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Glass Backsplashes Are Coming Into Their Own

March, 2014

Options and tips for creating a backsplash that's more than just a "glass act."

Move over, white subway tile. Glass is fast becoming the material of choice for kitchen backsplashes. In 2013, the National Kitchen & Bath Association reported a dramatic increase in glass backsplashes (42 percent to 64 percent) since 2010, while ceramic, still tops, fell by 11 percentage points. The trend seems likely to continue, given the many advantages of glass for both designers and homeowners.

NEMO Glass Blox
A combination of square and vertical glass tiles creates a visually compelling departure from the horizontal backsplash designs that have been in vogue for the past few years.
(Photo: Nemo Tile Co.)
If anything, glass is versatile, especially in tile form. Colors, designs, sizes and shapes abound and can be composed to complement any style of kitchen and a variety of countertop materials, according to Charlotte Barnard, creative director, Nemo Tile Co. In traditional kitchens with detailing on the cabinetry, architect Asifa Tirmizi, principal of Tirmizi Campbell, tends to favor small mosaics, while larger formats are better suited to contemporary and transitional settings. Glass subway tile "puts a fresh spin on a classic design," adds Barnard, and when lit, is "particularly beautiful."

For those with an aversion to grout lines, glass paneling offers a cleaner, more streamlined look that is ideal for modern – and some transitional – kitchens. Color is applied by back-painting the glass, and again, the possibilities are virtually endless. But do some test runs before making a final decision. The light green tint of the glass will affect the actual color of the backsplash when installed, notes designer Jennifer Gilmer, principal of Gilmer Kitchens.

With the dizzying array of choices available, one might be tempted to go big and bold when designing a kitchen backsplash. However, most designers agree that simplicity is key to true staying power. Keep sizes and shapes to a minimum, and depending on the kitchen, four colors may just be one too many. As it is, most homeowners are still color-shy, preferring white, off-white, gray and neutral tone-on-tone combinations. To create interest, architect David Shove-Brown, AIA, NCARB, partner at Studio3877, mixes materials and finishes or experiments with pattern by vertically stacking or diagonally configuring the tiles. Colored grout can also enhance a backsplash design.

Of course, proper installation is critical. Barnard recommends hiring a certified contractor with experience installing glass. Also important, make sure they include an anti-fracture membrane, which will help protect the glass against movement in the walls. She says, "Without a membrane, glass moves in the opposite direction from the wall, which can cause cracking." Avoid using sanded grout, which can scratch the glass.

Though more expensive than tiles, glass panels are easier, faster and therefore cheaper to install, but should not be located directly behind a heat source, or they may crack. Gilmer notes, "Appliances must be pulled away from the back wall to leave space – at least 6 inches – for heat dissipation." She also advises protecting the edges and corners with a thin aluminum or stainless frame and replacing outlets, which are unsightly in a glass-paneled backsplash, with plug molds mounted on the bottom of the cabinets.

For homeowners, the benefits of glass backsplashes extend beyond the visual. Maintenance is easy, requiring little more than a wipe-down with a vinegar-and-water solution and a soft cloth. Moreover, grout is also available in anti-stain formulations, Barnard says.