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The No Backsplash Alternative to Subway Tile; Before & After

By 04/14/2020May 3rd, 202157 Comments

Looking for an alternative backsplash to subway tile? Here are some beautiful kitchen designs with no backsplash. Find out what makes these fresh kitchen designs without a backsplash timeless and classic. 

I recently received this email from Mary, a lovely member of my blog community, along with her stunning new white kitchen:

Love your blog! Sending you some photos of my white kitchen inspired by you!

I’m almost done, I went with no uppers for the openness and because I can’t reach high storage anyway. Still have styling to do. Also need to do something to the raw maple wooden frame of the work table which I built.

I’m sure you see two whites. The back wall, hood, shelves, trim are BM White satin which seemed a match to my cabinets (cab company proprietary color “arctic white”). The side walls are BM Mayonnaise flat which carries through the rest of the open floor plan living room. I may change it one of these days.

The No Backsplash Alternative to Subway Tile

I gasped when I saw this pretty kitchen with the sweet dog (Boxer?) in the photo! And I love the clean look without any backsplash here. How she got away with that is she repeated the marble in a slab behind the range and she also ran it directly underneath her kitchen window!

No Backsplash Alternative to White Subway Tile


A Stunning Transformation from Builder Boring to Timeless and Elegant

Mary had a bold vision because it’s hard to see past a dated maple builder grade kitchen crammed full of lumpy uppers, to the clean and timeless look she created.  Here is what her kitchen looked like before:

And during:

A Beautiful Kitchen Design With No Backsplash

It’s also not easy when you’re remodeling your kitchen to maintain the restraint needed to end up with an elegant result. Mary did a great job of letting the marble be the star and keeping everything else white. Here’s another view of her kitchen. I took the liberty of adding some yellow tulips in her blue and white urn and a table lamp on her island (although I know that’s not exactly where it would sit).

SHOP: Blue and white lamp 

The work table could be painted many different colours but we would need to repeat them in the decorating. Given we don’t have any other colours in this kitchen right now, a blue grey like BM Coventry Grey would simply relate nicely to the blue grey Carrara marble countertops. Or, the legs could be stained to match the light floors, or again painted white to match the cabinets. All of these options would look good in this kitchen.

 A Dark and Moody Kitchen With No Backsplash

I found another inspiration kitchen without a backsplash below with the same idea but in a dramatically darker kitchen. The deep wall and cabinet colour gives it a trendy look, however, it could be completely transformed with paint to be fresh and bright if the owner tires of it. Because there is no tile backsplash, the colour can be completely wrapped around the room for a bold look.

Kitchen Design Alternative No Backsplash

Devol Kitchens

Here is when a 2.75 inch kick kitchen backsplash works.

And by the way, this is where it works to install the 4-inch kick (in the above pic it’s 2.75″ which is slimmer and makes it feel more current) to finish your countertops. When you are not installing a tile backsplash. However, you are now committed to having no backsplash, because you can’t change your mind and put in tile without removing the kick. And when a kick is installed, you can bet that underneath it, the countertop slab does not meet the wall in a perfect, finished way as it would were it being installed without one. So unfortunately it’s not as simple as just removing the kick to install a tile backsplash if you change your mind.

But that’s ok! Because I don’t think this is a look you will get tired of quickly. The no backsplash no uppers look is trending because it is clean and modern but still timeless. And it allows a pretty countertop like marble to be the star.

Greige Kitchen Cabinets and No Backsplash

Going without a backsplash works best when there are few or no uppers. Here’s another example of a greige kitchen with no backsplash and no uppers, also by DeVol below.

Kitchen Design with No Backsplash

DeVol Kitchen Remodelista

Maybe you’re someone who is not only worried that you’ve seen too many subway tile backsplashes, but also white kitchens in general?

Although white kitchens have been trending for awhile, they are still completely timeless and always will be. However, a greige or pale green grey is a lovely alternative to white cabinets for a neutral painted kitchen. You can get a similar look with Sherwin-Williams Accessible Beige or Benjamin Moore Natural Cream OC-14.

So, if you are looking for an alternative look to a classic white tile backsplash, consider skipping it altogether. I much prefer the elegantly simple look of no backsplash to a trendy tile installed just to be different.

You did an excellent job redesigning your kitchen Mary! And thank you so much for sharing the beautiful result with us. I’m delighted that the blog helped you create your gorgeous kitchen.

