Thursday, February 6, 2014

Paint your tile backsplash!

Yup, that's what I said. I meant to write about this little project a long time ago but I wasn't sure that this was going to be more than a temporary fix. Months later, it's looking like my painted tile backsplash is going to stay.

When we bought our house my husband and I were pretty happy with the kitchen. Only 10 yrs. old and in great condition with an efficient layout and ample cupboard space. The only thing wrong was that it didn't really go with the rest of our mid century modern style house. We have an open plan in the main living spaces with high, angled walls, huge windows, brick fireplace hearth. The kitchen had cherry colored cabinets in a Shaker style and a black, matte tile backsplash. I didn't mind the laminate counters at all since they had a stone look pattern in natural colors. I seriously thought about painting the cabinets since Shaker style cabs can look more modern that way. Also, the drawer and cabinet pulls could be upgraded to something other than the blackish-chrome pulls we have now. I'm home with our 2 yr. old so I don't have much time to paint the cabinets. I've done it before and I know that it could take weeks to do all the steps and for drying time.

What really bugged me most was the black backsplash. It just sucked the light out of the counter space.  Our kitchen has a lot of light, maybe too much. We have a huge picture window over the stove. Even on cloudy days I really don't need to turn a light on in there. But the area under the upper cabinets was shadowy thanks to the black backsplash. I'm not afraid of using black in an interior. I think black can bring a sharpness into a room's design. But it has to be used correctly. Like in a fabric print, black frames on art, black and white photography. This black tile backsplash just looked wrong. As a general rule, brown (the cabinets) and black don't look great together.

So one day I thought maybe I could paint the backsplash. I had dabbled with painting tile before so I felt pretty confident that it could be done. It helped that the tiles are a matte finish but I have painted glossy tiles, too. What's key is the primer. I used a bonding primer (XIM). It stinks to high heaven but it is durable stuff. I taped off the countertop, stove, upper cabinets and anything else that touched the tile that wasn't going to get painted. I used a foam brush to paint on the bonding primer. It's very runny so a lot goes a long way. It is a good thing to do this project in warmer weather when you can open windows for ventilation. In fact, using a respirator is a good idea. I used my stove's vent, too. The primer dries very quickly, under an hour. After that I used a white water based primer, Glidden's Gripper. I did this to cover the black as the bonding primer is clear. It didn't completely cover the black but helped get rid of a lot of it.

I had an much loved McCoy vase in turquoise for inspiration. I mixed up about 5 shades of turquoise acrylic paint, from deep to light. 100% acrylic is what you want. It is stronger than latex paint but still has water wash up and little to no fumes. After the primer you will appreciate that!

I used foam brushes again to paint each tile individually. I made a random pattern because I wanted to keep it looking retro. I didn't worry about the grout lines getting sloppy, I'll cover that a little later. It took a couple of coats to make the tiles look completely solid. I liked it but it was a little overwhelming, all that turquoise. I looked into my supply of acrylic paints and pulled out copper. I randomly painted some tiles copper throughout the backsplash. The copper helped bring in the cherry wood tones. Now the kitchen made more sense in relation to the rest of the house.

I cleaned up the grout lines by using a grout colorant product. It's very easy to use, just paint it on in the grout lines and wipe off with a clean rag. After that I sealed the backsplash with a couple of coats of shellac. It's holding up very well and is washable. Our kitchen gets heavy use, too. In one of my photos you can see how the tiles looked before I used the grout colorant and the other one shows the "after".

I really thought that painting the backsplash was going to just be a temporary fix and that ultimately I would make a mosaic backsplash and paint the cabinets. But I have grown so fond of the backsplash and how it makes the cabinets look good that I'll probably keep it. Most of all, it's fun and that's what we like about this house. We've had other houses where we felt like we had to respect the age and history of the house and keep the colors historic. This house feels different. I've painted most of the walls here white because that's what the house wants but I have not been afraid to bring in some wild colors (orange front door!) to be accents.

Most people who come to our house really seem to like the backsplash and it looks pretty retro without being too kitsch, I hope. Next maybe we'll talk about the lights.

Big thanks to Retro Renovation for doing a story on my little project! You can see the story here and check them out:




  1. I have a very 70s kitchen, but the backsplash tile is way more contemporary than that. It appears to have been an attempt to match generic tile to the existing tile countertop. This may be my fix!

  2. Its a great fix if you really don't like what you have, GJD Mama. Paint will never be as durable as glazed tile but if you use the right materials it may last for many years. If you tried to scratch the painted tiles with say, a knife, it will scratch. But you might also scratch a ceramic or stone tile with a knife, too. I've used a scrubby to clean my painted tiles and they held up just fine. The nice thing about painting the tiles is the sky is the limit as far as color and design.

  3. You did a fabulous job on this project. The range and depth of colors and how it pulls everything together was done in a masterful way. I came over from Retro and I'm signing up!

  4. Thank you so much! I'm glad that you joined!