diy backsplash

DIY Kitchen Backsplash [PART 1] – Choosing Your Tile

Hey y’all! I know it’s been another hot minute since I posted here, but things have been non-stop go go go over here at Casa del Ochoa!

But I’ve been promising y’all a backsplash post for some time now, so here it is! Well, here is Part 1.

Let me explain.  As I was putting this post together, I realized that it’s not just the actual How To of the backsplash install that is the real MEAT of this DIY.  In fact, I think choosing our tile was the MOST difficult part (yes, even harder than being up at 2am using a tile saw – thanks neighbors for not calling the cops).

Choosing our tile was a HECTIC decision – I had been set on classic subway tile with charcoal grout for months.  But two days before we were set to get going on the last major project of the one room challenge, I had this weird epiphany.  First, it was just about the grout color.  Charcoal was going to be too dark in our small space.  But then, I started thinking maybe I didn’t want subway tile either.  Why?  Well, I like to be different. And while I adore subway tile, I just wasn’t sure if I was going to feel like our kitchen was the “unoriginal” farmhouse kitchen, or like I had just copied someone else’s kitchen completely.

So, if I had this much trouble, I can pretty much guarantee that choosing your own backsplash tile also will likely bring you some indecision.  And since choosing your tile is truly the very first step of your DIY backsplash project, I decided to break this post into two parts so I can give you some tips on what we considered when making our tile decision.  (Plus, putting it all into one post would probably mean you would be reading this for like, an hour, so I wanted to spare you a little time, and also give you something to look forward to)!

white farmhouse kitchen makeover DIY
Not blah at all! Keep reading for why I am SO glad we went with arabesque in lieu of subway tile!

So without further ado, here are the things you might want to take into consideration when choosing your tile, and a few other tips and tricks that helped us make the ultimate decision (that I’m still LOVING, btw)!

1. Consider the size of your kitchen.

Our kitchen is quite small.  Not the smallest I’ve ever had, but it certainly isn’t the giant kitchen you’re seeing over on Fixer Upper these days.  In fact, it’s dainty size is a big reason I wanted to renovate it in the first place, because: Brown = visually small, but White = illusion of more space.

This meant I knew I wanted to keep the backsplash tile white to match the rest of our renovated kitchen, or possibly something with marbling, but overall, mostly white.  I also wanted something that would make the space appear larger.  Normally, smaller patterns tend to make spaces look smaller, so I was surprised that the arabesque seems to do the opposite in our kitchen (hence the importance of buying SAMPLES to try in your space – but more on this later).

My original classic subway choice compared with the arabesque.

I also considered using oversize subway tile instead of classic, because the larger tile would tend to draw the eye outward, making the kitchen seem longer/larger.  In the end, it actually became a choice between the arabesque and the oversized subway!

2. Consider your overall design/aesthetic.

Okay, this probably seems obvious.  But for example, I LOVE patterned tile (like THIS one from Lowe’s), but it just didn’t go with the aesthetic I was looking to achieve (white, bright, airy, farmhouse).  I think it would look amazing in a larger (refer to #1) more open kitchen, even farmhouse style, but for ours, it would have made the space look too busy and cramped.  Like I said, I wanted to stick to white, and the dominate black color here would have pulled us back toward what we had to begin with!

3. Consider grout color.

I told you earlier this is where all of our original plan started going down the drain.  Once I changed my mind about the grout, I start second guessing the tile, too!  But really, grout color (and size) matter.  We did 1/8″ grout – pretty standard.  But the charcoal I had originally planned for was going to be too dark, I just knew it (but golly I just love charcoal grout in large kitchens – give me all the contrast!) Again, this epiphany so to speak, came from my realization that our kitchen is SMALL.  The dark grout was going to do exactly what the brown color of our original kitchen did – make the kitchen look smaller!

These are the two colors we ultimately came down to choosing between – silver and warm grey. With the help of my amazing Instagram followers, we decided on warm grey, and couldn’t be happier!

4. Consider everything else that’s around the backsplash (cabinets, door/drawer pulls, plumbing hardware, wall color/texture – pretty much EVERYTHING else in the space).

This is where the subway tile ultimately lost the battle in our kitchen.  With the new cubbies above the cabinets and all the added shiplap (over the sink and on the peninsula), the subway tile created WAY too many horizontal lines.  When we stood up close, we loved it.  But then we backed up, and YIKES, y’all!  The kitchen looked like a bunch of rectangles all thrown together and it wasn’t cute!

