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Here's How: Tile a Kitchen Countertop Backsplash

James Dulley on

Dear James: The area of the wall behind the countertop always gets messy, and the paint gets stained. I have seen some decorative tiled ones. Will tile hold up well there, and is this a simple do-it-yourself project? -- Randi H.

Dear Randi: The answer to both of your questions is yes. This area of the wall is called a backsplash in the industry. If you do much cooking and baking, no matter how careful you are, it will get splashed with foods and liquids. Even though you try to clean it each time, wall paint is just not designed to resist staining.

In addition to just trying to keep the backsplash looking clean and bright, finishing it with tile can give your kitchen a newly remodeled appearance. The backsplash is often low under a window over the sink, but in other areas, such as the range, it can be quite high. This allows you to let your creative juices flow and plan a unique tile pattern and color scheme.

The first step is to decide if you prefer glazed or tumbled tile, which has a dull surface and irregular edges. Tumbled tile has a rustic yet soft appearance. Glazed tile, with its glossy surface and regular edges, is easier to work with if you are not familiar with tiling projects.

Spend some time going through kitchen magazines to get some design ideas. Some of the more ornate designs may require the cutting of some of the tiles, but don't let this frighten you off. Tile cutters make the job simple. Select various colors that complement and contrast with the countertop and the cabinets.

Patterns with various sizes of tiles always look good. On the areas under the cabinets, a narrow border around the larger tiles will give it a finished appearance. On the taller area over the range, a more ornate pattern, such as a diamond, with the same border will become a focal point.

When you have decided on a pattern, draw it on a large piece of cardboard cut to the precise size of the backsplash. You might think drawing it on the actual wall would be easier, but it is difficult to dry fit the tile pieces. Also, it may be difficult to see the pattern through the mastic.


Once your pattern is drawn on the cardboard, dry fit all the pieces together. Plan on leaving a narrow grouting gap between the pieces if you are using regular glazed tiles. When using tumbled tiles, leave a larger gap between them because of the irregular edges.

Spread the mastic on the wall. When using dark tiles, any mastic will work well. When using lighter-colored tiles, select a white mastic, which will not show through or create spots on the tiles. For a professional appearance, put a little extra mastic on the back of the border tiles so they extend out a little further than the others.

If you are using glossy glazed tiles, you can grout the gaps after the mastic has set up per the manufacturer's instructions. For tumbled tile with a dull surface, applying a sealer now will make it easier to wipe off the excess grout material. Once the grout has cured with either type of tile, apply sealer over the entire surface to make sure the grout is well sealed.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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