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Selecting your Kitchen or Bath Backsplash; Accent Tile or NOT?

By 06/14/2009January 26th, 201751 Comments

I have seen so much dated and downright ugly accent tiles in my design career, that when I choose them for my clients, I prefer to select neutral finishes and repeat them. Keep this in mind when you read this post. If you are madly in love with the accent tile you have just installed or are about to, then read no further.
The following opinions are completely biased based on the above statement. . .

The hot look in accent tile was mosaics in 2009 (but UPDATE in 2015 accent tile trends have changed 3 times since), and if you are going to use them, go big or go home.

Like in this bathroom (above) or in this kitchen (below). What works about the backsplash here, is that it’s the most important feature next to the Caesar Stone Countertop. This way it becomes the background instead of competing for attention with the limestone mosaic backsplash.

The backsplash tile in this bathroom [below] is colourful and fun, but what if you moved in and did not like orange? It’s pretty hard to ignore the tile here as it’s definitely the focal point. Better to have picked a more neutral tile and still painted the bathroom orange which can then be easily changed on a whim.

By the way, this brings me to another tip; with newly installed tile or granite, I like to pick a colour that coordinates with it, then it looks like you actually love your new finishes. To pick a colour that doesn’t relate at all [to your finishes] starts to look like you have just moved in and have decided to ignore them with your colour choices.

The accent tile in this kitchen [below] at least makes some attempt to coordinate with the granite but I would have left it clean using just the subway tiles. I always tell my clients that it’s the colour and accessories that pull a space together. Unless you are someone who plans on replacing your tiles every 5 years, it’s better to keep them neutral as they are so expensive and messy to replace.

This tile [below] in your bathroom or kitchen [for example] pretty much dictates the colour scheme. Here your choices would be limited to some version of gold, yellow beige or [ouch] the green.

If you are going to get this artsy and creative [below] with your backsplash tile, then at least make sure it’s the most important element in the kitchen. In this kitchen, combined with the busy granite, it’s hard to know what we should be looking at. Busy granite and a busy backsplash does not equal beautiful, it just screams ‘we-should-have-consulted-with-a-designer’.

images from flickr
Colour Tip for anyone worried about choosing a white cabinet colour to go with white tile. Take some basic whites like cloud white, Mountain Peak White, Ivory White and Vanilla Ice Cream or White Down and paint up some larger 11 x 17 samples. Then hold the white tile right on the sample vertically and it will be obvious which is the right one!
What’s your opinion on accent tiles? Do you love them or hate them?
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  • Kiley says:

    I definitely agree, thinking longterms and flexiblity with tiles is teh responsible thing to do. That orange one does look fabulous with the orange walls, but definitely the next tenant and or YOU in 5 years will come to loath it.

    My one exception for neutral tile would be "if" the architecturally appropriate, old world Portuguese tiles look amazing and timeless. If the architecture doesn't support it, then we run the same risk as the orange or the yellow-green patterned one you have posted.

  • The Changing Look of Friends says:

    Oh Maria, I'm with you on accent tiles, but it is more to use them right or go home. The "Oh there's this accent tile I want to use so we will just stick one here and there and be done with it", is so sad. I have never been one that liked that scattered, clumping of a few small accent tiles in an otherwise good field tile. I much rather use them in a border, or like you said all over. That last picture,,, way too much going on.

  • mrsben says:

    I feel 'accent' tiles can have a place in a decor scheme however as you have illustrated, one must proceed with caution when using them.

  • Ideezine says:

    I like accent tiles but in outdoor enviornments where there is more to feast the eyes on. In an enclosed area such as a home I agree less is more. You can add splashes of color and fun with other things in the rooms, such as towels.


  • pve design says:

    I think most people, go bold or go beige!
    I have seem some wonderful accent tiles which can really make a kitchen look wonderful.

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I'm a "less is more" kind of gal.
    I usually stick with the classics: white subway tile, Carerra marble etc….
    My feeling is that tile is a pain to change. It's better to go bold with paint color or fun wallpaper instead. Much easier to re-do!

    Great post as always, Maria.


  • Ivy Lane says:

    I am not a fan of accent tiles… I agree, accessories, wall color etc.. can make a space pop.. I have beautiful slab granite counter tops…no back splashes or accent tiles… personal paintings, treasures that are displayed… nothing competes..

    I just love your many good ideas and education!

