Countertops and Backsplashes
These two surfaces can be anything from bland to "BLING", depending on your taste. They can run from being just a strictly utilitarian painted backsplash and laminate countertop, to any of the dozens of exotic stones available on the countertops and outlandish eye catching tile or stone work on the backsplash. It's completely up to you.
More people than not these days seem to be interested in granite slab countertops.... That is, until they see the price. At anywhere from 80 to 300.00 a square foot, it can get very pricey, very quickly. That's where I come in. So long as you don't mind minimal grout joints, you can still have the same granite, but in a tile format for between 30.00 and 50.00 a foot, depending on the stone and edging detail you choose, and even less if you decide to take the plunge and do it yourself. I've installed countertops with three different edgings:
Bull-nosed tile with a cut skirt piece on the front edge
wood trim stained to match the cabinets
and ceramic v-cap ( pre-made ceramic countertop edge trim)
All three look nice, and any one is as good as the other, generally speaking.
Many times I've been asked about installing a countertop with the tiles butted tight together, groutless. It seems that there's a big movement in that direction in this country. How or why it got started, I don't know. What I DO know FOR SURE, is that it's wrong. It can, and will, cause problems later for the end user. There are several problems with this, starting with when you set the tiles in the first place. All it takes is one grain of sand from the thinset you're using to set the tile, getting between the tiles, and your coursing (rows of tiles) will be thrown off, and for those of you who've set tile before, you know that if you bed the tile properly in the thinset, you're going to get a lot more than just one grain. Another big problem is voids. Lets say in a perfect world, you can set the tile and keep the joints clean. Because the edges of the stone are somewhat rough (at best the texture of a chalkboard), there will ALWAYS be small microscopic voids between the tiles where bacteria and mold can take route and fester. Not exactly the kind of situation you want on your kitchen countertop where you'll be preparing food for your family. Still another advantage of grouting is that when you grout, you're supposed to press the grout into the joints, making sure to fill them completely. This also accomplishes filling in any edges or corners that might not quite have thinset under them all the way to the edge of the tile, and therefore avoids chipping or cracking edges or corners of the tiles later. As for building your base, the industry minimum is a layer of 5/8" exterior grade plywood, and a layer of 1/2" CBU ( AKA backerboard, cement board). I can't stress enough, that that's the MINIMUM, not what's recommended. Most people will also add a second layer of 1/2" exterior grade plywood before the CBU. The reason is that no matter whether it's ceramic or stone with which you want to create your countertop, you want it as stiff as possible to minimize flex, and therefore, the possibility of failure. Personally, every countertop I've ever done has been two layers of 3/4" plywood. Granted, no one's going to be dancing on your counters, but there will be times when a heavy bag of groceries is thrown up on it (you'd never believe the pressure exerted by a 25 pound frozen turkey dropped from even an inch off the counter), or someone gets up on the counter to reach something on the top shelf, or to clean, change a light bulb, etc. . The point is you want this surface to be just as sturdy as your floor, because sooner or later, it WILL see some stress.
Another thing I've been asked about is whether or not the substrate should be waterproofed or not. My answer is always that it can be, and it wouldn't hurt, to say the least, but it's not necessary. Unless you plan on flooding your countertop and leaving it flooded so that moisture can permeate the grout and underlying CBU, you won't get enough moisture under the tile to ruin the plywood underneath, even around the sink.
Still another common fallacy is that tile can not be used with an undermount sink. Although it takes a little more time, as you can see from the pictures below, it CAN be done.
Here's where things can get really interesting. You can install a backsplash that's just as bland as possible to make other things in the kitchen really stand out, or you can get just as ornate as you like, so that as soon as someone walks into the kitchen, that's all they see. If you decide to go bland, then just about anything will do. But if you decide to really make your backsplash the "BLING" of the kitchen, you can spend as much as 80-90.00 a square foot, just to buy the tile. OR, you can take normal, run of the mill tile, and install it in some kind of design, from simply turning it diagonally to actually getting geometric, and as you'll see in the following pictures, even using standard tile lines, it can get quite ornate. As a matter of fact, the backsplash below with all the designs-- the designs were made with scrap tile left over from other areas of the house!
Bottocino 4" tumbled marble with 3/4" absolute black "dots"
Bottocino 4" tumbled marble with 2" uba tuba "dots"
Bottocino 4" tumbled marble with hickory brown granite diamonds
In the following backsplash, originally the question was whether to leave the end wall painted or just put one row of tile at the bottom of the wall, but after some discussion I talked them into tiling the whole thing, and it was a great improvement. I'm showing all three looks so that others in the same circumstances might benefit and have an easier decision to make.
Italian carrerra with blue Pearl accent
Bottocino and empress green 4" tumbled marble with premade listello
3"x6" creme colored subway tile
Bottocino 4" tumbled marble
Bottocino 4" tumbled marble with uba tuba diamonds and designs made from scrap tiles from other areas of the home