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I recently received this question from a reader who had JUST installed a new backsplash tile in her kitchen:

We recently redid our kitchen backsplash.  I loved the small backsplash sample and felt that it pulled out the light ivory in the granite.   However, once it was up on the wall I suddenly noticed it had a lot of grey in it.

I do not want to paint my cabinets or redo the backsplash if I don’t have to, I’m open to wall colors to try to pull it together or maybe under cabinet lighting. Any great ideas would be appreciated!!!

Backsplash Too Grey

I have seen this happen so much, It’s time to write a post about it. 

This is also the reason why I stopped specifying glass backsplash tile years ago. Not only does it change colour once installed, but constantly with different light, artificial or natural.

But this phenomenon of innocent looking ivory/beige/cream backsplash tile going grey once it’s installed even happens when it’s not glass (like the above kitchen).


Read more: Which Cream Subway Tile is Right

The only way to know how backsplash tile will look IN ADVANCE of it being installed, is to prop up at least 3 samples AGAINST a wall, with either white paint or white paper behind it.

If you skip this step because you think you’ve chosen almost white tile, you can easily make a mistake.

I was recently in a local consultation where the same thing happened with my clients backsplash. My client had chosen a white looking tile with subtle grey streaks in it, however on installation day, the more tile that went up, the greyer it looked, so she had it taken down and called me.

I did a little search to find some other examples of grey backsplash dilemmas, and there’s lots of them out there:

We installed Venetian Gold granite on Maple Cabinets and then picked out beige glass subway for the backsplash. Looked like a perfect choice in the store. After installation the backsplash looks really gray almost charcoal. We don’t have the time or budget to remove and replace. Any suggestions to help it all work together? Paint the walls in greige or gray? 

First, please make sure if you are installing backsplash tile, under no circumstances should you let the countertop installer come along and install the 4″ matching backsplash. If you already have it, don’t install backsplash tile until it’s removed.

Here’s another one:

Walls are being painted Revere Pewter/cabinets are staying natural cherry (maybe white in the future). This is the natural stone backsplash we settled on. I was looking for a stone without yellow undertones to give my kitchen a cooler look. Thoughts?

Again, this is another example of installing a trendy backsplash with a more dated kitchen. The existing subway tile is perfect in this kitchen. 

Once this grey subway tile goes up it will look like “new trendy backsplash, old kitchen”. Side note, this dilemma was posted 4 years ago and now that we are in the black and white trend, we will soon see this exact kitchen with a black backsplash, because “Look, there’s black specs in it, that means we can introduce black right?”

NO, NO, you cannot.

The only way to truly give this kitchen an update is to paint the cabinets, the end.


And I get it, when budget is a concern, and you’re looking at new, trendy grey trend kitchens everywhere, well this seems like an economical way to update a tired looking kitchen, if only it was this easy.

PS. Notice the black hardware in this white and grey kitchen with no black in sight (above)? Brass to tie in with the pendants would have been a much better choice. DO NOT, make black the default choice for everything.

No magic here

Back to my readers dilemma. I’d love to wave a magic wand and choose a new paint colour that will make it all come together but in this situation, there’s no magic.

My reader doesn’t want to change anything but paint, however the only other current choice (a complex cream to pick up the warm tones in the countertop) will make the grey backsplash look even greyer.

Over to you my lovelies! Who had your backsplash turn a different colour after it was installed? I’d love to hear your comments below! 

If you have a question for my What Would Maria Do? column, take photos without flash and in good natural light and email them here.

PS. For those of you who already have the VIP Collection (purchased before February), you are still eligible to purchase my recent update of 20 NEW colours. Email my team here to receive a link to purchase. They are only available for a limited time, first come first serve.

Related posts:

Interesting to Classic Kitchen Counter and Backsplash Makeover; Before & After

Top Kitchen Colour Trends from the Last 50 Years

How to Update 90s Granite and Make it Disappear

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  • Maryann Hartzell says:

    The floor, the counter tops, the backsplash, the cabinets–nothing worked together in that kitchen.

  • Jan says:

    I agree with Maryann. The cabinets are red, the floor brown, the brown granite is the first thing that i would have updated, and does that glass tile go all the way to the ceiling? Bless her heart. Painting the cabinets would help. I’m sorry, but I think my only other advice would to start saving for a kitchen update.

