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You may be surprised to learn that there are a few other kitchen backsplashes that I adore almost as much as subway tile. So, if you’re tired of subway tile, but still want to choose a timeless backsplash, here are eight of my favourite subway tile alternatives!

Can we begin by busting one of the biggest myths about me?

It’s absolutely not true that I ONLY approve of subway tile backsplashes. 

Yes, I do believe you can almost never go wrong with subway tile for timeless versatility and longevity. However, in an extraordinary range of backsplash situations, it’s not the only good option.

I’m always surprised when a reader or client says, “Maria, I know you won’t approve, but I really want a blue backsplash.”

Well, heck yes, I approve. If you’re going to be decorating with blue and it suits your kitchen, absolutely, thumbs up! Go for it. 

Here’s where I might stop you. I don’t want to see a busy backsplash with several colors in a very specific trendy pattern, because:

1. that is going to dramatically limit your decorating choices

2. it’s going to look tired and dated much sooner than something more simple

And I want you to love your home (or your kitchen) for a long time – not just the average two-year lifespan of a trendy tile pattern.

My favourite backsplashes that aren’t subway tile

So, to finally dispel the myth that I only like subway tile, here’s a roundup of my favourite pretty backsplashes that are NOT (gasp) subway tile. 

1. White, off white or cream tile backsplash in almost any shape that suits your kitchen

Well, of course, my first choice is still a white backsplash. 😉

Whether the kitchen is white, stained wood, or painted a colour, a white backsplash creates a crisp look that introduces or maintains a fresh look overall – especially when it visually connects to a pale or white countertop. Wood and dark kitchens need the “fresh air” and balance of a white backsplash. And white kitchens look seamless and unified with a matching white backsplash.

DecorPad

I wrote about why I don’t recommend a contrasting grey backsplash here. Essentially, the minute you install a backsplash in a neutral colour, your walls want to be that colour to look their best forever. Pretty limiting.

And white is NOT a boring choice. Why? Because it’s more boring to have to decorate around a specific taupe backsplash for its lifespan. Instead, think of all the endless decorating and styling options a white backsplash offers.

Remember, it’s most useful to think of the backsplash as the backdrop and not the star of the show.

International Decorating Surfaces

White tile gives you that. And choosing a pretty shape you love is a definite bonus.

Hex, penny, basketweave, herringbone, honeycomb, or picket are just a few to consider. Matching white grout makes it a more subtle pattern that you will never tire of. Just know that geometric shapes with lots of sharp angles tend to look more modern overall and can look out of place in a more traditional-looking kitchen. 

2. White or cream zellige tile backsplash

As I wrote about here, I’m a fan of the zellige tile trend. You can still opt for mostly white or cream. The imperfect handmade character of these tiles offers the artisanal warmth we are looking for as colour trends also warm up.

They work equally well in more rustic and modern kitchens. The square cut is timeless and they offer subtle tonal shifts and some shimmer. Zellige tile is very versatile if the budget allows it. If not, there are lots of decent porcelain tiles made to have the handmade zellige look.

COLOUR TIP: Always make sure any white or cream tile relates to the other white finishes you’re installing.

Cream Zellige Tile Backsplash

Jaime Baird via Pure Wow

3. Marble or quartz kick backsplash

The marble or quartz kick is another trend that can look old world and traditional or quite modern, depending on the setting.

Not every kitchen needs backsplash tile installed the full height between the underside of the cabinets and the counter. Depending on the placement of windows, the height of the wall, and other layout elements, sometimes installing a full tile backsplash can look a bit arbitrary or forced. That’s where a clean 2.5 inch kick in the same material as your countertop can look clean and unfussy. You can then run a higher slab up behind the range or if you want to accommodate some open shelving in some cases.

A simple kick creates a very elegant pared-back look. Read more about the no backsplash alternative to subway tile here.

marble quartz backsplash

Bria Hammel Interiors via Decor Pad

4. Quartz or marble slab backsplash

Another popular and pretty way to keep it simple is to install a slab of the same stone as your countertops onto the wall as a backsplash.

This look is gaining popularity. And if you have a pretty marble you want to show off, it’s much more of a feature running up the wall than laying flat on the cabinets only. However, if you’re considering this look, pay close attention to pattern placement and how any veining will be placed once installed. Make sure it looks balanced and proportional.

Also, be aware that it’s probably an over renovation unless you have a higher-end kitchen with a pretty custom hood fan and cabinetry.

Elizabeth Roberts 

5. Beadboard backsplash painted to match the cabinets

A more accessible and budget-friendly choice for a simple backsplash is beadboard. Painted to match the cabinets, it gives a traditional kitchen a beautifully integrated look. Painted beadboard backsplashes offer practicality as well as a polished simplicity when it looks like its part of the millwork.

