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Kitchen backsplash tile design – a fail

Ok y’all. Its update time (although no reveal, sorry!).

To recap:

When we moved into the kitchen it was OK, considering it was from the 60’s with very few updates (thank god). We planned on refinishing the cabinets (boy was that a mistake, more on that when we’re allowed to show the pics) and I knew we would get these beautiful handles from School House Electric to update them, so everything was pretty simple, clean, and classic midcentury so far. The place that I could go crazy and do something interesting was the backsplash. So the amount of hours I thought about this stupid backsplash was ridiculous.

Here’s a reminder of what it looked like when we moved in:

A pretty great layout, simple cabinetry and just needed updates on appliances, countertop. sink, faucets, lighting, etc.

Designing for yourself (and fast) is actually really difficult when you have a large audience that is going to see it, share it (or not) like it, hate on it, etc, etc. Here is what i’ve been battling:

I want to do something amazing, but also something that is a “good idea” and something that might inspire other good ideas in you – aka I could have just called up some super expensive and beautiful tile company and gotten tons of handmade tile for free (and yes, I was tempted), but what is the ‘idea’ in that? Its like “here’s a tip, folks!- spend 5K on your backsplash tile!”

But at the same time I really wanted it to be amazing and generally anything that is common and relatively inexpensive is just not amazing. And I wanted it to be simple and mid-century because a. we are going to sell the house in probably in a year so as much as I wanted to bring in a weird color palette, its just not good for resale. And b, I don’t want to get sick of looking at this thing because its attached to the family room so its the room that we spend most of our time in.

I even met with ceramic artist Bari Zipperstein because I love her work and thought I could commission tiles from her but again the tip is ‘collaborate with an amazing artist that is going to give you a deal for exposure!!’

And then part of me was like, “just do whatever you want and screw the fact that it may or may not be pinned for the rest of eternity!!!!”

Anyway, to recap, here’s what I wanted: 1. something midcentury-inspired, 2. a good ‘idea’ (in other words do something creative with something common), 3. something relatively inexpensive (EVERYTHING was just adding up so I really had to think about budget), and 4. something that you/I haven’t seen before (but still good for resale).

No pressure. Here’s are some patterns that I LOVE that helped get the inspiration going:

Tiling Inspiration

My first idea was to create an interesting pattern/design with penny tile or small 1″ square tiles (which is super common and cheap). I thought about doing a watercolor effect in tile, something organic and soft, but ultimately there just weren’t enough different soft colors of penny tile to make that look good.

So then I thought maybe its all about a graphic pattern. Stripes seemed a bit uninteresting (although classic), but something diagonal could be cool, I thought. I really wanted to bring in ‘Oregon’ somewhere since Brian and I both have ties to it. So my first idea that I really pursued was doing a mountainscape along the back wall. It would be mainly white, taupes, grays, blues and gold tile forming the shape of the mountains. Maybe there were multiple colors in each mountain or maybe each mountain would be a different tone. A la so:

mountain motif

So we ordered a sheet of each color that we kinda liked and started playing:

Kitchen tiles

Hmm. It was looking bathroom-y and just kinda bad. So what if it was just the outline of the mountain and what if it was more abstract? I thought … So we turned to our blue tape friend and just taped it up.

Kitchen Tiling

I liked that, I did … in the blue tape. So we tried taping up tiles … Sure, you can spend hours on renderings or you can just sample it.

Kitchen Tiling

Meh. I also wanted more of a solid color in the tiles – not where the edges are lighter (I actually don’t mind that normally, but i wanted the line to be more solid and look more like one piece). So I went out tile shopping again. I found a lot more tile options (some awesome, some not) but it still wasn’t there. My camera was FULL of tile photo after tile photo.

tile options

And then I started thinking that triangles (a classic geometric shape) are having a moment right now and I was scared that it would look super “2014”, and while I don’t mind things referencing the era that they are designed in, I didn’t want it to be “Emily’s Super Hipster Kitchen” redo.

Besides, the installation of this could be really difficult to relay properly to our tiler who doesn’t speak perfect english (I mean, it was difficult to explain to Brian) and the idea of doing a rendering for this sounded so daunting and boring and I don’t know how accurate it would be anyway because you have to account for grout lines and just normal irregularities. The tile dude at Classic Tile thought that the installation for that small wall would be around $1500 and thats just the installation. Ugh.

Kitchen Tiling 05

I couldn’t seem to pull the trigger on it. I just didn’t feel confidant about it and it was risking too much money (and the horror of it being hideous) to just go for it. Some people who I trusted agreed that with the right tile it could be awesome. And some other people were against the idea completely. I felt like if I could find the perfect carerra marble tile (or sheets) for the background and the perfect gold and gray tile or strips for the mountain scape that it could look amazing, but time was running out and finding those elements (and making sure their depth and size matched for installation so they really needed to be from the same company) was proving very difficult.

So on the way home from the tile place I got the idea, THEE IDEA, that we ended up doing, one that I felt extremely confidant about immediately. Unfortunately (I know its annoying, i’m sorry) I can’t reveal what it is until it comes out in Domino (september issue, comes out mid-august) but I will say that I’m 98% in love with it and i’ll show you how you can do it and avoid that mistake and make you 100% in love with it.

But again … when the magazine drops in August. So rude, I know.

For now, what do you guys think of the mountain scape plan? Can you see how it could be amazing if done right? Or are you terrified?



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