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My Sister’s Fresh New Backsplash: Before & After

By 08/26/2012April 25th, 202177 Comments

My sister Elizabeth inherited her kitchen with glazed creamy cabinets, chocolate brown walls (that’s what they were before we painted the walls CA100 Beechwood or BM HC-45 Shaker Beige or PPG 414-4 Dusty Trail) and a very busy and blotchy laminate countertop.

The first thing we changed was the colour soon after they moved in.

She wanted to go lighter than the pink beige we were forced to select because the problem with glazed cabinets is that you end up with beige instead of cream, her cabinets had been glazed with a mocha colour which ended up turning them slightly pink beige.

And notice how much gold/yellow there is in the countertop and even in the dark tumbled marble backsplash? Any of the colours with yellow in it looked terrible with her cabinets. Going lighter didn’t work because then it started looking like we were trying to match the cabinets but failed. The glazed/beige cabinets needed more contrast.

If you’re paying attention, the wall colour still doesn’t match her cabinets perfectly because to do that we would have had to go with an even pinker beige and she didn’t want that.

Elizabeth added changing out the tile to her wish list and in July on her Birthday, her husband Bill arranged to have a new backsplash installed. And she was very happy.

When the tile installer dropped in to provide a quote and Elizabeth handed him the cream subway tile we had chosen he took one look and said:

“Do you know that the tumbled marble you have already is VERY expensive? And do you know that subway tile is the cheapest tile you can buy?”

Elizabeth was unfazed. Yes, she said.


And just a little side note, if you have undergone any renovation, you have probably listened to everyone give their opinion. And you are probably quick to ask any of the trades who do this all day long ‘What do YOU think?

And if you heard an answer like that and you were not convinced on your own from talking to me (or your designer), or reading this blog, you might think “OMG, maybe I’m making a mistake? Maybe this is a bad choice?”

Don’t do that!! Stick to your plan. Who cares if subway tile is cheap? You can’t have every surface in your kitchen scream ‘Look at me, look at me!’

If you’ve just installed stone countertops, you know how expensive that is already! It’s nice to save money somewhere. It’s cheap because it’s the simple solution which in this case is the best solution!

elizabeths backsplash



The lumpy corners beside her kitchen windows bugged her the most. “Every day, I look at them and am annoyed.” she told me.

So we made sure the installer took them up to the top instead of leaving them halfway. The existing rounded corners was the biggest reason they were bad, because then the gap created by the corner had to be filled.

I tested two grout colours, the first one was a cream that matched the tile exactly. It was terrible! It made the tile look way too white in comparison to the glazed cabinets. Don’t forget, there aren’t a million white options with subway tile. It’s basically basically white, off-white and cream.

The contrast of the brown grout made the tile look much more like it related to the cabinets.

Then I set about styling her kitchen. I brought in a tray for the miscellaneous items that sit beside the stove.

That made a big difference. Then I added a container for kitchen tools. If you have a big kitchen, use the stuff you already cook with every day to make it pretty.

This corner hadn’t even been tiled to begin with and as it was at the other end of the kitchen. . .

This is what it looked like in real life. Just keepin it real. Thanks Elizabeth for letting me show it!

I knew what was missing was styling. Ever notice once a room is decorated how it seems to stay that way? Suddenly you care because it looks good and it becomes so much easier to keep it pretty.

office corner

I brought in a piece of art, propped it up in the corner (since she does not use it as a computer station yet (her children are too small) added a small lamp, which I told her to keep on all day long, Elizabeth’s kitchen primarily faces North.

 Then we needed a way to hide cords for the phone, etc.

So I brought out a stack of cookbooks she had sitting in a cabinet, found a cookbook holder to display a couple, and look–no unsightly cords!

 And here’s another little space in her kitchen.


That now looks so much better as well.


So if you have inherited a busy countertop that you don’t like, changing out the backsplash is a great way to freshen and create a cleaner look!


Is your backsplash due for an update?

Related posts:

Should you Add a Glaze to your Painted Cabinets? Yay or Nay?

 Which Backsplash Tile goes with Granite?