Water’s Edge Woods

6. A solid colour tile backsplash

If you really want colour on your backsplash, choose a tile that offers a solid block of colour rather than a busy pattern. Often a busy pattern dates much more quickly than a solid finish. So, if you’re clear you’re decorating with blue, green, or yellow, AND you already have a decorating plan in place to pull the colour in, go for it! Install a happy colour on your backsplash especially if you are trying to inject some life into a slightly boring kitchen.

Adding tile in your favourite (solid) colour is always a classic backsplash choice. 

Cle Tile

7. Wallpaper backsplash

I love this solution if you really want pattern and colour in your kitchen, but you don’t want to commit to a trendy tile.

Sometimes kitchens are functional but less than interesting spaces. A good wipeable wallpaper in a charming pattern can really wake up a space without too much commitment. There are gobs of lovely peel and stick papers out there in every imaginable colour and motif. And, that might be just the thing to inject some charm into a rental kitchen, or a kitchen waiting for a bigger makeover. Or, even as the star of a really pretty kitchen design.

Wallternatives

8. Pale natural stone or brick backsplash

If you want a more rustic look in your kitchen, there is certainly a place for the warm texture of brick or natural stone.

My preference for a natural stone backsplash is a solid painted brick again, for versatility. Or, if you want stone, choose a very pale green grey or almost white limestone in a smoother cut. 

Jessica Buckley Interiors

Did you know that travertine is trending again? But I’m not ready to give it my blessings for a travertine backsplash yet. We are all STILL too busy removing the miles of travertine backsplash tile all over the continent to be ready for that yet. And besides, my guideline about grey backsplashes applies equally to pink beige travertine. I don’t recommend that you corner yourself unnecessarily into pink beige walls to coordinate with a travertine backsplash.

If you need help with your kitchen finishes, you can purchase my  Create a Timeless Kitchen package here. Please note, we cannot help you choose backsplash tile without the full kitchen package, read this post to find out why.

To learn how to choose the right white, you can download my White is Complicated: A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White ebook here.

Related posts:

If you are drowning in decisions for your new kitchen read this post

Ask Maria: What’s Next After Subway Tile?

My Sisters New Kitchen; Surprise! it’s not Subway Tile 

Ask Maria: Which Cream Subway Tile is Right?

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39 Comments

  • Mary Anne says:

    Still liking white subway tiles …on my second kitchen of using just the white !! What can I say!!

    1
    • Maria, I get plenty of women who want white when the more appropriate color is cream or off white because of the countertop it’s going next to and a white would look off. I know you put in the tip, but you might want to make a slight edit because of the ads that bury your tip. Love ya!

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  • alyr says:

    Great post. Surprised nobody ever talks about CLEANING ALL THAT GROUT OMG. I’m all for the slab or the paintable! Yes, I cook alot of tomato sauce haha. These selections are more tricky for people who actually cook. Or CLEAN. I have a client who simply leaned a chunk of her granite countertop against the wall behind the stove and it looks cool.

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    • Claire Seng-Niemoeller says:

      We had a backsplash installed with epoxy grout over a decade ago. It still looks brand new, and mine is a working kitchen too. Not all tilers know how to use this material without making a mess, and it’s not for the DIY renovator. But epoxy grout is what places like restaurants use in their kitchens. It does not stain, and repels dirt and bacteria. I almost wish mine WOULD stain. I’m tired of my backsplash, but have no logical (ahem, husband-approved) reason to switch it out. The discussion continues, and I’ll keep Maria’s timely post bookmarked for sure. A white porcelain tile backsplash with white epoxy grout would be wipe-down easy for years.

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      • Jeanette says:

        Thank you for letting me know about your experience with epoxy grout. You don’t know how many contractors I spoke to saying regular grout is just as good. They are probably just saying that because they don’t know how to work with it.

  • DJaclyn says:

    Whether it be subway tile or another non trendy style, the photos you have shown in this post are stunning and truly represent so much of your classic and timeless aesthetic. I love your approach to design and always being true to your mission to give the best long term advice to your clients.

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  • Lizah says:

    Wait, wait, wait. The 2.5 inch kick is back?? I feel like you used to rail against those and advised not to listen to countertop installers who tried to insist. Is that only true for granite/laminate counters?

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    • Stacy says:

      I believe it was not to have a kick and tile backsplash. One or the other. But for the longest time, the update we were seeing was to add a tile backsplash when the house already had a 4″ kick of granite. Then you had the problem of matching (or attempting to match) the granite and the tile, which too often went so badly with the travertine. I wouldn’t personally go so short as 2.5″ on a kick because it looks to me like a mistake whereas 4″ looks deliberate.

