Choosing the Kitchen Backsplash Tile

My tile samples are in!  And I need your opinions.

Jamie, a rep for BuildDirect, reached out to me a couple months ago and asked if I’d be game to review the process of picking out my kitchen backsplash online.  I’m really not averse to picking materials out on the web, but tile is definitely new for me (when it comes to things cemented into my house, I’m a gotta-see-it-in-person kind of gal).  But, I’m also not one to shy away from an experiment (or to keep my mouth shut, whether I love it or hate it).  So, without further ado, here are my samples and my thoughts about the process so far.

I tried taking pictures from a few different angles to give you a better idea of how things look in person.  It’s possible to order up to 5 samples (shipped free) through BuildDirect, so even though I knew I wanted something white to keep things neutral, I made sure I picked a few options.

From left to right:

And to keep things simple, here is my pros and cons list about the experience thus far:

Pros

  • All of my samples seemed like they were made from good quality materials, and they were all packaged well.  Nothing (other than the obviously cut tile) arrived broken or chipped.
  • The colors online were pretty accurate to what I received in person.
  • The color of the white ceramic tile  is a very pure, brilliant white, which would be a smidge brighter than the finished paint color of the upper cabinets (I don’t really consider this a problem).
  • Glass tiles can be hit or miss; sometimes they can be too thin or the coloring is off on the back side, which allows imperfections to seep through during installation (such as seeing the adhesive behind the tile if it’s too thin).  I was pretty pleased with the quality of each sample of the glass tiles, and I got a full size tile of the 4″x12″ to better visualize the look of it.

Cons

  • I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get a full size tile in my sample shipment of the 4″x12″ ceramic version.  Because it was a clean cut, I was fairly sure this was not a breakage during transit (the missing other half was also a clue for Captain Obvious).  When picking out tile, it’s pretty important to get a good idea of proportion, and cutting the tile in half didn’t help much in that regard.  If it hadn’t been for the other glass tile, I would have had a really hard time visualizing this.  But, I reached out to my rep,  Jamie – and they were more than willing to correct this if I wanted.  So maybe it was a fluke?  Now that I know it’s a possibility, if ordering again, I’d be sure to ask about it.
  • When it comes to online wholesalers, there are three key components that I’m looking for:  quality, price, and selection.  The quality of the samples were good and the price versus my local store were also a check in the win column for BuildDirect, but I would prefer a larger selection of colors and shapes, like maybe hex tiles or elongated diamonds.

General thoughts

  • For white ceramic tiles, the grout color can be light or dark (and is all over Pinterest if you need more inspiration).  I’m not entirely sure which end of the spectrum I fall just yet.  In all honesty, I’d probably go with a light gray and a good-quality sealer (I haven’t had any issues with the sealer I used on my guest bathroom floor, and that was using a light gray grout, which I still have plenty of and can probably use for this project too).
  • The trendy narrow mosaic sample was immediately out (though I love this kitchen with similar tile).  So was the cut ceramic tile.  Leaving me with 3 legit choices.
  • The larger tile really caught my eye – with the size of this kitchen, it can probably handle the larger scale just fine.  But then again, the smaller ones are more classic.
  • I don’t know if glass is too modern for the space, but I still really like it (here is a great example of a kitchen done with similar tile).  Regardless, anything is better than the nasty wallpaper and torn drywall.

I’m pretty sure I know the winner, but I’d love to get your thoughts.  Are you Team Ceramic or Team Glass?

 

Disclaimer:  Just in case it wasn’t clear at the beginning of my post (cough-cough-FTC-cough-cough) BuildDirect has offered me the tile in exchange for my review (though the free sample tile part is the same for anyone).

Comments

  1. Cat says

    No matter what you choose, it will look awesome. I wouldn’t cross off the glass mosaic just yet. You could use it as an accent band to make it visually interesting. I would use the 4×12 tile and use the glass mosaic about mid way up just under the window silll or somewhere where the cut would be easier as an accent. Just a thought. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  2. says

    As always: can’t wait to see the result and I am sure all 3 would look great. But since you asked: I would pick the large glass one.
    Greetings from Germany
    Jenn(ifer)

  3. says

    I love the large glossy one! Not sure how the scale would look in there or how modern you want to go but I think it could still go the traditional route when paired with the butcherblock. Either way it’s gorgeous!

  4. says

    I’m glad you asked for our opinion! :) I have always loved subway tile and would probably choose it for my dream kitchen. If standard is 4×12 I would say standard of course. Then I mapped that out on my fabric cutting board and they are huge! They (4×12) look right in your pics and the 3×6 look small in the pics. But sitting here in front of me I may be tempted to do the 3×6. I did check the links to get a better look. The glass has that funny bevel (or just looks that way due to the glass) and that would drive me bonkers. I say ceramic for sure and size–whichever works best for your space since the pics make me think bigger but in front of me I say 3×6. (You say three choices? So I would say 3×6 ceramic!) No accent bands. I looked at alot of homes a few years ago. Every home with accent bands was a turn off in the kitchen. They always look dated to me. It’s like they were trying to add some pizzazz but should have just put a striking piece of art on the wall–ya know? Keep it clean and simple! And I am glad you ruled out the thin–just personally not a fan. And with the ceramic you can decide on what grout will go best with your style–and look at alot of pics first!