The Best Backsplash Tile for your Kitchen

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  • Kathi says:

    Maria, you are an amazing decorator, what a great treat today to see the kitchen backsplash tile transformation,plus you always
    prove over and over again what great styling does for a room-kudos to you!

  • What a great change! And oh yes, doesn’t everyone just love to give their opinion!!!! When my husband and I built our house, you would not believe the hard time the painter gave me about doing black interior doors. And I still love them, 10 years later 😉

  • Wow, that looks great, the brown grout is PERFECT!

  • Jackie Toye says:

    Absolutely Beautiful!!! The new back splash is genius. I could fit my house in your sister’s kitchen and I would gladly only have that kitchen. hahaha. Very inspirational

  • Great call with the darker grout – it looks fabulous!

  • Katy says:

    Thanks for talking about the grout color – when I installed my subway tile in the kitchen a couple years ago, I just couldn’t decide if I shoudl use white grout or something darker. I had no idea — I thought you only used darker grout so that the tile would “Stand out” and you could see that rectangular pattern, it would look more “subway-ey” (ha ha that’s a new word).
    But then I had BM White Dove cabinets so I just wasn’t sure. I ended up going with white grout, and while I love the all-white look of things I still sometimes wonder if the dark grout would have made it more rustic looking?

  • Lois says:

    Maria, the branch you used is Pieris Japonica, aka LIly-of-the-Valley shrub because it gets small, lily-of-the-valley-like flowers in the spring.

  • Christian says:

    Wonderful! Yay to Sister for sharing her kitchen w/ us – it looks sooooo much better now. I love the contrasting grout idea – I would not have thought of that and it does make the whole space flow together now. Kudos Maria!

  • christine says:

    Hi, Maria

    What a difference a change in backsplash can do for a kitchen. It’s beautiful!

  • Beautiful! I also went with cream subway tile when I renovated my kitchen with new quartz countertops. Even thought they are inexpensive, the whole look is classic and timeless and one I will never get tired of.

  • Design & Decor says:

    Absolutely stunning..very simple change to the backsplash completely transformed the look & feel of her kitchen. I love the cabinetry also..Looks like she had a chalking application done to the cabinets which totally compliments the darker grout..One of my favourite styles of cabinetry..She must be very pleased with how it all turned out..Thanks for sharing Maria

  • teresa says:

    Well, that may be an inexpensive choice for tile, but it certainly made everything else look much more expensive! Amazing how changing one thing, plus the styling, transformed the entire space.They hardly look like the same cabinets. CTD

  • This is the exact update I have been wanting for my kitchen! Along with painting the cabinets white 😉

  • Bonnie says:

    Love white subway tile!

  • Wow – what a difference those subway tiles made to the kitchen. It took it from boring to fabulous. And even though the cupboards are a pinky/beige, they really look terrific. It was so busy looking before, but now it’s seamless and timeless. Love it.

  • Hi Maria, I have been waiting for this post and it was certainly worth the wait. A big shout out to your sister for allowing us into her new kitchen. This is a fabulous transformation, just beautiful!

  • Mary-Anne says:

    OMG…..SOOOOOO much better with the subway tiles! Just hate those blotchy granite countertops with anythingbusy on the backsplash!!!! Great improvement!!!!

  • That original backsplash tile is sooo popular with people. A lot seem to think it is a safe choice. I am tired of contractors who put out there opinions when they need to be quiet. Subway tile in a straight colour or slightly crackled are always the best choices. I couldn’t agree more with this post and will be sending it to a client I am currently working with. Thanks Maria!

  • the tile difference is amazing, it looks so homey and pretty. Up to the kitchen I go, I have some styling to do!

  • Susan says:

    Hi Maria,
    Wow. I have the same busy brown countertop in my kitchen and it is the thing “I can’t stand” the most. What a great idea to change the backsplash and tie it to the counter with the grout. I am going to look into that today! Your styling touches make such a wonderful difference. Thank you again for your ideas and inspiration.