  • diana says:

    Good Morning Maria
    Heartbreaking to see these mistakes. If I had it to do over again, I would only do subway tile but too late to worry about it. The tile looks nice with my granite but nothing is better than a classic subway tile.
    Once the installer installs that god awful 4″ whatever, you can’t remove it without damage to your countertop. It has the same thickness as your countertop and installing tile would not cover up the damage. The one thing I would suggest is to put MDF the same thickness as the 4″ backsplash above it and all the way to under your upper cabinets. Then tile OVER the 4″ backsplash all the way up to the underneath of your wall cabinets. You would need to do a nice trim out where you would see this correction at the places where the tile ends. A lot cheaper than having the installer come in and saw out the 4″ backsplash not to mention all the dust.

    • Tammy Roberts says:

      Interesting ideas

    • Lynn Wilhelm says:

      That granite strip can be removed. It’s usually just installed with silicone. Maybe some installers do it differently in other places, but the most damage you’re likely to get is on the wall.

    • Sue says:

      You Cannot apply tile to MDF, MDF is paper and will suck all the moisture out of the adhesive. Plywood might work.

      • Lisa says:

        You’re exactly correct.
        MDF will disintegrate over time.
        Besides, that 4” back splash is a separate piece that’s “glued” to the wall. Easy to remove without much damage.

  • Lee says:

    Sorry but like the above reply it’s not a quick fix and definitely not a cheap one because not one color is complimentary to the other and you now have four. No matter what you try to fix next you will always have something that doesn’t match with the other elements. If I had to do one fix because this was all I could afford to do and its probably the cheapest to do. I would paint the cabinets a dark, dark brown or maybe black ( Maria ??? ). I think The darker colour on your upper cabinets will help with the white/gray backsplash. I believe it’s also the only colour you could do with those warm honey coloured floors. Even this will not do anything for behind your sink which is it what I believe is bugging you the most. Nothing can fix that except the removal of the backsplash. Although painting the cabinets is the cheapest solution that might buy you some time till you can completely redo your kitchen keep in mind this is a very, very -time consuming- project. Please, do lots of research first if you are doing the work yourself well before you start. From what I can see minimum 2 weeks. It might make your decision to redo kitchen a lot easier.

    Even if you were to completely Reno the kitchen backsplash,cabinets and counter you will have to work with those honey colored hardwood floors. And I believe that’s in the yellows. Because it’s the only element in your kitchen that’s staying as it looks like they are thru out the unit. Every colour you choose will have to pair with floor. This is where Maria comes back in! Good luck!

  • Ann says:

    Had the same trouble with glass tile a few years ago! Looked so perfectly soft gray in the store and in the daylight…installed it looked quite green. At the time I wondered if the paint color “showed through” glass tile. Never used glass tile again.

    • Melinda says:

      I’ve had the opposite happen to me – a lovely soft green tile installed in a black and white kitchen. A few months later I am sitting in the room across from the kitchen and just about spit out my drink when I realized the tile looked gray from a distance! LOL

  • Jess Hail says:

    I think you have to paint your cabinets if you wish to pull together the current hard surfaces (floors, counters, backsplash).
    I would paint them a light grey similar to your backsplash and then you have a pale grey and golden kitchen, with dark elements in your granite and hardware. Kitchen hardware may need to be changed or you can probably ‘decorate’ with a few black elements to tie it in. Shoot for a pale grey, black, and golden colour scheme. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would be much, much better. All the best!

  • Becky says:

    Paint the tile back splash! Kaleidoscope Living has tutorials/pictures!
    …SOOOOOOO grateful for my Maria-inspired plain ol’ white subway tile back splash…

    • Wendy says:

      That’s exactly what i would suggest! The tile backsplash is the problem, so paint it. Then you can at least have more harmony between the counters, backsplash and cabinets. The complex cream that Maria says is the solution should go OVER the tile.

      • Melinda says:

        I’m on the “Paint the backsplash” train too! At the very least it is a good temporary solution which will create some harmony in the space.

        • Rebecca Rob says:

          Yep, I agree, paint the tile backsplash! It seems like a sin it it’s really a quite accessible solution!

    • Lynn D says:

      I completely agree Becky – paint the new backsplash. I’ve done it, huge impact for a very minimal price. I used melamine paint and it hung in there several years before I sold the place.

  • Athena says:

    I am about to choose my kitchen backsplash within the next week or so. I have 5 samples of subway tile that are all in the realm of white and cream. I’m so thankful for finding this blog because I know what I need to do to help me choose the right one! Thank you Maria for all your wonderful advice!