  • Brillante Home Decor says:

    I like accent tiles but as you said so well we must be very careful. The busy backsplash and granite has also busy pendant lights…!
    I love the first picture but it is a strong statement that needs courage, it is probably in a public place so the same people don't need to see it every day, several times a day.
    The second picture is a safe choice for a kitchen, very pleasing.
    Good post.

  • Bethany says:

    OH Maria !!!! I will have to post my latest disaster with accent tile in my own kitchen. Your post is right on – Thanks for a great post as always. PS – LOVE your new blog
    header it is perfect!!!!

  • Renae says:

    I am with Brooke on this, I like the classics…cannot go wrong. Wall color can always be changed and accessories too can be rotated depending on how the mood suits.

  • Things That Inspire says:

    I am in California right now, where the family beach house kitchen is very nice but has miles and miles of granite. It is tasteful – a designer was used – but I have come to the conclusion that I dislike granite because of its business. It has so much going on! The kitchen island in this house is 8 feet, all granite, and it drives me a little crazy! It makes me long for the soothing corian in my own home – yes, dated, but I really like it.

  • Haven and Home says:

    I couldn't agree more with this post.


    The backsplash is like jewelry. It makes things even more fabulous and FUN! LOVE LOVE LOVE the new header. I know we have already discussed this, but I lOVE it!

  • Awesome Sara says:

    HOLY MOLY that green tile is amazing!!! for some reason i have always been such a fan of a mirror backsplash. i love switching out accessories and styles and mirrors always work.

  • Meade Design Group says:

    Great adjustments to the header!

  • Cristin says:

    Your post is right on and couldn't agree more.


  • DesignTies says:

    It really depends on how the accent tiles are used and relate to the backsplash and the space. Sarah Richardson does amazing things with tiles, and often uses accent tiles in a different finish or colour or thickness from the main tiles.

    That being said, I'm going with a simple tile for the kitchen backsplash that's a similar colour to the soon-to-be new granite countertops. There are subtle differences in the tiles colour and texture that add some interest, but the backsplash tiles won't take away from the granite. I can't wait to actually get it all installed!!!


  • DesignTies says:

    I'm back again – catching up on the comments from our awards post from a few days ago…

    You're welcome for the Lovely Blog award 🙂 And now with your new header, your blog is UBER-lovely!! 😀

    I found the heart-shaped Canada flag on the Net. Can't remember where, but I probably should give credit for it…


  • Lauren says:

    I'm not a fan of accent tiles. LOVE mosaic tiles & subway tiles but the example you showed with the subway tiles mixed in with mosaics drives me crazy!!!

    Contractors are always trying to convince me to add in accent tiles in showers too. Do you find that?

    Definitely lean towards more classic tiling that won't need replacing..

    great post!!!

  • Michele Beatty Interior Design says:

    I like accent tiles in small doses it can really make a backsplash pop. You really have to look at the overall design. I agree that the "busyness" of granite countertops needs a neutral backsplash. I'm really liking quartz right now with a subway style b/s. Love the discussion, it's always so great to hear everyone's thoughts…thanks Maria

  • Juli says:

    You make many excellent points. I do agree the number one problem in kitchens is too many finishes with pattern: not just the backsplash and granite, but also the tile floor, antiqued cabinets and often a faux finish on the wall. It's too much.

    That said, I do believe there's a place for accent tiles in certain situations. If they are used, I prefer to see a variety of colors because at least that gives the next person some choice.

  • ticklishfromadistance says:

    Agree 1000 percent.

  • ~ Patricia Gray ~ says:

    Accent tiles can make or break a room, so they need to be choosen very carefully. If you are doing it yourself without the help of a professional Interior Designer, I would advise that you err on the side of being very neutral. That way you can never go wrong.

    PS Maria…your new header is fantastic!!!! Love it!!!

  • Imogen Lamport says:

    I know how quickly you can get sick of patterns in clothing – and that's generally much cheaper and more expendable, so I'd look for plain tiles and bench tops and add the detail in other furnishings that can be more easily and cheaply changted.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Dear Things that Inspire,
    I would also consider Sile Stone or Caesar Stone besides Corian. It's 90% crushed quartz and it is a much cleaner more solid look that I would use like in the example above with the limestone mosaic backsplash. I prefer that look in general like you, I would get tired of granite as it can be so busy and blotchy. Some people love the 'art' that it is, but I prefer cleaner lines that I won't tire of over time!

  • Lyndsy says:

    I love accent tiles but have to agree with your opinion on all the pictures you posted. My friend just did their kitchen with shades of blue and green and it is absolutely stunning. But, again if it's not done right, it looks like a big, dated mess!