  • maurie says:

    I hate to be negative – because it did turn out nice….BUT I agree with the tile guy.
    You took out the pretty tile (and expensive) and STILL have the awful cheap countertop with a very trendy subway tile and grey grout. Not sure Id want to be left with that countertop either way. Maybe this was the least expensive solution?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Maurie,
      The grout is actually brown mocha and there’s nothing trendy about subway tile, it’s been around forever and will continue to be. Maria

      • Lisa says:

        I love the dark grout you used. I did a very similar update to my kitchen but used a very light, almost white grout. I regretting using the lighter grout immediatly. Is there a simple way to chage the grout color to a dark grey?

    • Jennifer says:

      That original backsplash is not pretty. It’s a boring default choice when you don’t know what to pick. Also it’s pitted and fun to clean spaghetti sauce spatters out of it.

  • Ellie says:

    Maria, Really enjoyed this one and learned alot too. What a beautiful kitchen your sister has now! Thank you for sharing.

  • Ellie says:

    PS I’m now going to to be doing the same in my kitchen! (have that exact same brown laminate haha)
    How do you know whether to use cream or off white or white subway tiles? Thanks for all your help with these blogs.

  • Megan says:

    Great post Maria. Personally I would have had to put the tile guy in his place. Gone are the days when I let something like that go. I have taken your advice and when something like that comes up or if I am helping a client I ALWAYS talk about the WHY!! Very diplomatically and informative of course. I would have told him exactly why the “cheaper tile” was the better solution. Just because a tile is more expensive doesn’t make it the better choice. That one always makes me noodles!! I am sure that my explanation would have been lost on him, but I would have had to try. Then I would have had a conversation in my head about what I REALLY wanted to say to him…. “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know that you were a designer……” Or something to that effect- but it would have just been in my mind.
    Thanks for the “why” Maria, it always helps.

  • Charisse Andrews says:

    I am surely in the minority, but to me subway tile looks exactly like its name….tile you see on subway walls, commercial walls, schools hallways & bathrooms. It’s boring. Before I replaced it, I would have attempted to glaze or stain the present backsplash…..have nothing to lose if you think you are going to tear it out anyway. The tile does not match the elegance of the rest of the kitchen. agree to disagree I guess. charisse

  • Love the darker grout you picked. I have the white beveled arabesque tile and used white grout with it. Think I should have done darker grout now that it’s up because it doesn’t relate to the darker countertop or cabinets. Well, hopefully we move soon : )

  • Looks great, Maria! I love the idea of using brown grout with the subway tile to tie in with the counters. Never would have thought of that. I learn so much from you! 🙂 I bet Elizabeth is loving her new kitchen.


  • Tawna Allred says:

    I think it’s great how you touched on the grout for backsplashes. One, I think of function (how good is the client at cleaning grease/spaghetti sauce out of white grout….even sealed stuff gets hard to clean) and as you mentioned, does it relate to the countertop? I love the all white look, but the perfect solution for your sis!

  • What a difference the subway tile makes. I love the colour of grout you chose as well. Great styling. I can’t believe how a few small changes made her kitchen an A+

  • Liz says:

    It’s a very pretty kitchen, but I’m in the minority with Charisse about subway tile. It just has an institutional, public restroom feel to me. I’ve never been a big fan of tile, so personally, I’d rather have paint. Of course, I might feel differently if I saw it in person. 🙂 I do love your styling, Maria.

  • Fran says:

    Lovely, Maria! I love the glazed cabinets, especially now, with the contrast of the clean white subway tiles. The brown grout is perfect.

  • Cheryl says:

    May I ask how much the contractor charged for the labor? I know it’s all subjective … I have about 50 sq feet. I would love to change out my exisiting backsplash (a very trendy mosaic … I made a huge mistake), but my husband is concerned the contractor will have to remove all of our uppers. He’s also afraid that they will rip the vapor barrior behind the drywall.

    • Maria Killam says:

      The labour was $600 + the subway tile. It came off easily so in this case it wasn’t a problem. Maria

  • Great post Maria…I just posted about a similar topic…subway tiles…white or darker grout. I would love for you to weigh in!

  • I LOVE the green accessories! What a great kitchen to cook in!

  • Maureen says:

    Great post and lovely styling too! I had the most talented cabinet maker tell me he “doesn’t do white” and I could do whatever I wanted to them after he left. He’s a friend or I might have fired him. I am going to paint them next month. Funnily enough, I have some “friends” who have said they won’t come over anymore if I paint those wonderful solid wood cabinets! I would ever tell anyone what to do in their own house….unless they asked my opinion, but people are funny.