If you’d like help with your kitchen, check out my Create a Classic Kitchen eDesign Package here.

Related Posts:

How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Kitchen Mistakes

Ask Maria: Is my Travertine Backsplash Wrong with my White Kitchen

See the Hidden Beauty in this Modern Kitchen Renovation

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  • Darlene Mikolasko says:

    One question for Mary…where did she put her refrigerator? I wish I could see all angles of the reno. Nice job!

  • Beth says:

    Love the matching very good doggo in the first photo, the clean lines and hardware. But respectfully, the lack of color and white walls feels cold. Just my take.

    In general, I think the no uppers trend will go away, or be used in a more limited fashion rather than throughout the entire kitchen. I could be wrong, often am.

    And what a kick to see a 4” backsplash that works! Fun.

  • Donna T says:

    What goes around comes around. I just recently got a tiled backsplash and always had a bumper backsplash with paint or wallpaper above. Just as upper cabinets go the upper cabinets will be back. Now my rust sofa is trendy again and wood furniture. When blogs showed painting all furniture I thought there was going to be some stripping and refinishing going on. Maria, I love your help with color but some of these changing trends seem to be money makers for suppliers. This kitchen is a beautiful stunner. Now does someone cook or is this a trophy kitchen? Sorry, the pandemic is making me jaded.

  • Kristin says:

    What a beautiful kitchen! We’re doing a low stone splash for the part of our kitchen with no uppers, inspired by deVol.

    One thing I found when looking at photos, though, as they look better when the stone isn’t 4″. I feel like I’ve conditioned to think of that is “builder basic,” since it’s so often been the default choice (and often with tile above it).

    DeVol uses about a 2.75″ stone splash as their standard (they kindly answered my question on Instagram). I’ve also seen great ones that are taller, say 6″, in areas with high ceilings.

    Thanks for sharing this great post!

  • Soni Fitch says:

    The “kick” as you are calling it (I would just call it a backsplash), is not 4″ high in these photos, which is exactly what makes it fresh and interesting. I would guess it is only 2″ h.

  • Maggie S says:

    Beautiful kitchen! When she does the styling I’d love to see some “old world” art and some more color in the accessories –it is a little stark for me…but maybe it is perfect for her!!
    Thanks Maris for having these posts, as always they are very informative, and it is a nice break for all the scary things going on!!

  • Susanna erlikh says:

    Love the After look, the lack of tiled back wall, the elegance of large marble piece above the stove, the restrained use of open shelves. Would probably opt for shelves to be thicker. Dying to know where the fridge went? Please post another pic of After, with a fridge in it.

  • Penny says:

    I always thought those pretty DeVol kitchens have 3” (or less) kicks vs the older style 4” which makes them look more current. Maria, would you mind taking another look at the DeVol kitchens and see if you agree?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Penny, you’re right that does appear to be 3″ not 4 and that’s why it looks better! Thanks for pointing that out, I changed the copy in the post! Great eye thanks! Maria

  • Teri says:

    Love this kitchen. Looks fresh and sunny! Perfect open space for meal prep and gathering. Interesting that you carried the shelf in front of the window. That could be a great herb pot space. And I really like the unfinished maple on the island – it tells a story that this is a “one of” handmade piece. Not store bought to match. My only concern with no uppers is losing storage space – seems like i never have enough!

  • Lisa Carter says:

    Love this. Really beautiful. Just a point for practicality: for those that use their kitchens aggressively, the splash from sauces, mixing bowls, etc are going to end up on these beautiful pristine walls. Tile is a much easier surface to wipe. Would you recommend a semi gloss finish for the areas above the kicks?

  • Marilyn says:

    What a lovely kitchen! I am struck by how low the ceilings look though, even with the cabinetry removed on top. Is it just my imagination or does it need something else introduced here? Maybe some crown in the same color as the wall would change things? But of course, maybe the minimalistic course was wanted here. 🙂

  • Gg says:

    Love her kitchen! Perfect! Would love it more without the lamp or photoshopped tulips on island. Keep island a wood color and add lots of warm wood and textured items throughout kitchen and it’ll be styled perfectly! Looks like a Studio McGee design

  • Barbara says:

    Maria – in the last pic, above, with the greige cabinets (and you further suggest Accessible Beige or Natural Cream), does it bother you that the cabinets are cream and the marble has a blue-grey undertone?