  • Susan says:

    I agree! As a Realtor, I see some truly awful, overdone backsplashes. Nothing can date a kitchen more. You can take a perfectly good backsplash and make it look cheap by adding "theme" tiles with ditsy little sea shells or fruit or wine & cheese designs. Leave the accessorizing for your countertop elements!

    Neutral or simple does not mean boring – use texture instead of different colors, border tiles in the same color, etc.

    • Cyndy says:

      Yes! I can’t Agree more with your comment regarding TEXTURE. I can see a textured backsplash in either a kitchen or a bathroom with similar nueutral colors to the granite counter tops. Also, not mentioned, is the color of the grout can make the accent tiles blend in more as well.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Susan, I couldn't have said it better myself! I (like you) have seen too many cutsy tiles that are better left in the tile store!!

  • Janee Martin says:

    Your blog is very impressive and impressive. Before going through your blog i didn't know many things that you have described in about remodeling bathroom. Your blog is very impressive for those who want to remodel their bathroom and kitchen. If you have any more pics, and tips and tricks for how you did that I would love to hear them!!!

  • Naomi says:

    I like accent tiles if everything else is VERY simple. But I don't like randomly placed accents (especially fruit,) more like a decorative tile that creates a wallpaper pattern effect. If you pick a beautiful and classic pattern you could hopefully love it for years and years.

    "it’s the colour and accessories that pull a space together."

    So true, thanks for reminding me. Its my new mantra.

  • Mary says:

    When you mention paint colors by their names, what brand of paint are referencing?

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Mary,
    Benjamin Moore is the one I always refer too, sorry that wasn't clear.

  • Anonymous says:

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  • Beth says:

    Since the husband gave the green light to remodeling our kitchen, I have spent every night since November pouring over cabinet, backsplash, and countertop styles and colors – usually into the wee hours. My problem is, since I live in a part of the country with narrow, traditional design ideas (gold is still popular-blech!), I wouldn't find a designer here that I trust. So that leaves my brain strangled with choices and options and design algorithms. I'm losing my mind!

    In the beginning, I fell in love with a backsplash tile with hints of blue-gray. I thought I wanted white cabinets, because the overall feel I want is "airy" and "beachy." Like the Something's Gotta Give kitchen. But somehow I forgot, and ordered a kitchen-full of tasteful, but NOT WHITE, cabinet in a pewter-tone stain and wash. I like it because it's different, and the color spoke to me. I love taupe on white and how it feels. But now I don't have white cabinets arriving this Friday, so I feel I need to compensate by having white countertops, which I love. But that restricts me to quartz, but when I took the door to the granite store, it looked GORGEOUS with a Volga Blue and another somewhat busy black. NOT BEACHY!

    See? My brain is all twisty and tortured. And the countertop and backsplash decisions are closing in way too fast. Your blog has brought me comfort, if not a tiny bit of clarification. Thanks!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Stick to quartz, you'll get bored of everything else, your first instinct is usually the best one.

  • Beth says:

    Thanks, Maria! I just found your response here, but I was able to see the light about the quartz, and last week I fell in love with the perfect backsplash tile. We had to fire our first contractor but now are in good hands with a brilliant contractor with design sense.

    Thanks again!


  • Decorative Wall Tiles says:

    I agree with Patricia. It's always tricky adding any accents, tile or otherwise. But with a good design or designer- it can also be the best visual in the room and the piece that ties everything together.

  • Anonymous says:

    Argh! What to do?? I have the bay oyster cream cabinets picked out with chocolate truffle Caesarstone and subway tile that exactly matches my cabinet color. I am using oil rubbed bronze pulls and faucet and was thinking of incorporating some oil rubbed bronze accent tile with the subway, but this post is making me rethink and just keep it simple subway, no accent tile.

  • Monkey Momma says:

    This reminds me of the time my friend's husband decided to remodel the kitchen while she was in the hospital. They already had everything "picked", but just hadn't gotten the time to execute their plan. So as she spends 6 days in the hospital recovering from a double mastectomy, he gathers 10 of his closest handy friends to remodel. Sounds like a lovely plan right? It was. Except when she got home, the green/purple vineyard accent tiles she chose (yuck, but I won't go there) were ALL INSTALLED UPSIDE DOWN. The grapes were "hanging" up. LOL!