  • Great redo Maria. I love the brown grout, such a simple thing to bring the entire kitchen together, great choice.

  • Mary says:

    What your sister had taken out, my girlfriend is having put in. I’ve tried to talk her out of it but she won’t listen. I’ve tried to get her to read your blog but she claims she doesn’t have time to read blogs. I even told her to make the time because I would hate to see her unhappy after the money was spent & the work completed.
    She wants what she wants and won’t listen to me. So frustrating!!!

  • Susan says:

    Wow! So beautiful…I love the new tile and the whole kitchen just feels calmer. Lucky sister!

  • Wendy says:

    To those who doubt the subway tile…it is the entire POINT that it is somewhat “institutional”. It defines the kitchen as a workspace, and has a comfortable familiar vibe. There is sooo much going on in a kitchen… visually, noise, smells, children, pets, cleaning… that there is little need to embellish the tile. Kitchens seem overdone and overheated with decorated backsplash…restraint is a real pleasure. It lets the eye, and the brain, REST. As I tell my clients: Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD!

    Maria hit this dilemma right on!

  • kim says:

    Who did you use for tiling? Looking for a good tiler to take out a backsplash and retile too.

  • Robin says:

    I inherited a busy granite countertop that I hated. One of my first renovations was to change out the backsplash tile to plain black granite tiles (12 inches installed on the diagonal). My cabinets are orangey maple or oak (don’t know which) and the granite counter has a lot of pink in it. The old backsplash was a pale terra cotta color (just aweful – though I imagine it was pretty expensive). The simple black is restful to my eye and totally transformed the kitchen where there were way too many colors before. One day I may paint my cabinets white (my dream home will have a white kitchen) but I’m not brave enough yet!

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    I like what Wendy said there…what’s making the tile “work” it seems is that it brings clarity and cleaness to a color scheme that’s wants to go the other way.
    By the time all the other things, people, implements, noise, etc are in a working kitchen, more pattern just drives you crazy! I’m trying to convince my hairdresser to let me “clean-up” her color scheme and unclutter also. Work space is workspace. Glam is nice, but in the end clean is better!
    Have fun eating & sharing with her too, Maria!

  • Beth says:

    Maria’s next ebook: E-SCAPES: TableScapes, DresserScapes and CounterScapes. Including pics of the problem to solve and the solution.

    Great solutions. Diagonal backsplashes make me dizzy. Love the tray as a foundation to pull the often used stuff together. Kind of like using books as a pedestal to hold an object.

  • Wonderful job yet again, Maria! I love seeing such small changes make huge impact. I’d kill for a kitchen that size btw!

  • Liz says:

    Wendy, I completely understand and agree about creating rest for the eyes in a stimulating place like a kitchen. I can’t stand anything too “busy” and I see why Maria likes subway tile for that reason. If I were a professional decorator, I would suggest it as a good option to tone down a busy countertop. But for me, personally, most tile (especially subway tile) just leaves me cold. I’m sure Maria and the other professionals are able to come up with ways to get a restful effect if someone prefers not to do subway tile. As I mentioned, I’m perfectly happy with paint. It just feels “friendlier” than tile to me. But others are certainly entitled to their taste too, and subway tile works well if people like it. 🙂

  • Penny says:

    Love this transformation! I was wondering if you have ever painted a tile backsplash to lighten/color match cabinets? Do you think ASCP would work? I have taupe tile that doesn’t work.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I haven’t heard of that product but you can absolutely paint tile, you need to prime it with a latex primer first. Maria

  • Hope says:

    Beautiful job, Maria! Where did you find the fruit basket?

  • Victoria says:

    Beautiful! I love everything you do….. wish I had chosen brown grout to go with my crackled off white subway tile. I have a similar situation with my countertops and cabinets and I think the darker grout would have pulled things together much better than the white grout. It does look fresh and clean but you cannot see the crackle finish. The brown would have set everything off much better. Love your blog.

