faucets, soap dispensers, outlets, light fixtures, and switches with caulk or sealants to prevent moisture intrusion into the walls.
Add Decorative Molding or Trim
For a layered, furniture-style look, install decorative crown molding, stacked trim, or other special details along the top or bottom edges of the backsplash.
FAQ About Backsplash Installation Locations
Some frequently asked questions about strategically placing kitchen backsplashes include:
Should backsplash tile be installed before or after countertops?
It is best practice to install backsplashes after countertops are in place. This allows you to rest the bottom edge of the tile on the countertop for support during installation.
Should backsplash go around window over kitchen sink?
Continuing the backsplash around a window over a sink protects the window sill and trim from water damage. Use caulk to seal edges where the tile meets window frames.
Can backsplash tile be installed directly over drywall?
Backsplashes can be installed over properly prepared drywall, but cement board provides an ultra-sturdy base for tile adhesion. Waterproofing is also needed before tiling over drywall.
Should backsplash stretch across stairway openings?
For kitchens open to stairways, continuing the same backsplash treatment across the stair opening creates visual unity. The stair railing can be inset into the tile area.
Should backsplash tile align with focal points like range hoods?
Aligning backsplash tile patterns, colors or textures with focal points like a range hood draws the eye to key features. This enhances the kitchen’s angles.
How do you finish an edge when backsplash ends in middle of wall?
Ending a backsplash mid-wall can look choppy. Options to finish the edge include lining it with metal trim strips, bullnose tile, decorative molding, or simply caulking for a clean line.
Achieving an Optimal Backsplash Layout
Strategically mapping out kitchen backsplash placement is an important planning step when designing your cooking space. Focus on choosing appropriate backsplash heights, relationship to countertops and cabinets, desired length of coverage, and specialized treatment around unique kitchen layout features and appliances. Pay close attention to properly finish all edges. Get the layout right and your beautiful new backsplash installation will deliver maximum visual appeal and functionality for years to come.