Backsplashes are an integral design element in many kitchens. Not only do they serve a functional purpose by protecting the walls from splashes and spills, but they also provide an opportunity to add visual interest, color, texture, and personality to your kitchen. When designing a backsplash, one of the first considerations is determining where to start and stop it. There are a few guidelines to follow, but ultimately the placement should complement your design aesthetic and kitchen layout. In this article, we’ll explore the factors to consider when determining where to start and stop backsplash.
Where to Start Backsplash
When deciding where to start the backsplash, there are two main options:
Start at Countertop level
The most common placement is to start the backsplash at the countertop level. This creates a seamless transition from countertop to backsplash, allowing the counter and backsplash materials to integrate smoothly. Starting the backsplash at countertop level contains splashes to a defined area and prevents water from getting behind or underneath the counters.
This standard placement works well for most countertop heights and backsplash materials. It provides full protection for the walls behind sinks, ranges, and other wet areas. It also gives plenty of design space to create an impactful backsplash that anchors the kitchen.
Start Below Wall Cabinets
Some designs call for starting the backsplash below wall cabinets. This creates a gap between the countertops and where the backsplash begins. Reasons for using this placement include:
- Accentuate height: Starting the backsplash below the cabinets can help create the illusion of higher ceilings, making rooms feel more spacious.
- Highlight cabinets: A gap between the countertops and backsplash puts more emphasis on the wall cabinets. This can be a good option if the cabinets are an integral part of the design.
- Match existing backsplash: If you are replacing countertops but want to keep the existing backsplash, leaving a gap may help tie the old and new materials together.
- Prevent blocking windows: Lower wall cabinets with windows above are common. Starting the backsplash below prevents it from obscuring the windows.
If starting the backsplash below cabinets, 3-4 inches of space usually provides separation while still containing splashes. The gap can also be used to incorporate design elements like decorative trim molding.
Where to Stop Backsplash
Determining the end point for the backsplash influences the overall look and function. Here are some common stopping points:
Stop at Wall Cabinets
Ending the backsplash where wall cabinets begin is a very common design. It contains the backsplash to the primary workspace while allowing the cabinetry to make a design statement. It also lets cabinets, wall color, or other elements stand out above the workspace.
This works well for traditional full-height backsplashes made of tile or other materials installed up to the underside of wall cabinets. It offers full coverage where protection is most needed.
Stop Before Wall Cabinets
Stopping the backsplash before reaching wall cabinets creates another gap, this time between the top of the backsplash and the bottom of the upper cabinets.
Reasons for using this placement include:
- Showcase wall color or texture: Exposing the wall above allows wall color, wallpaper, or other design features to become part of the backsplash design.
- Add visual interest: A gap can separate the backsplash from wall cabinets to make each stand out.
- Work with floating cabinets: Using floating cabinets leaves space to highlight the wall behind. Stopping backsplash before cabinets accentuates the floating aesthetic.
- Allow room for décor: The gap creates space to hang artwork, shelves or other décor on the wall between the backsplash and cabinets.
- Fit shorter backsplashes: Glass, metal or other non-tile backsplashes may not extend to cabinets. Allowing a gap gives them room.
For a coordinated look, keep the gap between backsplash and lower cabinets consistent with the gap between the countertops and backsplash. For example, if there is a 4 inch gap below, leave a similar gap on top.
Full Height Backsplash
A full height backsplash extends from the countertops all the way up to the ceiling. This provides the maximum amount of protection as the backsplash completely covers the wall behind the kitchen workspace.
Full height backsplashes work especially well in contemporary, modern or commercial-style kitchens. The continuous surface creates a sleek, cohesive look. It becomes an expansive canvas for creative use of materials like oversized tile, metal sheets, or glass.
Full height backsplashes can also incorporate open shelves, floating cabinets, or displays mounted in front. This allows incorporating display areas without breaking up the backsplash design.
Consider the following for full height backsplashes:
- Use water-resistant materials like glass tile or metal that can withstand splashes.
- Incorporate electrical outlets inside the backsplash to maintain the smooth appearance.
- Add floating shelves, racks or cabinets in front of the backsplash for an integrated look.
- Include an accent strip or change of materials two-thirds up the wall to avoid a monolithic look.
Factors that Influence Placement
Several factors impact where you can or should start and stop a backsplash. Assessing these elements of your kitchen layout can help determine optimal backsplash placement.
If you are changing countertops but want to preserve the existing backsplash, you may be limited on where the new countertops can end. Make sure to leave enough room for the backsplash to show and not be covered or damaged by new countertop installation.
Standard countertop depths are 25” deep. Extra wide or deep countertops change the transition point between countertop and backsplash. Make sure to account for countertop overhangs and thick edges too. Measure carefully so countertops and backsplash align properly.
Many countertops have a 1” – 2” front overhang beyond the cabinet faceframe. The overhang can also influence where the backsplash should begin to maintain proper proportions. A standard 1⁄2” overhang is usually built into the backsplash measurement. But anything deeper needs to adjust backsplash starting point.
Cabinet height, depth, and installation impact backsplash placement. Standard wall cabinets are 30” high and 12” deep. When mounted 18” above countertops, this places bottom cabinet edges at 48” above the floor. Use this as the top ending point for traditionally installed backsplashes.
However, cabinets installed higher raise the stopping point. And shallower floating cabinets move the point in. Adjust to maintain a consistent gap between backsplash and lower cabinets.
Heavy natural stone or large format tile backsplashes require strong structural support. This may limit dropping below wall cabinets. Lighter materials like glass tile or metal can handle the span below cabinets with proper brackets. Make sure the material choice suits the installation area.
