Rise of the Colorful and Cultural Kitchen Backsplash

Images courtesy of Elliot McGowan and Ashford Kitchens

Kitchens of today strive to be as sleek and simple as possible. They are not a room of the home that we tend to decorate extravagantly. Instead, we stick to minimalistic and monochromatic decor that modern kitchen design advocates. Muted, neutral colours like pastoral whites and creams are the go-to options and bright, vibrant colours have become taboo choices. Today kitchen designers don’t recommend anything more complex than a two-tone kitchen that contrasts a light shade with a dark shade. But that is not to say that decorative design and splashes of colour should be eradicated from kitchen design entirely.

One area we predict a surge in popularity is in the kitchen backsplash — an often overlooked feature of modern kitchen design. Historically, backsplashes are an extra layer of tiling placed on walls behind worktops, sinks and stoves to protect them from food splashes and spillages. They have always been an integral part of the kitchen but not just for their practicality and hygiene — they are also a fantastic way to inject colour and character into a kitchen. Tiles have a decorative prowess and with many different styles originating from all over the world there is a multitude of stunning options at our finger tips. Here are some extravagant backsplashes inspired by cultures around the world, from Mexico’s Talavera tiles to the Netherlands’ famous Delftware blues.

The Portuguese ‘Azulejo’ Backsplash

the portuguese azulejo backsplash

When talking about tiling and backsplashes, Portugal’s Azulejo tile is one of the first that springs to mind. Anybody who has visited Portugal may recognise the style. Tiling is extremely common in the Mediterranean as tiles don’t retain heat so help to keep places cool in high temperatures. They are also, however, an important part of Portuguese culture and identity. Azulejo tilework actually dates as far back as the 13th century and was brought to the Iberian Peninsula when the Moors invaded what is now Spain and Portugal. Azulejo in Arabic means “small polished stone” and originates in northern Africa. 

The last few centuries saw an explosion in Azulejo popularity. Today, it is common to see Azulejos adorning churches, palaces, schools, restaurants, bars and train stations, as well as regular homes. They are also used extensively in interior decoration. In the kitchen below the Azulejos inject a perfect degree of character into the kitchen. The pastel blue, beige and yellow colours are soft and modest, rather than overpowering. The mandalas are decorative but not excessive, they compliment surrounding neutral walls without creating a busy effect. 

Mexican ‘Talavera’ Backsplash

mexican talavera backsplash

The tiling techniques introduced to the Portuguese and Spanish by the Moors were then introduced to Central America when it was colonised by the Spanish and Portuguese over 500 years ago. This can most obviously be seen in Mexico, but again, the tilework here now boasts its own unique style. 

The  Talavera tile is most recognisable tilework hailing from Mexico. These tend to showcase the timeless combination of blue and white, but they also come in more vibrant colours. The style above is simple yet effective and highly suited to the kitchen. It fuses a floral composition with birds, all hand-painted — such a style is impossible to achieve with machinery. 

Blue tiles seen here became a common style, with blue holding connotations of power and wealth. As such, they are found on important monuments all over Mexico. However, these tiles later attempted to break free from their origins, using bursts of bright colours not used in the Iberian Peninsula from where they originated. Brightly coloured Talavera tiles are perhaps too much for the kitchen, given that the patterns are already very lively, but the deep blue in the image below keeps the kitchen looking classy without overdoing the decoration.

Dutch ‘Delft Blue’ Backsplash

dutch delft blue backsplash

Another extremely recognisable style of tiles comes from the Netherlands. Delftware, or Delft Pottery, hails from the little canalled city of Delft, the centre of its production. In Dutch, this style is known Delfts Blauw, meaning “Delft Blue”, which today is a recognised colour of its own, such is its fame and popularity. 

This design was first introduced around 1600 and flourished during the Dutch Golden Age that spanned the 17th century. By the end of the 17th century, Delftware had become a major industry, exporting tilework all over Europe. 

The designs found on a Dutch Delft Blue backsplash will not be to everybody’s taste as they depict elements of Dutch culture like clogs, tulips and canal houses that may not be relatable to some people. They definitely, however, make for a cute but downplayed backsplash that feels like you’ve been transported back in time. 

Turkish ‘İznik’ Backsplash

turkish iznik backsplash

This Turkish backsplash is reminiscent of the more simple Portuguese Azulejos design. Each tile is identical and depicts the same intricate pattern, rather than the variety seen in Mexican Talavera tiles and Delft Blues.

Turkish tiles and ceramics are prominent in the history of Islamic art and their roots can be traced as far back as before 700AD. At first, they were monochromatic in design and commonly displayed stars and crosses. However, they later became associated with geometric patterns and a range of colours including greens and reds.

The tiles seen in this backsplash are a tame version of the popular İznik ware, which hails from the Western Turkish town of İznik. This particular style has been popular since the 15th century, with designs heavily influenced by both Chinese pottery and Ottoman arabesque patterns, and distinguishable by their frequent use of cobalt blue. The design here is slightly more flamboyant than previous kitchen backsplashes with several different shades coming into play. It’ll certainly take centre stage in your kitchen and stand out as an eye-catching feature against the monochromatic minimalist layout surrounding it.

Moroccan Backsplash

moroccan backsplash

Last up is this gorgeous colourful Moroccan backsplash. It takes inspiration from the Moroccan Zellige art form, which used mosaics to create geometric shapes, as Islam forbade the representation of living animal or human figures. Art, therefore, instead featured shapes such as diamonds, squares, triangles, stars and tessellated patterns. 

Traditionally, Zellige art was mosaic, typical of the tilework that decorates Granada’s Alhambra, but as mosaic can be a particularly excessive decoration in the kitchen, the backsplash featured here is made up of different square tiles. Masters of creating these patterns would go undergo lengthy training beginning in childhood and would need expert knowledge of mathematics and geometry. Later in the 17th century, this art form grew in its vibrancy and variation. Colours were used to represent different elements, with red symbolising fire, yellow air, and green water, for example.

This curveball option provides a refreshing alternative to the monochromatic and minimalistic tendencies of modern kitchen design. Though the colours are certainly more vibrant than those of other backsplashes, they are toned down and carefully balanced so as not to be overly intrusive. The reds, greens and yellows are controlled shades that add character without being too bold or overbearing. It brings a slice of culture to the kitchen and makes for a standout feature for guests. 






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