    But what do you do when your husband and his friends go out of their way to make such a lovely gesture? She kept the tiles up. 🙂

    My sweet friend has since passed on from her third battle with breast cancer, but her family has left the tiles as is for now. It's a reminder of the grace she gave to her husband with his sweet heart. (But I think as soon as they ever decide to sell the house, another remodel will probably solve it as a resale issue. Ha!)

  • All Our Fingers in the Pie says:

    I am near the end of a complete home renovation and will be ready to choose backsplash tiles soon. So glad to hear that simple and basic is still 'in'. I like a simple white square or subway tile in the kitchen and bath. As a realtor for 30 years, I have seen too many dated accent tiles!

  • Mona Raco says:

    Maria I think I messed up my kitchen. I have santa cecilia granite (golden, black, carmel and a touch of burgandy) I choose a backsplash with bullets of taupe and mosaic squares in brown and black that run vertically down. I color co-ordinated this with a lady from a speciality shop. However, I wish I would have read your blog because I think its to busy. I think I received the wrong help but there is nothing I can do now. When I looked at the sheet of tiles the tiles with the mosaci were beautiful and the colors were right. However when put together a total difference look.

    • Nancy says:

      You can have your backsplash painted whatever neutral color works with your cabinets and counter. It is the same technology as the people who re-finish bathtubs. I had my 1990s jewel-tone navy blue backsplash painted BM vanilla ice cream to match my painted cabinets for $250 and it looks so beautiful!

  • Sharon says:

    So after reading this blog entry and especially the last statement “in choosing a white cabinet colour to go with white tile…take some basic whites like cloud white,etc” is Maria saying that if I already have cloud white cabinets I should pick a white that definitely ‘matches’ the cloud white of the cabinets? Cloud white has a creamy-white color in our kitchen and to get that perfect match I would have to pick the creamy color (like sand or bisque) not the pure white. Wouldn’t that be too much sameness or could I use the pure white which also matches the white appliances I have? (and looks great with the cloud white cabinets) My countertops and floor tiles have the creamy color, white and a little touch of yellow-beige. So help – what subway tile would you choose and why?

  • Rebecca says:

    Can I add, if you are going to install glass doors on your cabinets, pay the extra and have the interiors of the cabinets stained to match. If they like the two-tone look, paint the interiors a shade of beige that matches the counter top and tile.

  • MaryAnn says:


    Knotty pine cabinets , flagstone floor rusty and buff color, old time pine plank walls. Want to replace counter top with granite Absolute white. I think I have made a mistake.

  • carolanne says:

    well I thought I should put up some special tile… all the design shows do it, right? well I know Maria… and her love of the subway tile… we were told about them at her class a few years ago, we sat in our hotel room my girl friend and I and looked it up on google, lol everyone does that right ! we looked at each other and said, subway… as in the Paris subway… its from the 20’s … it’s so the only tile to do… its totally timeless…. now that I am days from my new counter top being installed (so exciting !) and that I only saw a small sample piece, I am waiting to see the whole counter in place… I now know to pick subway tiles after so I can see just how it will look with the counter so I do not do busy with busy ! fingers crossed my idea of carara marble subway tiles is ok with the counter, totally fingers crossed xx

  • Farha Syed says:

    Hello Maria

    I met my new clients today who have asked me to renovate their kitchen which is in flow with a great room which has a large stone fireplace. Since they are going to gut the whole kitchen, I know that I can start by coordinating the color with the stone fireplace and continue it into the kitchen. The color I have chosen for both the kitchen and the great room is Agreeable Gray which is what they liked best in comparison to the other two choices which were Anew Gray, and Useful Gray. They have Pine floors which are original to the house and they want to keep those. I had suggested continuing the wood into the kitchen area with pantry area behind. The kitchen is two steps above the great room so I am looking for Tiles as an option if I am not able to match the wood in the great room. This is my first kitchen renovation project and I will be reading your posts for guiding me to the right choices and to make it as smooth as possible.

    you’re awesome


  • Barbra says:

    Do you consider 12 x 24 3-dimensional white wave pattern tiles completely trendy? I have two contemporary bathrooms in design; both owners are wanting this option. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Lisa says:

    I’m old enough to remember when no one had tiled kitchen walls (unless they had a historic house or lived in Europe) — it was wallpaper everywhere. I personally hate tile walls — they’re loud and echo-y and remind me of a public bathroom. Do you think this trend of tiling kitchen walls will ever go away? It was popular in the 1920s then went away for 80 years…

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