  • Julie Blough says:

    Maria, great information to share with everyone. I designed a Modern Farmhouse Parade Home last year with a 3” backsplash inspired by Devol Kitchens. Love their style! We actually are going to be featured in a Michigan Cosmopolitan Magazine this summer. Working on the spread for it as we speak. I am so thankful for your training a few years ago to give me the confidence to pursue my dreams!

  • Stacee says:

    I absolutely love how she extended the shelf straight across that window. It’s details like this that elevate the kitchen and make it look all that much more custom!

  • Linda Trammel says:

    I love the white kitchen. I would like to get rid of my uppers but too costly so I hope to go from a muslim color to white this summer. I do not like the dark kitchen at all. Sorry. Very depressing to me to be honest. And lighting to cook by would be harder to achieve I think. Lovely blog today. I always love the photos and advise given.

  • Elizabeth Susan Severson says:

    I assume the thin stone back splash style would apply to bathrooms as well as kitchens?

  • Kim says:

    Pretty kitchen remodel and I like the no backsplash look. I’ve seen the look done with small pictures to bring in color instead of tile and it looked really homey and inviting. To me, the beam would be less distracting if the edge of the table lined up with right side of the overhead beam, but could be it’s just the angle of the photo and you wouldn’t notice at all if you were in the space.

  • susan says:

    Lovely kitchen! After looking at the “before” image, I’m guessing that the fridge is in the area relative to where it was originally? On the left side of the room and opposite the sink.

    Great post, thank you.

    Stay safe and well, (((all)))!

  • CarolAnne Makely says:

    after at least 50 years of kitchens, the kitchen we just did 4 years ago is the first one to have a tile backsplash… so I am not sure if it is necessary, I like the look both ways. I was excited to have one and did it in a marble subway tile… love the look, love my kitchen

  • Mid America mom says:

    When i started reading this i was thinking – oh like devol kitchens! And then saw you included them. Lol! If i recall- a few years back in your palm springs rental- they did not have tile either in the kitchen (right?). I like the ability to change the color. In this house we installed darker wood plank (yes i know different but harkens to the home’s 70’s roots) but i know i can paint it!

  • It’s all well and good to embrace this as a look, but what about the functionality? Every kitchen I’ve ever cooked in that had a short backsplash had stains all over the paint above the far-too-short 4” strip. I prefer the look of a backsplash that goes up to the bottom of cabinets/shelves, myself, but regardless of aesthetics, I need it as a cook! Especially now that my children are toddlers and do things like lift the mixer out of the bowl while the beaters are still spinning! I wish you’d included a discussion of functionality with this post as I’d love to know a less expensive alternative that will still allow me a tile-level scrubbing of my kitchen walls.

  • Diana says:

    Lovely kitchen except for the little tiny backsplash.
    I do not like nor use a backsplash unless it’s “going up the wall. These little ones look like a thought in the moment .
    It could have gone below the shelves. Of course, install prior to shelves.

  • Peter Evans says:

    Paint as a backsplash is great if you don’t use the kitchen very much. Even the best ‘washable’ paint won’t take more than a couple wipes of food stains. Never use beet or tumeric in these environments.

  • Shannon says:

    Beautiful kitchen! Very clean lines and very high end, European look. I’d be interested to know she used an epoxy paint or other high performance finish.
    I’m considering mineral paint for an upcoming redo, more in the bathroom though.
    Beautiful ideas Maria, as always!

  • Lynne says:

    The best thing about this kitchen is that she can bring in any color that she wants and change it over and over again with no expense other than accessories.

  • Jeanne says:

    I’m considering a cream colored subway tile with a low relief, same solid color, large (8×12) decorative tile to break up the area above the stove top. I agree that accent tiles are not timeless but can I get away with this monochromatic look?

  • Ronda says:

    We used pre-fab counter tops for the perimeter of our kitchen and a soapstone slab for the island. What a fight it was to not have the 4″ back splash installed since it was ‘free’ with the counter tops. Hubby kept telling me to put the tile back splash on top of it! I wanted white subway tile. Hubby says, boring. I said timeless. Ended up with a compromise. Works for both of us. Ties in with the ocean colors and the former jalousie glass in the windows.