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    • Maria Killam says:

      It’s the standard 4” kick that should be avoided at all costs 👍🏻

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    • Penny says:

      What makes it current is the shorter 2.5” vs the older 4”. See DeVol kitchens for great examples. It does have a much fresher, cleaner look IMO.

      1
      • Gloria Anderson says:

        Thanks, but I’m not sure that I understand why a 2.5 is an improvement over the 4. And if you used a 2.5 would you still put wallpaper or something (not tile) on the walls?
        Thanks to Penny and Maria!!!
        Gloria

        • Penny says:

          Not sure my husband with the mixer would hold up to either one😹. Tile backsplash best at my home. . .

  • Laura says:

    Hi Maria, Whew! I’m glad to read that white is not the only option you approve! Even though I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now, as well as all your prior posts, I went ahead with a grayed-blue glass tile backsplash in a herringbone pattern and I love it! Cabinets are white so it’s a nice contrast. Love your blog, and your e-books have been so helpful in choosing paint colors for the whole house!

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  • Katherine says:

    I have off white beveled subway tile with matching grout in my new build and I love it. Over the years, in my experience, highly alkaline products like bleach and Bar Keepers Friend, and highly acidic cleaners like vinegar
    do not get my grout clean enough, and these harsh cleaners seemed to cause the grout behind my sink to disintegrate. Now I use Dawn dishwashing liquid and a soft bristle toothbrush, and it makes my grout look new again.

    I hang art on my backsplash! I put an inexpensive print in a floating frame and attach it to the tile with Command strips. So inexpensive!It looks beautiful and in the rare case that something splashes on it, I clean it off with Windex. My hood is pretty high above my stove, so I can hang it quite high above my range, so it has less exposure to heat and splashes. If you do a lot of stir fry or splattering fat, especially if your hood or microwave is quite close to the stove, this might not work for you. I cook simple vegetarian dishes, and avoid using the back burners on my 5 burner stove unless the pots have lids on them.

    Thanks for the great post, Maria!

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    • Liz says:

      That’s a great tip about the Dawn dishwashing liquid and your backsplash sounds lovely with art hanging on it.

  • Bette says:

    Some great options, including that beautiful wallpaper that has me going hmmm… The only one I’d reject outright is the bossy marble backsplash — to me, that is equal to or even more limiting than a patterned or colorful backsplash. I like the idea presented by one of your readers, whose client simply leaned a slab of her countertop behind the stove. Portable, practical, and changeable.

  • Liz says:

    Maria, I’m with you. I love the look of timeless white Subway tile, but I cannot use it in my current kitchen. I have Santa Cecilia granite counters, espresso cabinets white walls and wood floors. White subway tile looks too Stark. And I hate beige! I regret that granite And the espresso cabinets, but they are not going anywhere. I’m lost. What do you suggest? Many thanks in advance.

  • Nancy says:

    Maria – I’m still
    Loving a all white kitchens just so many ways to warm it
    Wood bar stools large cutting boards any color I want to use
    Boring it might be to some but I love a all white kitchen .
    Thanks Maria
    Enjoy your blogs

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  • Karen says:

    I am starting to think that Zellige is going to lose its charm and trendiness.

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    • Shelley Bleu says:

      Same here. Has been overdone and I have been wondering how easy it is to keep them clean over the years, because they are uneven. Without regular proper cleaning they will end up looking dingy.

      I love the look of them from the first time I saw them back in 2015.

  • Kay says:

    I love most of your suggestions, Maria, although the one with the smaller sort of oval tile looks way too busy for me.

    We chose subway tile for our kitchen renovation, and I still loved it. It’s from the original subway tile company, much higher quality than you get at Home Depot, and I matched it to the white in my Carrara marble counters. I also matched the pale gray grout to the marble. Still very happy after 8 years.

  • Keira says:

    Excellent and highly useful post! Thank you!

  • Sue B says:

    What backsplash would you recommend for countertops that are Cambria “Clovelly” quartz? The main color of the quartz isn’t white, but are there other subway colors that might work?

  • Christy says:

    What backsplash would you recommend for an L-shape kitchen, where the window wall has no uppers (but rather a very large window), and the rest of the walls have uppers? I would love white subway tile on the walls with uppers, but do not want it to go to the ceiling on the window wall. Would it look odd to have a 4″ countertop backsplash on the window wall (or just one row of subway tile), and white subway tile go up to the cabinets on the other walls that have uppers? Not even sure if it’s possible to have those 2 materials (the countertop backsplash & subway tile) meet up in the corner.