    • Brenda says:

      We redid our kitchen in the fall and the best thing I did was to NOT use subway tile and, instead, put my Bianca Drift soft muted quartz countertop material on the wall as the backsplash. It’s very harmonious, nothing stands out which is what I wanted and it blends perfectly with my Revere Pewter cabinets which is more taupe than grey, which is also what I wanted.

      • LEEANN CHEELEY says:

        I have always matched my backsplash to my countertop & I take it up all the way to the bottom of the cabinets. I rarely see backsplash choices these days that look good. They always end up competing with other finishes & they never coordinate with all or, in some cases like this, with any of them. Taking your countertop up to make it a backsplash might cost a little more, but at least you are guaranteed a good look without all the anxiety & disappointment that accompanies most other choices because if you like your countertop, you will like your backsplash.

  • Christine menth says:

    Good morning!
    I would paint your walls Greige and change your cabinet pulls to match your faucet, silver OR change your faucet and pulls to a lighter color like champagne to cut the starrkness of the black there right now.
    Just my 2 cents 🙂

  • Janet says:

    I spent hours, perhaps days, back and forth from the tile store because every sample I took home did not end up being the colour I needed it to be once I put it into the space against the wall and the granite. At the time I thought I should have picked a less busy granite or chosen quartz and it would have been easier to find a backsplash. Having said that 10 years later, I still love the granite I chose. At the time, I decided to hold off on making a decision (renovation fatigue) and left the backsplash painted. Ten years later, I own that I love having no tile on my backsplash and that the backsplash has a clean and uncluttered look from the paint colour I used in the rest of the room (open concept kitchen into a grand room). I clean it regularly and plan on repainting soon but not because of the kitchen, because of the staircase and entry that has taken a beating from my family. Why isn’t leaving the backsplash painted a thing?

    • Cindi Anderson says:

      Same thing happened to me. I wanted a piece of stainless for mine, never got around to ordering it, and it’s been 5 years just painted wall color. And the house is a solidly-booked vacation rental that gets thorough weekly cleanings! I guess paint is tougher than we give it credit for.

    • June says:

      Janet (and Cindi!)

      So happy to see your responses regarding NO BACKSPLASH. For the renovation of our little beach cabin kitchen, we are on a shoestring budget and we have no backsplash yet for our Formica black slate counters. We considered putting in 5-inch white painted wood trim to match the walls, but after reading your experiences, think we will leave it as is!

      (P.S. I do love my easy-care black slate Formica. Used a black Sharpie to cover the golden brown edge–the only dead give-away that it is laminate. Looks great!)

    • Cynthia says:

      Totally agree with you! I basically did the same thing. I have a textured painted tile backsplash painted the color of walls. Simple and washable. No backsplash will ever really go with my granite. Like you, 11 years later I still like the granite. If I was choosing again I may not pick but I am ok with it mostly because I did not try to “match” a backsplash with it😂

    • Janet R says:

      I painted mine with chalkboard paint and did a checkered board in white chalk because I had to do something and was out of money at the time. I’m pretty happy with it still!

    • Terri says:

      Same thing in my kitchen. I couldn’t find anything I liked so we had just paint on there for almost five years and it didn’t bother me a bit. Finally put up a lovely subway tile last summer and have been pulling my hair out since then trying to get everything else in line. The painters are downstairs finishing up painting the cabinets and walls as I type. It’s better but still not exactly right. And I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been through Maria’s in person color training too! There just is no easy solution to fix a kitchen with granite countertops.

    • Sue says:

      Similar experience here. Gut renovation in 2003, decided against tiled backsplash, still happy with the painted wall now in 2021. The long-term shift from a kitchen as an isolated room toward incorporating kitchen into open concept suggests that kitchen walls should not look different from adjacent room’s walls.

  • AK says:

    Of course not everyone wants white cabinets. I know the cabinet color is current and it’s different than the floor but I personally wouldn’t want them to match. The wood adds warmth. The backsplash isn’t the best choice but it’s certainly not the worst one either! That color is in the counter. Sometimes you have to weigh out the cost and how much something bothers you; all the pros and cons. The photo shows only hard surfaces. There’s no rug, art, Roman shade,etc. in the picture. There are sometimes ways to decorate, repeat colors and help to make situations better.