  • Lucy says:

    Hi Maria, As lovely as this kitchen is I’m afraid that I am old school. I just finished a clients kitchen that had oak cabinets. We made all cabinets BM Mascapone and the island BM Catalina blue. The tops are quartz with a light gray vein and I ran it up under the upper cabinets. It looks so clean and fresh. Of course the appliances are stainless. We talked about removing an upper cabinet and installing a shelf to make it a little more current but she is a good cook and needs storage plus she worried about the cleanability of a shelf plus stacked dishes being dirty all of the time. There is a time to be practical and still look current and a time just to look trendy. I personally love to look at the new trendy kitchens but the practical side of me still comes out!

    Always a good post!

  • Rosie says:

    Beautiful but how many of us can have only 7-8 cabinets? I hope she has a large pantry somewhere

  • Barbara says:

    The new kitchen looks very nice. I did an all white kitchen way back in 1987. However…..
    those “lumpy upper cabinets” as you call them serve a purpose.
    The new kitchen has inadequate storage. My kitchen is about the exact same configuration, but has a complete set of upper cabinets around the entire area. And it is chock full….I have to use another area as a pantry of course, but also use our garage for things like my slow cooker, ice-cream maker, bread machine and deep fryer (none used very often). I can keep my KitchenAid mixer and food processor and all our coffee technology on the counter top.
    Unless this house is sized for a maximum of two people, it is a huge drawback.

  • Karen from Finance says:

    I recognize the all white kitchen trend but do these people have housekeepers or even use kitchen to cook or is it a showpiece? Everyday cooking, breakfast, dinner, and white everywhere. Having hard time with black granite and stainless steel tiled backsplash keeping it clean. Egads

  • Sheree L says:

    Mary, your kitchen is beautiful! Thank you for sharing it with us. In my previous home, in which I lived for 18 years, we had no backsplash in the kitchen (not even behind the cooktop!) and I quite liked it. I’m an avid cook and had no problem wiping up any spills or grease from the walls. It was much easier than cleaning grout from a tile backsplash. I love the look of no upper cabinets, but living in the desert (Phoenix AZ area) where everything gets dusty within one day, I’m afraid I must have cabinets with doors!

  • June Reedman says:

    I like the blue & white table lamp on the island but where will it plug in? Is there such a thing as a table lamp that is powered by battery? If so, I need one! I have a spot where I need a reading lamp and there is no plug anywhere near the chair.

  • Cyndi J says:

    Lovely kitchen, Mary. And I’m happy to see high-end designers use just the kick, as you call it, Maria. And the reason I like just that instead of tile between the cupboards is that I like to carry the paint color through the kitchen instead of being limited by the tile color and, in my opinion, the backsplash tile is what can date the kitchen the quickest. These kitchens reinforce my wish to stick with a small kick if I get to renovate the kitchen in a couple of years. My house is a small, open-concept home so I have to use one color throughout the living room, dining room, and kitchen. When I first moved in 17 years ago, everything was painted sage green. Now it is all painted gray with navy and teal with hints of fuchsia. And whoever said gray was cold! As far as the durability of painted walls in the kitchen, I haven’t had a problem with getting food off of the walls. I used an eggshell finish this time. Then again I don’t find much splatter gets on the walls but I live by myself so that might be why (and I cook and bake). And I don’t cook with oil on the stovetop so splattering grease isn’t an issue either.

  • michelle says:

    lo s
    love love Mary’s kitchen! Im very inspired.

  • Michelle Ann says:

    Enjoyable as always Maria, but a warning from experience to those who are thinking about having shelves rather than upper cupboards in the kitchen – the grease, dust and steam present in the kitchen atmosphere (even with an extractor hood) will form a hard greasy film on the shelves and anything you put on them, so unless you are very fond of cleaning, do bare this in mind. Also, unless you are very minimalist and disciplined, the shelves will soon become home to a collection of oddments and look very cluttered.

  • Martha A Henson says:

    We recently expanded our kitchen and so will be putting in new countertops. I already decided that behind the stove and two small upper cabinets on either side that I would do full slab (I am thinking quartz).
    However we have a whole new area with a new sink. The area with the original sink will be a flat countertop.
    So along those new cabinets after reading the article I was thinking 3″ back splash except behind the sink.
    How high should I make the back splash behind the sink? Thanks

  • Arlene says:

    Lovely kitchen and appreciate your comments Maria. I do not have a backslash nor will I ever mainly because they come and go to quickly dating the kitchen. Been there done that. What a disaster when we removed it. My thought.
    We have no uppers at our log cottage and I love it.
    I have learned that when we have space we fill it up with unnecessary stuff. Guess I lean more to a minimalist always need a reason for “stuff.” Always enjoy your posts.

