/ Backsplashes

Mosaic Tiles for Your Kitchen

Personalization is king in today's kitchen, with homeowners wanting not just a beautiful but also a unique space. As a result, many people are trading the uninspired tile backsplash or countertop for one that doubles as a piece of art-the mosaic.

"It's a permanent functional piece of art in a highly functional living space," says Eric May, a partner and designer at Sublime Surfaces, a custom mosaic design company located in Chicago, Ill. "You can't hang a painting in your kitchen because of the mess and traffic. A mosaic is a great way to have a cleanable piece of art."

Cutting-edge design has never been so classical. Though your thoroughly contemporary "piece of art" will match your 21st-century tastes, delight in that fact that you're celebrating one of art's most time-honored traditions. The history of mosaics goes back more than 4,000 years; what started in Greece around 4 B.C. later became a vital component of the artistic histories of the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic peoples. But don't be too quick to label mosaics as stuffy and traditional. Vibrant colors, beautiful materials and limitless design options have brought them back into the spotlight in recent days.

And design options truly are limitless. Sublime Surfaces has created a sunflower-filled backsplash inspired by Van Gogh's depiction of the flower; Persian-rug inspired designs and a four elements glass mosaic frieze that personifies the earth, wind, fire and water gods.

Choosing Custom or Fabricated

Ready to reincorporate a classical style into your modern environment? When you decide to go the mosaic route, know that there are two choices: custom design firms like Sublime Surfaces offer fully personalized mosaics, made to your specifications in terms of size, subject and colors. The mosaics are designed, fabricated and installed by the company, which stays in frequent contact with the homeowner. Those looking for a less time-intensive route can opt for pre-fabricated mosaics, which offer the mosaic look without the same labor and customization, as you'll choose from a range of designs, rather than create your own.

Typically available in 12" by 12" mesh-back sections that fasten multiple tiles together via netting, which make for an easier install; you can also find single tiles that look as if they're composed of many. Companies like Artistic Tile and Ann Sacks offer pre-fabricated mosaics.

Regardless of the route you take, your choice of material is an important one, in terms of both style and maintenance. "Glazed ceramic would be best in many cases," says Eric May of Sublime Surfaces. "It's durable, cleans well and doesn't stain." Ceramic certainly isn't the only option, however.

Mosaic Materials

Ceramic and porcelain come in a vast array of colors. Though ceramic is glazed, porcelain is stained and requires factory pre-sealing or on-site sealing.

Marble and granite work well if sealed. Glass, while beautiful as a backsplash, shouldn't be used on a horizontal surface like countertops, due to its delicate nature.

Looking for something even more unique? Sublime Surfaces (and other custom companies) can create mosaics from experimental materials like river stones, beer bottle glass, dominos, marbles, keys and more.

Consider a less romantic element as well: grout. Epoxy and latex-modified grouts are available in a variety of colors as well; your choice can dramatically enhance or deepen your mosaic. Inquire about the possibility of custom colors as well.

Maintenance is fairly minimal, but a smart preventative move. Sublime Surfaces recommends resealing each year to protect the tile and prevent grout staining.

Installation and Cost

When selecting a custom design firm, use the same approach as you would when selecting a kitchen designer. Be sure to ask to see the company's portfolio, phone references and visit its studio to see samples. Expect to begin with a consultation period, in which you meet with your designer to discuss ideas, materials, artistic concerns and pricing. Your designer will then work on a more realized concept, and present you with a variety of drawings. You'll be able to tweak, and will then select colors according to your decor and preferences.


The majority of tile manufacturers that offer pre-fabricated mosaics do not offer installation. If you don't feel handy enough to take on the mastic and grout yourself, be sure to ask for recommended installers in your area.

Expect a fairly clean installation process, regardless of whether you're going custom or pre-fabbed; fabrication is typically done in the manufacturer's factory or the designer's studio. Depending on the size of your mosaic, installation should only take one to two days.

Expect to pay $5-60 per square foot for materials, and a final cost of $65-$350 per square foot with design, fabrication and installation.



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