  • AK says:

    Cabinet color isn’t current*
    Sorry typo

  • Sonja says:

    I’ve had a couple of houses where I couldn’t afford a tile change so installed vertical tongue and groove board and painted it. Yes, it has a traditional or country vibe but I loved it. We did this last year when we moved into our horribly outdated house along with changing to quartz countertops because the existing ones were rotting. It will carry us through until we can get to the kitchen reno that we actually want. In a previous house, we also added it to the island to carry the theme throughout. It was really cute. And cheap.

  • Shelley says:

    This is why we love you, Maria!! You have a good eye-and a wonderful gift of being able to isolate the problem and suggest a specific solution!! I thought of your phrase”Paint cannot do all the heavy lifting “ when I saw this kitchen…

    what about tips to decorate and take the focus off the surfaces? Like a patterned rug that brings some of the colors together?? I remember reading that you advise to do a little decorating if the finishes can’t be changed!!
    Thanks for your blog! You have saved me from making expensive mistakes!!

  • Lee says:

    I just thought of this, although, I have never tried this but in Home Depot/ Lowes I have seen a type of peel and stick tiles. The actual tile is extremely thin on the backing making it flexible and they come in sheets 12/12”. I vaguely recall only a few selections of colours but I do remember thinking it was a great idea!

  • Kj says:

    To the reader, the good news is that EVERYTHING in your kitchen is lovely even if they aren’t all 100% perfect together. Beautiful floor, beautiful cabinets, beautiful countertop, beautiful backsplash and fabulous appliances. Your only option now is to decorate, decorate the heck out of it! Find a vintage runner (maybe this one?×6-3ftvintage-turkish-rug-handmade-oushak-runner-rug-gray-turkish-anatolian-rug-halloween-gift-urban-rug/), buy some breadboards to prop in front of your backsplash (maybe like this?

  • TP says:

    Just an FYI the thin-set adhesive that is used for installing the glass tile will affect the color of the glass tile. If the installer used gray thinset, that would be an explanation of why you beige tile now looks gray after install.

    Another explanation may be that the sample you received and fell in love was from one dye lot and the actual tile you received was from another dye lot.

    For tile there is variation code EX: V3 = Moderate Variation. There will always be slight variation in tile.

    One should always ask to see a sample from current stocked warehouse inventory as sometimes the samples in the showroom may be older or from another dye lot. Learned experience to always ask and verify. Received tile for a bathroom remodel that wasn’t within the variance, it was actually a totally different color/undertone. The sample in the showroom did not match the product in their warehouse/change made by the manufacturer.

    To determine if the thinset was the issue, I would speak to the whomever installed the tile.

    1. Check the tile against the chosen sample prior to install to ensure it is the same color(or within the variation allowance).
    2. Hire a true tile installer, not just someone who can install tile. Why? They do this day in and day out. They understand tile and appropriate products required for required specific tile.

    • TE says:

      These are enormously helpful insights. Thank you.

    • All of what you said is absolutely correct. And the material used to install the tile should have been white and an experienced installer would know that.

      My other piece of advice is try using under counter lighting that is not LED, and if you can still get it, is either a xenon, or warm white fluorescent—hold it up underneath there and see if that helps. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff happened with newer LED lights even if they were adjustable and could be.Changed with a switch to 2700 K, 3,000 K, etc., the weirdness of the lighting really shocked me.

  • Cindi Anderson says:

    While I’m not a fan of the white kitchen like you, Maria, I am grateful for the lessons in not trying too hard to “make it interesting.” I swear half the photos I see in Houzz these days are just hideous with 4+ different tile colors and patterns, and non-matching undertones to boot! I’m doing a whole house and I admit it is hard to choose in this world of infinite choice. I’m definitely not playing it safe, going for mid-century type styles that could be considered trendy. But I’m only choose that deeply speak to me, that I have loved since I first saw them. But always in the back of my mind is “Don’t mix too many things, keep it simple, a little boring is good.” Better to commit to one scary thing and really commit to it, than wimp out and only use a little of it, plus and a little of that, and a little of something else.

    Ironically what really helps bring this home is seeing “reader photos”, because professional photographers can make almost anything look good.

  • Ryan Gaylord says:

    I feel for this woman! To spend the time and money on hard finishes is disheartening when it doesn’t turn out like your vision. We have had many home improvement projects not turn out – or half turn out due to the pandemic. We presently have half completed swimming pool (started in October 2020) and we are just waiting on the contractor to feel like coming back. We have rippling carpet and peeling laminate, and an improperly drilled hole in my quartz which took two years to replace. I hope her contractor works with her on this if they had a hand in the color skewing on this backsplash.
    I’m so glad I was “unimaginative” and went all off-white in my kitchen. Although it may sound trite, it has made life simpler. I believe the white kitchen is highly underrated.