Thus, my tip of making sure to consider everything else that’s going on in your space.  Observe your options up close, and far away, too. (If your are doing an entire kitchen renovation with contractors helping, you may not have the luxury of waiting until everything else is done to choose your tile – if that’s the case, see if your contractor or designer can draw up plans or a mock up design for you.  Any visualization of the entire space you can get ahead of time will help!)

We also played around with the subway tile in different arrangements, including herringbone, but that didn’t change the fact that there were still little boxes all over the place.  So out the subway tile went!

We considered both a herringbone pattern and oversized subway tile, but neither worked for us!

5. Consider buying samples – LOTS of them.

I don’t have photos of all our samples, but if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I bought a TON of them.  Samples are a must because while they may look great in store/on a computer screen and in your mind, trust me, they will look different in your space.  So buy ALL the samples, and then just return them later!

Here was one of our other sample options – small herringbone. I liked it a lot but hubby nixed it the second he saw it!  I also brought home something similar to this but in marble, small marble subway tile, hexagon, and lantern tile, too!

6. Consider using other photos (Pinterest, IG, Google) for inspiration; and then consider forgetting all about those photos and going with your GUT.

I honestly couldn’t tell you the number of hours I spent browsing “farmhouse kitchen” or “subway tile backsplash” on the internet and social media.  And guess what – every. single. kitchen. that I loved had subway tile.  Or rather, every single kitchen that had many of the same features as mine (concrete counters, black hardware, white cabinets, shiplap) had subway tile.  So as much as I felt pulled to subway tile (it really is a classic and beautiful choice), my gut was telling me something else.  The arabesque called to me.  It said: “Be different! Be bold!  Put some feminine back into this more masculine/rustic/farmhouse kitchen!”

So once I got hubby on board, that’s exactly what we did!  (Plus, having plans for subway tile in our upstairs bathrooms also left me satisfied knowing I’ll get my subway tile SOMEWHERE in our home) 🙂

Its just so pretty!

And just a few more tips to help y’all out:

7. If you can, tape up the tile on your backsplash to get a better visual.

But be CAREFUL!  They don’t hold for long! We put a beach towel on our counters to protect them (and to provide a cushion for the tiles if/when they fell, and we used Quake Hold (and a lot of it) to stick them up on the wall. [Quake hold may only be a California thing, given that we have earthquakes here – but look it up, it’s really cool stuff!)

But if you can manage to do this, it will give you a much better idea of what a particular backsplash will look like.  There’s just something about seeing it on the wall versus visualizing it laying on the counters!

Here we tried out the herringbone. I will always have an obsession with herringbone subway tile, it just wasn’t the right fit for our kitchen (hint: bathroom coming soon; though I’ll probably go through this same indecision there too!)

8. DON’T decide in 24 hours like we did – give yourself time and really think it through.

Okay I really, no really, advise against deciding in a matter of hours like we did.  We only did it this way because we were on a tight deadline for the One Room Challenge, but choosing a backsplash is like choosing a paint color – you need time to mull it over.  Thankfully, ours worked out and we LOVE it, but if you make a rash decision and don’t get lucky and end up hating your backsplash…… well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

9. Remember, if you don’t like it in 5 years, you can always change it – for a DIY, it’s really not that expensive (just time consuming)!

And, if you do hate it (whether you made a rash decision or not), changing your backsplash really isn’t that big of a deal.  Sure, it’s time consuming, but it’s not that expensive.  Ours ended up being about $500 total, but this was largely in part due to the time crunch and not being able to order similar tile that was MUCH less expensive – we were limited to what was available to us at our local hardware store.  So really, you could do this project for about $250 in a small kitchen.  The larger your kitchen, the more expensive, as you’ll need more materials.  But overall, in the grand scheme of things, this project is quite inexpensive; and if you hate it, you can change it a few years down the road!

10. If all else fails, make a pro/con list.

Yup. We really did this.  It was between the arabesque and the classic/brick style oversized subway tile.  In the end, the arabesque won.  [Note: it was MUCH harder to lay than the subway would have been, but every second was worth it, and I feel like our kitchen is an original! Inspired by other farmhouse kitchens, sure?  But it has aspects of it that feel true to us, a little design flare if you will!]

arabesque tile backsplash farmhouse kitchen
I just love everything about our white arabesque backsplash. I think it adds not only a touch of femininity to our more rustic/masculine kitchen, but also an element that feels very high end and custom.
farmhouse sink
And even with the added femininity, it still goes perfectly with our perfectly farmhouse home!

So friends, I hope this was helpful! The tutorial on how we actually installed the tile is coming soon, but happy tile hunting until then!

XO,

Ana