Installing backsplash tile is a fun, messy project that can give your kitchen a fairly instant facelift.
Here are the DIY tricks that will make your tiling project go smoothly, plus where we found our modern hexagon tile and how to work with unusual tile shapes.
Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.
How to Install Backsplash Tile
First, check out this video for a quick overview of how to install your tile backsplash.
You might also like my bathroom tiling tutorial, which discusses the whole tiling process starting from the studs to building a wall to finally laying the tile.
DIY Backsplash Tile Tricks We Learned
Once you have your materials and you’re ready to tile, these tips can improve the process.
1. Tape Down Lots of Plastic
Save yourself some heartbreak by covering your countertops and appliances with plastic sheeting or drop cloths. That way you can be messy without worrying about destroying the rest of your kitchen.
Here’s a great pic of my new sparkle laminate countertops NOT getting grout or mastic on them.
In Eric’s last house, he had a vendor install backsplash tile with black grout. He asked the installer to cover the counters before grouting. They did not.
They stained the brand new white quartz countertops with black grout. Stories like this are why Eric and I usually DIY now.
2. Make a Jig for Your Tile Saw
You’ll inevitably need to cut some of your tiles, especially if you’re using weird hexagon tiles like those in my backsplash. Since this shape is pointy on the top and bottom, we needed lots of tile pieces cut in half to get flat edges.
Eric made a jig for repeatedly cutting identical pieces. He cut several in a batch before we started installation. If you need a lot of identical cuts of tile, definitely make a jig.
3. Liberally Apply Spacers
Some backsplash tiles come in large sheets, similar to what we used in our shower tiling project. Those don’t require quite so many spacers. But if you are using individual tiles, you’ll need HUNDREDS of spacers in between all the pieces to keep an even grout line throughout.
It’s a lot of meticulous work, but the end result is a balanced, beautiful tile backsplash.
4. Use the Mirroring Trick Around Corners
What do you do when you get to a corner and have weird cuts? Your first instinct might be to continue from where the piece left off, so if you have a one-quarter piece, continue around the corner with a three-quarter piece. But that’s not what we recommend.
It actually looks better to mirror the pieces. So if you have a one-quarter piece, then continue around the corner with another one-quarter piece. It looks more symmetrical and natural to the eye.
5. Consider Metal Tile Edging for Unusual Tile Shapes
We had to have this complicated, concave, fancy hexagon tile. And when it came time to edge it we were a little stumped at first.
With hexagon tiles, you have to cut them to get a flat edge where your backsplash ends. Then you’re left with an awkward rough edge just sticking out.
So we opted for metal tile edging to complete the backsplash. We used this bullnose edging around the outer corners, and flat edging along the sides and top of the backsplash.
6. You Can’t Go Wrong With White Grout
The great grout debate. Do you go dark or light? Here’s a photo with white grout applied on the right, and no grout on the left, which gives you an idea of how this backsplash would have looked with dark grout.
Having your grout match your tile provides a clean and minimalist look, while contrasting grout is busier but really shows off the shape of the tile. There was some debate in my house, but ultimately we chose this pre-mixed grout in bright white.
Starting with white grout on white tile is a low-risk, modern choice. And you can always darken your grout later if you change your mind.
Whichever color you choose, I recommend using a pre-mixed grout. It is so easy to work with and doesn’t require continual mixing throughout the project. This grout also makes tile caulk tinted to match.
7. Clean Backsplash Tile Like Your Dentist Is Watching
Get out the toothbrush. Those rough little bristles are just what you need for cleaning tile.
Before you apply grout, you want to get all the mastic (basically tile glue) cleaned out from between your tile.
Later on, after applying the grout, you need to quickly remove the grout residue from the tile.
It helps to have a two-person, multi-sponge system. One person uses a sponge to wipe off the grout a little bit at a time, while the other cleans sponges, freshens up the sponge water and keeps a supply of fresh sponges ready.
Where to Find Mid-Century Modern Backsplash Tile
So where can you find modern or geometric tile for your kitchen backsplash? A lot of tile suppliers are more contemporary than mid-century modern, but there are still some era-appropriate options out there. Here are a few ideas.
We chose Cepac’s Verdon tile in dove white. It has an elongated hexagon shape, and up close you can see that it is concave, adding dimensional interest. While this shape was challenging for the tiling process, it was worth the end result.
In other photos of the Verdon tile, we noticed people usually install it vertically, like this. I think the horizontal layout was the right choice for a wide tile backsplash. What do you think?
This is where I got my sparkly countertops, but did you know they make dreamy retro tile, too? They have iconic mid-century designs including starburst and atomic tiles. These retro clock tiles would be perfect for a kitchen backsplash.
I’m a Home Depot affiliate and have seen a number of modern tile options on their site. It helps to search for square, hexagon or geometric tile. This pink hexagon is darling, and this gray hexagon has a modern industrial look.