  • Fabienne says:

    I just found your blog last weekend and love it! I stayed up reading it late into the night and you helped me change my granite color from a black to a white. I might have missed a previous post on this, but have you touched on choosing grout color? The cabinets are being painted white, white granite with brown cream specks, and white subway tile. What color grout? White or a darker brown/tan that picks up on a color in the granite? Thanks!

  • Danielle says:

    Wow, what a beautiful transformation! It’s truly amazing how one simple design element can do so much to update and improve a room! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kathy says:

    Wow, I had come to the conclusion that I need to change my backsplash (would love to change everything but the backsplash is in reach) and I find this post. I have almost the exact granite and backsplash! It’s like looking at my kitchen except my cabinets are a horrible orangey wood (maybe soon to be white!). But it’s great to know what a change I can make with just the backsplash! I am inspired, thank you.

  • Mary Melberg says:

    Hi Maria – I have flat panel “suede” cabinets (lighter color brown stain), a natural maple wood floor and new venetian gold granite countertops. I do not have the 4 inch rail of granite on the backsplash. What could I do for a backsplash? Without that granite rail the water gets on the wall behind the sink faucet. Thanks.

  • janell says:

    I’m looking for subway tile like that. tell me what it is?

    • Maria Killam says:

      They were from a local supplier in town. However subway tile pretty much comes in white, off white or cream, they should be everywhere. Maria

  • Kristine says:

    Can you tell me the color name of the grout you used?

  • Shari says:

    where can I buy cream subway tile? I’ve searched online and I can’t find it anywhere. Local home improvement stores only sell white or stone. I’m at a loss. Any suggestions??

    • Maria Killam says:

      Waterworks sells 24 different whites apparently. I found cream at Font Tile in Vancouver.

      • Shari says:

        Thank you. My kitchen is almost exactly like this one. I loved the colors and the backsplash. I painted my walls the dusty trail and I’m going today to get the crème tile and mocha grout. I know your picture didn’t show shades or blinds on the windows, but what would you suggest? I have a kitchen window in the evening that can blind you, need a shade or blind. Not sure what kind and color?

    • kelli says:

      Florida TIle Streamline in Buff

  • Sharly says:

    I want to change my travertine backsplash to off white subway tile also, how bad was it to have the existing backsplash removed? Do you know if it damaged the cabinets or countertop? Did the drywall have to be replaced? Thanks for any info!

  • Caro says:

    Is it better to match the tile’s white to the cabinet’s white or not? We found one that matched exactly without trying very hard, while all the other samples are a much cooler white, this one is warm like the cabinets.


    • Maria Killam says:

      That sounds like it will work, yes should match the cabinets but don’t have to be perfect. Maria

  • noelle harralson says:

    It looks much better, but I would have kept the tumbled marble which I think is beautiful. I like subway tile as well, but the rich looking backsplash was torn out and the ugly counters remained. I would have done just the opposite. New counters instead 🙂
    I also don’t understand the hostility in some of these posts towards the installer. I think the he was just trying to be helpful. He probably just wanted her to be aware of how expensive the original backsplash was just in case she wasn’t. He didn’t claim to be a designer or refuse to do it.

  • Christine says:

    This post with pics and all (even the messy counter) was very helpful. I feel normal & like I CAN do this! Thank you Maria (and Elizabeth!).

  • Tanya says:

    Wow, what a difference simple subway tile makes!! Wow wow wow! My only regret with my own tile in my kitchen is that I didn’t use the darker grout as you did here. I am guessing it hides dirt better and I love the look.

  • Erin McAlpin says:

    This helped me some. It looks fabulous, btw! I have honed tumbled gold travertine flooring, orangey oak cabinets and similar granite, like your sisters, in the kitchen. I would love an updated backsplash, but worry shiney subway wouldn’t work. Something creamy and honed?! I hear your voice…
    Why didn’t we just put hardwood throughout!? smh

  • Jen says:

    The backsplash you used in your sister’s “Not subway tile” kitchen is great!
    Please share where I can order it from.
    Thank you!

  • diana says:

    Great look Maria. Your sister is so blessed to have you as a sister and a friend. I did not have my previous backsplash removed. The contractor was able to put the new tile on top of it and did a fabulous job. He researched and found the product you use to do this.
    Love my kitchen now

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