  • Coco says:

    I find Maria’s blog so useful for three main reasons.

    One, she tries her darn best to keep people from following trends. Some ubiquitous trends have been over for 10+ years, like granite and glass tiles and vessel sinks; though many people still need reminding. Other trends are more subtle and I trust Maria to ward us off before we venture into these traps, like all-white kitchens and black/black/black. I’m not sure if she’s written about subway tiles but I’d love to hear her take. I know they’re considered classic and timeless but aren’t they the worst kind of trend when everyone (and I mean everyone) has them?

    The second reason I love following Maria is her straight up, honest advice when readers have design dilemmas, like today’s article. Also love when she posts different layout ideas for rooms. As a designer she sees what I don’t and I find it so useful to view the same room through her eyes.

    Third, she addresses issues that would never occur to me. Mulch color? Never thought about that in my life! But now it’s all I see when I drive around and I love that she made me aware of it. Floors as patterns? Of course they are, I just never realized it.

    And how to use color…of course, color! Thank you Maria!

  • Brigitte Moore says:

    We renovated our ensuite down to the studs, spending almost $16k, and part of that cost was ripping out the new tile backsplash. We also used it inside the shower niche. We chose a creamy white quartz counter, warm white sink, and painted the walls BM Simply White. We used a faux Carrara porcelain tile in the shower. The tile we chose was a mosaic combination of clear glass, mother of pearl, and marble (I’m not sure which marble). The sample we tested was mounted with white grout (thin set?) on a 12”square of plywood, and it looked lovely. Once the backsplash was installed, it didn’t look anything like the sample—it was GREY! It made the entire bathroom look horrible. We took pictures and went back to the tile store. They suggested that the contractor may have used a grey grout, but our contractor said he used white. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t live with it and had it replaced.

  • Nothing matches!!!
    I’d replace the countertops with a white marble-veined quartz. The veining would pick up the gray backsplash color and would be nice down the road when she can paint the cabinets white.

    If that is not possible, how about painting the backsplash to match the dark green in the granite?

  • Heidi says:

    I think one of the other issues is the style of the tile (glass, and the proportion of the height/width) is very modern, and the rest of the kitchen is more traditional. Sorry to say that, because ouch, that was expensive, I’m sure.

  • Noni says:

    Another idea is to install under counter strip or puck lighting in a warm colour- 2700-3000K. It can often warm a cool tile right up! I know many don’t like under counter lighting but I always recommend it to clients as I love it in my kitchen. If someone doesn’t end up liking it, the lights don’t have to be switched on. It works well for me for task lighting and creates some ambience when all the other kitchen lights are off.

  • Noni says:

    I meant under CABINET lighting, not under counter- LOL.

  • Lisa says:

    I might consider painting the glass tile (NOT the cabinets) with a glass paint. That would for sure be less prep work than painting the cabinets.

  • Robin L. Williams says:

    Vertical tile that doesn’t see much use, like backsplashes and fireplace surrounds, can be painted by a professional bathtub refinisher. You can chose any color to be custom mixed with a lead time, but most have a basic white or cream available. I had my fireplace surround painted and the refinisher mixed the standard white and cream to match my trim color, which saved time and a little money. I was so delighted to get rid of the pink beige tile! I got the idea from my mom who many years ago had her tumbled marble backslplash painted to coordinate with her newly- painted blue/green gray cabinets. This is a really inexpensive fix (at least in my area).

  • alyr says:

    LOL gurl you KNOW ivory/beige/cream is NEVER innocent.

    She should rip it OUT. Do drywall and paint. If you want a real “backsplash” because you splash food products up there while cooking, you can buy a small square slab of your countertop material, and just LEAN IT UP against the wall behind your range. (If you have space other wise just install it.)

    I work in people’s homes and seen it all – I have clients who’ve done this and it’s great.

    Paint with flat you can repaint over and over again after primer, too without any lines of demarcation.

  • Ann says:

    With my new kitchen, I had 3 patterns going on with floor, counters, backsplash. And paprika cabinets. Hated it. Painted cabinets off white, painted the quartz slate backsplash the same white with a pearl top finish. Added peppled glass to 2 door frames. Really improved it.

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