  5. says

    I chose 4×12 glass tiles for my backsplash, and the result is stunning. Mine are a light greenish blue and laid straight instead of staggered (the style of the whole kitchen is very modern). I also used the grout with bits of glass in it, for added sparkle, which also looks great in the, umm, half of the backsplash that I’ve finished grouting.

    The only problem was that they were a complete pain to install. Granted, my parents (who were nice enough not to disown me after I dragged them into this project) and I had never laid tile, but it was not nearly as easy as the internet led me to believe and part of that was the glass tiles themselves. My sample tile (I ordered from Modwalls) was flawless, but while everything was packaged well, some of the actual tiles arrived with slight scratches, and one shipment arrived with half of the tiles broken. The coloring is on the back, and any scrape in it was visible from the front.

    In addition to the issues with imperfect tiles, cutting these large glass tiles was difficult. If you started at the front, by the time the blade got to the back, the color layer would get hit by little bits of glass and ended up ripped. Since the tiles were glass, you could see that. If you started cutting from the back, the front edge of the tile looked like it had been gnawed by a small animal. Finally, my dad mastered a technique of cutting partway through from one side, partway through from the other, and then making a final cut all the way through. Even then, there were a lot of casualties (of the tile variety. Surprisingly, nobody lost a finger), and the whole thing ended up being a lot more expensive than I anticipated.

    I love, love, love my backsplash, but I don’t know if I’d try installing it again.

    • says

      Excellent info, THANK YOU for taking the time to post. I guess I hadn’t thought about what will happen when I make those cuts.

  6. Dina says

    I’m so excited to see you installl your tile!! I have a small obsession with tile and tile installation. Totally normall, right?

    Is this your first time doing a backsplash?
    And is this your “forever home?”

    I ask this because white ceramic 3×6 is probably your best bet for easy installation, and also for resale if you plan to sell your home eventually.

    That said, I’ve redone my backsplash so many times I’ve lost count. It’s not that big of a deal to bash it out and so something different if you get tired of your choice.

    Good luck!

  7. Kerri says

    i’m totally going to jump on the large glass subway tile. i think it will provide enough interest without being too busy. as much as i love the mosaic, i also felt like it was an immediate no, solely based on the grain of the countertop. i think it would compete too much and i love a good butcher block counter! ;)

  8. says

    Although white subway tile is the classic choice, I love the look of the large glass tile in your kitchen. I think the combo of glass and your butcher block counters is modern, yet warm, and the glass pulls just a little greenish-gray, which ties in really well with the lower cabinets (IMHO). I’ve never installed glass tiles, so I can’t speak to whether they’re any more of a pain than ceramic ones.

    My style tends to lean pretty modern too, so take that as you will :-)
    http://barksandbaking.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/library-update-christmas-decorations/

  9. Cathy says

    Glass is trendy. It will definitely date your kitchen and in a few years you’ll hear “your kitchen is so 2000.” It’s always better to go with something classic.

  10. says

    I’ve got to agree with Kasia! We recently had light grey 3×6 glass subway tiles installed in our kitchen and I love them! However, the professional who installed them even had a hard time. The cuts are much tougher to make and the paper backing is difficult to keep in a nice, straight line. We purposely hired out for that reason and there were spots I made the guy re-do a couple of times because I wasn’t happy with the cuts. In the end, I really do love it. But, for your sanity, I might go the ceramic route. Can’t wait to see!!

  11. Guerrinaq says

    White Ceramic Subway Tile…size of your choice. I love the true white against the walnut counters and they are classic and not about to go out of style anytime soon. The glass tiles seem to bring in another color/tint.

  12. Syl says

    I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I’m on team glass… I love how the colour plays with your cabinets (upper and lower) and how they inject a bit of modern but not too much. The larger ones really grab me, but I’d want to mock up how many cuts you’ll need to make as I’ve found that if there are too many part-tiles you lose the effect of a larger tile and the whole area looks “busy”. In that case going with the smaller glass would be easier and cleaner all around.

  13. GG says

    I was immediately on board with the large glass tiles. The fact that the color ties into the lower cabinets though, really puts them at the top of the class. The larger size, laid in the traditional brick pattern, I think will really work w/the light gray grout and keeping it classic/simple. As long as you are up for the challenge of installation (or calling in your more seasoned recruits), I say go for the glass!!

  14. Carla says

    Team glass but I agree with Cat and would use the mosaic as an accent.

