Simplify your decision-making with these ideas for materials that work well with wood counters
So you’ve decided on wood countertops. Whether freshly cut live-edge walnut, reclaimed-pine floorboards, butcher block from Ikea or something else, congratulations. You’ve chosen a material that’s a departure from today’s most popular choices, and you’ll be adding warmth and texture to your kitchen. Did I mention that I’m biased? My kitchen countertops are reclaimed-wood floorboards from my attic and I love them.
Wood countertops used to be more prevalent in traditional homes, but today they warm up many contemporary and modern kitchens, presenting a strong contrast to sleek surfaces like white lacquer cabinets and stainless steel appliances. The deep archive of European photos on Houzz showed me that wood is a go-to material for Europeans, and they use it with aplomb. Whether in a traditional London townhouse, a simple Scandinavian cabin or a sleek German apartment, Europeans make great use of wood countertops and offer many wonderful backsplash pairings. Because wood shows up in such a wide range of kitchens, I’ve organized the options below by style.
Wood paneling. Painted wood paneling lends itself well to a cottage or farmhouse look. This can also take the form of beadboard, tongue and groove, shiplap, butt board and more. Another element here worth noting is the choice of oversized wooden pulls that dot the cabinets and drawers and tie into the countertops.
Beadboard. Wood countertops and beadboard painted white are a classic traditional pairing. It’s an apt choice for a cottage kitchen look. Here the owners opted for hickory because of its hardness and density, then stained it dark to look like walnut.
Painted brick. This look lends itself well to farmhouse, cottage, transitional and industrial looks. However, if you are someone who gets your kitchen really greasy or splattered, this is not the best option for you. Neither are the previous wood options — something more wipe-able like ceramic tile or glass will work better for the way you cook.
Hand-painted tile. In this traditional London home, the lively pattern in the tile picks up on the cabinet color and the colors in the wood. The backsplash appears only on this one accent wall; the rest of the counters are backsplash-free.
Cabinet color: Hardwick White, Farrow & Ball
Subway tile. In my search, subway tile was by far the backsplash that showed up the most with wood countertops, no matter the style of room. However, the tiles are arranged, colored and grouted differently to suit different styles. Here the softer off-white biscuit hue lends a more aged look to a cottage kitchen.
Backsplash tile: Colour & Dimension Series in Biscuit, Olympia Tile; lower-cabinet paint: Saybrook Sage HC-114, Benjamin Moore; upper-cabinet paint: Hollingsworth Green HC-141, Benjamin Moore
Colored tiles. A kitchen with crisp, white cabinetry and wood counters allows colorful tiles to stand out without competing for attention.
Stacked stone. A range of tones in this rough-stacked stone works beautifully with the dark sipo mahogany counters. They both bring in natural elements that are balanced by stainless steel and white paint.
Matching wood. A coordinating cherry wood backsplash is a wonderfully crafted addition to this Craftsman kitchen. Note the way the edge was curved around the undermount sink.
Tin tiles. Once mostly found on the ceilings of old houses, these tiles are now widely available and very reasonably priced. They come in faux tin and even peel-and-stick versions, so they are easy to install for those who aren’t DIY mavens.
Colorful penny rounds. In this kitchen, handmade penny tiles add a liveliness via the backsplash. This tile is deceiving. Though it’s full of bright color, a close-up look reveals that the grout and colors in some of the more earthy-toned tiles pick up on the colors in the wood grain.
Antique tile. This resourceful homeowner added a mix of white and handpainted antique tiles to her eclectic kitchen. On the right side, she used beadboard.
Subway tile. White subway tile keeps the palette in this industrial-inspired kitchen simple and maintains its clean lines
Stainless steel. This home, in a converted woolen mill, has wonderful original elements like the exposed brick wall. Stainless steel (along with glossy cabinets) adds a sleek contrast to the solid maple countertops and aged brick.
Cabinets: Akurum, Ikea
Updated Midcentury Modern
Back-painted glass. In this midcentury modern ranch renovation, the owners opted for deep mint green back-painted glass. Adding playful colors was a popular move at the time, and this kitchen does the same in an updated way. Also, keeping the backsplash simple and glossy helps the galley kitchen feel larger.
Glass: Saint-Gobain Planilaque Mint Green 15
Calacatta marble. The large vein patterns typical of Calacatta make a wonderful impact when paired with wood. The marble is cool and elegant while the wood is warm and rustic.
Note: Calacatta marble can be quite pricey. A good alternative is to pick a tile printed with a Calacatta look. The backsplash in this photo is composed of 12-by-12-inch porcelain tiles.
More: Carrara vs. Calacatta Marble: What is the Difference?
Light wood paneling. This beautiful Swedish summer home has a limited palette that is mostly white. The light wood paneling makes a striking statement and introduces a clean Scandinavian take on cabin style.
Colored mosaic tile. In this likewise mostly white home, the backsplash and cabinetry offer a prime opportunity to add color, while the countertop is a chance to bring in the wonderful warmth of oak.
Here’s a closer look at the mosaic tile.
Stainless steel. Style along the Mediterranean coast inspired interior designer Tim Clarke’s work on this kitchen. The stainless steel backsplash adds a modern element to the more traditional Mediterranean materials such as limestone and wood lattice.
Subway tile with a twist. Remember when I said subway tile can take on many different forms? Here it is in black, with heft and dimension thanks to the beveled edges. The wood counters are the exception to the strict black and white palette in this kitchen, which puts the focus on the wood.
Back-painted glass. We saw earlier how well this works in color in the midcentury modern home. White back-painted glass with white cabinets add gloss over the counters and enhance the contemporary look. In a sleek kitchen like this, it’s hard to imagine a better choice than wood countertops. They inject a natural texture and color in the sea of glossy white.
Do you have wood countertops in your home? What kind of backsplash did you pair with them? Please add to this list by letting us know in the Comments.