  • Marina says:

    Hi Maria,

    HaHa, the food colors suit the kitchen the best .. 😋🤣 I guess we would be happy to hang art on the walls instead of uppers .. 🖼 But many of us don’t have that big kitchen to skip the uppers .. I think the designer or antique furniture would look good regardless of whether it is on the knee or a head level, as far as it is within my reach .. 👩🏼‍🍳 I saw great backslashes, buy they were not a subway tile of course.. For the Mary’s kitchen I would use golden details to bring some entertainment .. 🤩 HaHa, l’ve never saw so many job offers like during this crisis .. 😝

  • Johannah Espey says:

    Lovely kitchens! I’m not a fan of a 4″ or 3″ backsplash (kick) in the same material as the countertop in general, but it does finish off the counter nicely in that dark kitchen photo. I’m not sure why you feel the “kick” needs to be removed if someone decides to tile the rest of the wall between the counter and upper cabinets in the future. People have been installing tiled backsplashes in the area above the “kick” for decades. I prefer the look of tile that goes all the way down to the countertop, but there’s no practical reason why the tile can’t be installed above the “kick” unless the tile is thicker than the “kick” material.

    • Maria Killam says:

      It can be installed above it for sure but it’s not as pretty in my opinion. And it’s just my opinion, doesn’t mean it’s right. Thanks for your comment, Maria

      • Kay Rodine says:

        Maria, I think there is a very good reason for not using a kick of any height with tile installed above it. In most situations, it’s another line or contrast in color or pattern that adds too much business, even in the case of no upper cabinets. Most kitchens have so many required lines, I feel the eye needs a little relief.

  • SDC says:

    Maria wrote:
    “And when a kick is installed, you can bet that underneath it, the countertop slab does not meet the wall in a perfect, finished way as it would were it being installed without one. So unfortunately it’s not as simple as just removing the kick to install a tile backsplash if you change your mind.”

    If you’re installing in a new build or renovation, make sure the fabricator scribes the countertop to your walls during the templating process ** EVEN IF ** you are going to install a matching kick. That way if in the future you change you mind, it will be simple to remove the kick and tile.

  • Liz o says:

    I wondered the same thing

  • Beatriz says:

    Ok, just curious…why photoshop a blue lamp with plug(checked the ‘shop’ link)…on the island? Especially since there is overhead lighting and wall sconces

    the kitchen is lovely!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Oh just to add a little styling since the room wasn’t finished yet. . . no other reason but that 🙂 Maria

  • priscilla says:

    I’ve done two kitchens now, both without backsplash OR uppers. The first one I did over 18 years ago, the second around 15 years ago. I wasn’t following a trend, it just looked good. I think things that just look good don’t get old. (Well, pretty much).

  • Laura P. says:

    Hi Maria, I searched your blog today seeking info on “no backsplash” and voila! Thank you for this post. I see all the kitchens posted do have at least a 2.75 or 4 inch kick, and it is implied that these countertops will always need some kind of backsplash because the tops probably were not finished to have none. So, is it OK to have a countertop without any backsplash or kick? I am helping my daughter with a remodel (that’s why I purchased your paint e-books!) and she will have a tile backsplash on her sink and stove runs. She has one other counter that is in another part of the kitchen, which has no uppers and we planned to just have a painted wall with floating shelves for decor. Are we on the right track? Nothing has been installed yet. Thank you!

  • Brenda Pawloski says:

    Instead of uppers, I’d love to see flush in-wall storage for bottles (think vinegars, oils, spices) maybe just 4″ deep of usable space for things that would be nice to have handy instead of walking into the pantry (which I will have.)

  • Marina says:

    My husband hates marble look. So do you think this would work with modern no vein grey quartz instead? Thinking sage kitchen cabinets and white walls.

  • Melissa Boudreaux says:

    Hi Maria! Just stumbled across this article and wondering about the 2.75” kick vs a 6” kick WITH uppers? Asking bc if we go up the full 18” with counter material, would have to buy another entire slab. Would love to hear your thoughts!


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