  15. Deborah says

    Loving the glass! Just a word of advice with the glass tile, you may need to be more careful in applying the thinset, especially if you can see through the glass. We used Oceanside glass tiles in our bathrooms and the installer wasn’t too careful in places and you can see the lines through some of the transparent tiles.

    • says

      I don’t think I want to use the mosaic at all. It’s pretty, but just too trendy. If I’m going to go with anything glass, I’ll go with more of a classic shape to keep the balance (I hope).

  16. says

    counter top turned out great. no input on the backsplash selection though I love BuildDirect. I’m thinking about piggybacking a post on your “shopping the house” … spiels – hope it’s okay. and the Kitchen looks like it is coming together. ~jb

  17. Lisa says

    I love the glass tile because it complements both cabinet colors beautifully. I think both sizes would look great so I can’t offer input there, but I do think the stripe mosaic would be a gorgeous accent. I think it pulls from the pattern of the butcher block and ties the pieces together.

  18. Sheila F. says

    Glass. As for cutting you may try thr masking tape trick to prevent chipping.

  19. says

    Hi Sarah – having set tile for several years, I had to comment. I have 4×4 glass tile in my kitchen with a glass mosaic accent band. If you decide on glass, it is more time consuming to install. Here are a few tips.
    1. Choose a quality tile with a painted back, it helps hide thinset imperfections.
    2. Thinly backbutter each piece, like buttering toast but evenly all over. Otherwise, the ridges in your thinset from where you troweled it on the wall will definitely show, right through the painted back.
    3. Keep the grout lines 1/8″ or less, so you can use a NON sanded grout. Sanded grout will scratch the glass a lot. Use spacers, and also have some wedge spacers on hand to tweak the spacing as needed.
    4. If you use an accent band, try not to have it be interrupted by outlets, switches, windows, etc. it will look better.
    5. Cut the tiles with a GLASS CUTTER, one of those cheap hand held ones. Get a ruler with a cork back to guide it. Break the tile over a thin rod or large guitar string on a hard surface. Seems to work best.
    6. Edge the tiles with something like Schluter’s edging metal. There are usually no trim pieces available for glass tiles, you don’t want an ugly edge to show.
    7. Dry layout the actual tiles to see where the cuts lie, avoid thin cuts.

    If all this sounds too difficult, you can get a really pro looking diy job with white subway, white grout and actual edge trim tiles. Matching the grout to the tile helps hide slight alignment errors, contrasting grout makes them show.

    Have fun! I can’t wait to see the results.

    • says

      SUCH helpful info, Gary. I’ve done glass tile on a small scale before, so I have glass cutting tools, but for a project as big and important as this one, it’s definitely a decision I’m not taking lightly. Thanks for all of your tips! Much appreciated.

  20. Sarah says

    I would go with ceramic tile for sure. It’s classic and won’t go out of style. Glass tip has been in for a while now, but it will eventually go out of vogue. I think ceramic is a safer bet!

  21. says

    I LOVE the glass tile. I think it serves as a great “bridge” between your white upper cabinets and the grey lowers because it reflects both colors.

  22. Holley says

    I’m definitely a fan of the glass tile! I agree with others that your kitchen looks like it could handle the large one well, but either size would be gorgeous. I love how they look next to your amazing countertops. Can’t wait to see which you choose!

  23. says

    My first thought was to take the easy approach and recommend going with the white subway just because of the ease of install and the ability to cover mistakes. However, after reading Gary’s post and step by step guide, I’d go with the large glass tiles. I think they would look great with your cabinets and countertop.

    I’ve always thought white subway looks a little too clinical as in something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. If I had to go with ceramic, I’d go with a different color. Just my personal preference. Which is why my better half won’t let me have any say in those things…

  24. Kim G says

    I have looked at your pictures a couple of times and am wondering if the colors on my monitor are scewed. While I love glass tiles, when I look at your pics, the glass looks a little dingy and dirty and the ceramic tiles look crisp and clean. I know you will make the right decision and I can’t wait to see it when you are finished.

    When I re-did my kitchen about 5 years ago I really wanted glass tiles, but got talked out of it and ended up with slate and marble. While I miss the look of glass tiles, I’m still very pleased with what we picked out.

  25. Grace says

    While I bet that the majority of comments are leaning toward the trendier Glass subway tile choice…
    I would choose the larger ceramic. Easier to install, has a longer life and has a classic appeal. Perfect for your kitchen! With the glass tile, it will look cool and modern for a while, then will look dated when whatever new thing in back splashes occurs. That may be in as little time as a few years. Good luck with your choice. Build Direct is a great company. Good Luck!

  26. Luke says

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I have been very curious about shopping online (some of the prices I’ve seen have been incredible!) but have always been a little wary just in case what arrives isn’t what I ordered. Your piece has put me very much at ease, however, especially because I didn’t realise that you can actually order samples (silly me, I should have!).

    In answer to your question, I think I prefer the ceramic. I’ve never really been a fan of glass splash backs in the kitchen or the bathroom.

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