It’s common for kitchens to have a row of wall cabinets with windows above. Make sure the backsplash doesn’t cover or block windows. Starting below the cabinets keeps the backsplash clear of the windows. Leaving a gap between backsplash and lower cabinets maintains balance.
Sink and Range Placement
Coordinate backsplash area with sink and range placement. The backsplash should protect the wall behind these appliances. If utilities are centered in the work area, a standard backsplash height behind the sink and range often works. But if appliances are offset, adjust backsplash placement to properly cover.
In addition to the functional factors, backsplash placement should complement your overall kitchen design. Here are some aesthetic considerations for starting and stopping backsplash:
Varying backsplash height is a design option to make it a focal point. A full height backsplash makes a contemporary statement. Stopping low draws eyes upward. An extra tall backsplash can give a furniture-like appeal. There are no set rules – height can match your personal style.
Backsplashes don’t have to span the full length of countertops. An option is to accentuate specific areas like behind sinks or ranges with a backsplash, while leaving other areas open to the wall. Mixing heights and lengths creates interest.
When backsplashes connect at inside corners, give thought to ending points. Ending them at the same height keeps things simple. But taking them to different heights or extending one past the other adds design flair. Consider sightlines and utility placement.
Using one continuous backsplash around an outside corner can create a wrapped visual. If you have two distinct materials or styles, treat each wall separately. Ending at the corner with panels overlapping slightly softens the transition.
Backsplash Materials and Patterns
Using multiple materials, patterns, colors, or textures allows defining specific spaces like sinks or work zones. Consider combining materials to highlight areas and make them a focal point. Give thought to where patterns and joints align. Staggering adds interest.
Common Backsplash Height Examples
Here are a few examples of common backsplash heights and placements:
4 Inch Backsplash
A 4 inch backsplash typically starts at the countertop level and stops below wall cabinets. The small size allows for a gap above and below to highlight other materials. A 4 inch height works well with materials like glass tile and sheet metal. Make sure there is additional wall protection.
Photo: Kitchen with 4 inch backsplash stopping below cabinets
10-12 Inch Backsplash
A 10 to 12 inch high backsplash is a minimalist approach that starts at the countertop and goes partially up the wall. It offers moderate protection while allowing open wall space above. Subway tile and mosaic sheets work well at this height. Use durable materials since the backsplash is still within reach.
Photo: Kitchen with 12 inch backsplash tiled on the lower portion of wall.
18-24 Inch Backsplash
18 to 24 inches is a common backsplash height starting at the counter and ending below wall cabinets. At this height it provides ample coverage for daily activities while leaving open wall space to display decorative items. Materials like ceramic tile, metal sheets or reclaimed wood work well at this mid-range height.
Photo: Kitchen with an 18 inch backsplash below Shaker cabinets
Full Height Backsplash
A full height backsplash starts at the countertops and extends up to meet the ceiling. It provides full protection for the kitchen walls. Materials like giant marble or granite slabs, glass tiles and porcelain panels work well when taking the backsplash all the way up. Don’t forget an accent strip or break 2/3 up.
Photo: Contemporary kitchen with floor to ceiling stone backsplash behind cooktop and sink.
Tying It All Together
When determining where to start and stop your backsplash, assess the overall kitchen layout, design style and functional needs. While standard heights and placements are common starting points, don’t be afraid to get creative! From minimalist short backsplashes to oversized statement pieces, you can customize placements to match your personal taste and kitchen aesthetic. Use areas like inside and outside corners to change things up. Combining multiple heights, patterns, materials and colors allows defining specific spaces. And don’t forget to have fun with it. The backsplash is a chance to showcase your unique style!
Below are some frequently asked questions about determining backsplash placement:
How high should a backsplash be?
A standard backsplash height is 18-24 inches, installed below wall cabinets. Full height, ceiling to countertop backsplashes are also popular. Non-tile materials like glass and metal often work best under 18 inches. There is flexibility to adjust height to your preference.
Where should backsplash start in relation to countertops?
Most commonly backsplashes start at the same level as the countertop. This provides a seamless transition and contains splashes. Backsplashes can also start a few inches below countertops to create a gap if desired.
Where should I stop my backsplash in an open concept kitchen?
For kitchens open to dining areas, consider continuing backsplash along serving spaces for function. For completely open designs, stopping at the end of cabinetry helps visually define kitchen boundaries.
Should backsplash go around corners?
Wrapping backsplash around inside and outside corners creates a continuous look. Another option is ending each wall’s backsplash separately with panels slightly overlapping at corners. Choice depends on design and material transitions.
How do I know if backsplash will cover my outlets?
First determine outlet placement relative to your planned backsplash height and length. Full height backsplashes often require moving outlets inside backsplash area. For other heights, adjust outlet height if covered.
Should backsplash match countertops?
Matching provides a smooth, seamless appearance. Contrasting materials and colors creates separation and dimension. The choice comes down to personal preference and overall design approach.
Can I use multiple backsplash materials?
Definitely! Using different materials in designated areas can define specific functions and make the backsplash a focal feature. Coordinate placement with transitions between materials.
Determining where to start and stop your kitchen backsplash impacts both aesthetics and function. While standard heights like countertop level or just below wall cabinets are common starting points, you can customize placements to perfectly complement your kitchen’s layout and design. Consider countertop dimensions, cabinet placement, appliance locations, windows, and corners when planning placement. And don’t overlook opportunities to create drama and interest through unexpected materials, combinations and asymmetrical designs. Use the guidelines provided along with your personal vision to create a backsplash that makes a stylish, functional statement.