Ceramic tile backsplashes often highlight and enhance the colors of a fabricated granite countertop.

Tom and Lane Meehan own a tile specialty store and installation company in beautiful Cape Cod, Mass. The couple partnered with Taunton Press Books on a wonderful book titled, “Working With Tile.” Their company, Cape Cod Tileworks, is a member of the NTCA. We thought so much of their book we purchased copies for our Board of Directors. We now offer it for sale on our bookstore on line at www.tile-assn.com. One of the best sections in the book, in my opinion, centers on two chapters dealing with the installation and layout of ceramic tile kitchens and backsplashes.

The Meehans, who work often in homes of historic quality needing a facelift, understand one important aspect to the selection process of countertop and backsplash tile or stone. The products must blend with the surrounding of the room. Cabinets, appliances, paint color, and other decorations all contribute to what proper tile should be used in the room. Even the most expensive, artistic and beautiful materials can look awful in the wrong kitchen.

According to the Meehans, most kitchens have a focal point, such as a center island, or a highly visible stove top.  Ideally, tile selected for projects like these will complement the colors included in these highly visible areas. Using ceramic tile or natural stone for both countertop and backsplash combinations can dramatically change a room. Although they encompass very little square footage in the overall scope of your home, they are among the most important selections to be made. In fact, most consumers will tell you it is the kitchen where most often people gather as a guest in one’s home.

Because the area is generally small in size, the client is more likely to not shy away from materials that carry a high square foot price.  A backsplash area is also not limiting in that it does not get the hard use that a countertop or floor would. Thus, often you can select a sturdy product for the countertop, such as ceramic tile, granite, or natural stone, and complement the surface with a vibrant and colorful backsplash using decorative tile, glass, metal, or stone. The design possibilities for the project are virtually limitless.

Installing ceramic tile or natural stone on bathroom vanities and walls is an outstanding way to tie the shower and bathroom walls to the remainder of the room.

Countertop Installation

Method C511 in the TCA Handbook for tile installation is still used in some geographic areas today. This entails a mud-set counter installation, reinforced with wire mesh. More common in most areas today are methods C512 (double layer of plywood) and C513 (one layer of plywood with one layer of approved Backer Board). Consult the Handbook for details on the requirements for each method to determine the best course for you. Two items to consider are the use of a waterproof membrane to prevent damage to any exposed wood areas and to seal the edge and bottom of the plywood overhang at the face of the counter; and to be aware of the potential for the need of applying support such as brackets to overhangs exceeding ten inches.

In renovation projects, such as existing laminates like Formica, you may be able to go over the surface by scarifying the coating and applying a waterproof membrane for preventive purposes. Consider using new and improved epoxy grouts for countertop installations, to prevent staining of the joint. A caulk joint should be placed between the backsplash and the countertop.

The edge of the countertop can be a custom trim piece like V-cap or bullnose (surface trim), in natural stone and tile the material can also be bullnosed utilizing new tools that perform this function, or wood trim can be used to match the cabinets. It is important in the tile selection process to understand the options available to you.

When space is available on a backsplash, a larger accent or mural, complemented by border tiles or simply used by itself, can strongly supplement a key focal point of the kitchen like the stove or hooded range.

Backsplash Installation

A beautiful backsplash can change the entire kitchen. It can take a granite countertop and make it come alive in color. It can change the look of the stove and refrigerator, and enhance the color of the cabinets. The use of decorative tile can allow the consumer to choose their favorite decorative style, such as fruits, vegetables, or accent colors. In just a few square feet, the kitchen can take on a whole new look.

The Meehans suggest using accent tiles or borders if space allows. Mark the area where you may desire the accent placement first, and move them around until you find a pattern you like. Get the client to approve accent and border placement, and make them aware of the location of the outlets in the area to be tiled. Pay attention to window placement if applicable.

The large area over the stove is a perfect place to add a dramatic element to a kitchen, including borders designed with different materials, large accent or decorative pieces, tile simply placed diagonally and bordered, to name a few. This is where your creative ideas can make a difference. This is also an area to spend a considerable amount of time with to properly center and place the mural or insert or pattern. Work from the bottom of the backsplash up and make sure you are staying level on all layers. It may be necessary to start with a partial tile due to uneven surfaces.

Whether you are in installation, sales, or manufacturing, the backsplash and countertop can be key profit drivers to the project. They may lead to a selection of ceramic tile or natural stone on the floor. Bathroom counters or vanities and walls around the mirrors are also a perfect place to add style, substance and profit with ceramic tile or natural stone.