Making a splash

Designer Jackie Smith created these unique custom floor tiles where each one has a different plant inlaid prior to firing. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / November 14, 2012)

There is plenty of material to choose from when creating a kitchen backsplash.

Glass, tile, embossed concrete, punched tin, stainless steel, curved glass, subway tiles, marble, natural stone.

Designer Laura Kimball of LCK Interiors offers some advice for those planning a kitchen backsplash and how to coordinate it with your countertop.

Granite counters will always get a "wow!" reaction, but often the marriage of counter and backsplash ends in irreconcilable differences. A few concepts to consider before making lasting and expensive mismatches:

•Granite or composite stone counters can stand on their own; no need for the 4-inch matching backsplash if you are adding a full tile or stone backsplash.

•The counter and backsplash should carry a nice conversation with one another. They do not need to match; in fact, some contrast in pattern, color and style is ideal. The key is that the tile and counter should not compete. Determine which style, color, pattern is more prominent and let it be more prominent. The less prominent should enhance it, not detract from it.

• Tile is the typical solution. But think outside the box. Consider pressed tin, faux pressed tin, beaded board, wood, faux finishes, textures, wallpaper or art panels. But consider the product's attributes and understand how you use your kitchen. Splatter from red sauce and grease stain porous, light-colored natural stone. Cleaners or scrubbing may discolor metal tiles or erase painted or printed tiles. Wood may warp with moisture.

•One of Kimball's favorite backsplash looks is a continuation of the granite countertop to the walls. The vertical granite offers a different view of the stone pattern.

•Measure your space and map it out on the wall; you might not have as much space as you think. Is there enough area between counter and cabinet to see the pattern you are creating?

•There are many tile layout options. Your tile installer may not appreciate your creativity, but consider simple tiles in interesting patterns. The website happy-floors.com/page/installschemes/ shows dozens of tile layout patterns It also offers beautiful porcelain tiles and green products.

•If you are looking to resell your house, consider classics like 3- or 4-inch smooth, tumbled or honed marble or travertine tiles. Place on the diagonal or in a staggered brick pattern for added character. These are timeless classics; perhaps add a few variations or a deco tile insert.

•Consider when you might want to change it. Trends are fun and exciting, but they can be costly to keep up with. Most deco patterns will look dated faster than simple patterns.

•Beware of your puppy-love commitment to painted or printed tromp l'oeil tiles like groupings of wine bottles, veggies, fruits, shells, Tuscan vineyards, etc. Will you love that color, design and style glued to the wall five years from now? Remember, you can always use those specialty tiles on a board, treated like an art piece, and hang them on the wall — then remove them if or when you lose interest.

•Spanish tiles and delft tiles are finding their places again in kitchen backsplashes, providing instant color, character and flair. Perhaps focus them on one area, or use as deco or border tile.

•Subway tiles in a brick pattern are both a classic design and very popular today. Consider subway tiles in the classic 3-by-6-inch or mosaics in a 1-by-2-inch, 2-by-4-inch, or 3-by-9 inch configuration. There are many variations on the rectangular classic.

•Mosaics go beyond the half-inch square bathroom tile. Explore endless possibilities with a variety of shapes, colors, styles and textures all on the same sheet.

•Glass tiles are beautiful, reflective and eye-catching. Choose your grout well and be conscious of the color beneath a clear or transparent tile.

•Metal is in. Whether covering the whole wall or as a metal element, it offers a unique texture, reflective surface or patina.

•Change the direction: a subway tile or the very popular narrow-stacked pencil mosaics typically horizontal can be placed vertical as well, creating a very different look with the same material.

•Don't forget to consider your grout. Kimball typically recommends a midtone color found in the tile itself. Different tiles need different kinds of grout, applied in specific ways. If you aren't sure, try it on a test board first. Use a urethane grout for durability, stain resistance and to avoid cracking. You may have to seal your grout before daily use.

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