  • Sheree Jones says:

    Glad to hear travertine is on the way back in, as I have three bathrooms swimming in it.

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  • Adelaide says:

    I had white subway in my previous kitchen – followed Maria’s advice – and never tired of them. In this house I have glass backsplash, very common in Australia, and I love it too. Easy to clean, I use half meths/half water and paper towel. My current home is a different style, my cupboards are not white and neither is my backsplash. But they are neutral, a soft silvery griege, as is the backsplash. They cupboards were here in the house when I bought it, and I find it a very peaceful backdrop. The backsplash read too yellow and was not wrapped around all the walls with counter space, so I changed that – I’m messy with a Bamix. Perfect backdrop to the coral colours in my room. Every time I see a highly patterned backsplash I wince, and think “you’re gonna get sick of that before the new trend arrives” or “you must have more money than I have to play with if you’re willing/able to go through the the expense and mess of continually changing your backsplash”. Ultimately the user has to be happy, and this is always Maria’s bottom line. She just offers common sense approaches to achieving a classic look in a variety of ways with affordable options. And if you mine this blog there’s much sage advice to be found. I have followed it for 13 years – congrats Maria – I was away for that post, but a big thank you. I do smile every time I walk into my home, even if I do have an abundance of lamps, or maybe because of it ;)!

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  • Kristin Weigand says:

    Thank you Maria for this article and for sharing other timeless backsplash options besides subway tile. As much as I tried to fall in love with subway tile, it wasn’t happening. When we updated our kitchen, we decided on a Calcatta gold marble backsplash in a lantern pattern and it makes me so happy every time I look at it. It has just enough warm white to go with our kitchen cabinets, silver to go with our appliances, and gold to go with our knobs and pulls.

  • Janet R says:

    We added on over 20 years ago did most of the work ourselves after the walls were up. It took a long time until I had actual cupboards. We weren’t experienced with tile, so I put making a decision off. It’s a very small area because of a large window. One fine day I decided to use chalk paint because I had some. I added a checkered boarder with, well, chalk! It was supposed to temporary but it’s been at least 10 years and I’m very happy with it.
    I love the look of those yellow tiles! If I ever do it I’ll go for blue.

  • Ellie says:

    The second one is very pretty and especially with the slightly coloured grout which highlights the pattern. I think over time I’d find it too busy for me as my tastes lean more to simple, but it is lovely in the photo.

  • Kirsten L Pool says:

    Love this post! Thank you.

  • Holly says:

    Maria, my mom and brother keep trying to get me to put in gray backsplash tile and discourage subway tile because they think subway tile is boring and my black granite has subtle specks of gray throughout so the gray tile will bring out the (subtle) gray in the granite. I said that is not happening and I’m sticking to my guns and going with white subway tile that will match my white cabinet color. I don’t want to be locked in to gray neutrals forever with my open concept kitchen, living and dining room. To be honest, they are sick of hearing me say your name lol but my brother wants me to help him pick out paint colors for his remodel since the paint colors i chose using your system for paint colors throughout my house look so good!

    I’m so grateful I found your blog before I started my remodel because I too think anything that has a pattern will eventually date, but I don’t usually realize that until it’s too late and tend to get caught up with what’s new and shiny out there. I’m so glad I purchased your eBooks and now have a classic and timeless kitchen. I’m so grateful for you! Thank you! 🙂

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  • Fra Na says:

    What a fun read. When we built our retirement home I followed you advice . We put in white oversized subway tile and LOVE it. We also used epoxy grout as mentioned above. It was nice to see we followed Maria’s advice even before I knew about her. Our old home had bead board that we painted white along with the cabinets.
    Our daughter-in-law wanted something different so she used white penny tile in her white kitchen. Still timeless but a little unique.

    Thank you Maria for your blog and on line books I couldn’t be happier with our home.
    .

  • Julie says:

    This is a great list and easy to understand, thank you. I did take your advice and went with white subway tile in an older kitchen, but I did choose grey grout to go with the counter. I neither love or hate it and maybe that’s the point 😉 If I had to do it again I think I would choose white in another shape. Not sure white grout would ever be a good idea for me though.

  • Cindi says:

    I really hate the look of zellige. It looks sharp and messy to me. I’m surprised it’s so popular.

  • Treace says:

    I really appreciate your articles, humour, and wise advice, Maria! We’re currently building a kitchen and thinking about (gasp) NO backsplash?! We’ll have quartz counters – including a slab for the wall behind the stove – so, with a window behind the sink, the two main splash-zones are covered. There are also two other large windows so we won’t have any upper cabinets at all, and I’ll be honest, I’m kinda loving the simplicity. Is it crazy – or a design faux pas – to have no backsplash?

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