This Backsplash Has Officially Replaced Subway Tile, and I’m Not Mad at It

published Mar 3, 2021
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Athena Calderone's Amagansett kitchen

That article title — bold statement, huh? I figure, as a design fan, you’re probably in one of two camps: You either think subway tile is a forever classic that will look as fresh 50 years from now as it does today, or you are so over it and were ready for the design world to move onto the next thing like yesterday. Me? I’m somewhere in the murky middle. I love the look of subway tile for its ease and flexibility; there’s not a kitchen it doesn’t look good in, a budget it can’t cater to, and a decor style it doesn’t suit. That said, I like a little spice and adventure every now and then, so I love when I spot designers mixing it up and veering away from the tried-and-true kitchen classics. 

I’ve got to admit though, I’ve found myself saving Instagram posts more and more frequently lately, thanks to a new stone trend taking kitchen design to the next level: slab backsplashes. This look involves carrying the stone on countertops up the walls to create a clean, eye-catching design feature that is at once modern, timeless, and damn good looking to boot. Case in point: Design and food blogger Athena Calderone’s Amagansett kitchen remodel shown above, where she replaced slate gray stack bond tile with Calacatta Monet marble that climbs about halfway up her kitchen’s back wall. This space is small, but it packs a ton of decorative punch. I’d venture to say most of that is due to this stunning smooth stone, which is in perfect contrast to the simple but textural woven items throughout the space.

This streamlined look goes hand-in-hand with the renaissance natural stone is having as of late, especially varieties with major veining and unexpected colors like Calacatta, Violeta, and Arabescato. Still, you don’t have to want a home with more dramatic design than a “Real Housewives” reunion to get in on this trend. Quieter stone colorways will look just as beautiful as slab-style backsplashes, too.

Want to talk pros and cons? Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: price. Countertops are expensive as it is, whether you opt for manufactured stone or natural varieties. So as you can imagine, adding even more stone surface area to your project can quickly inflate your total costs. If counter-to-ceiling or counter-to-cabinet stone isn’t in your budget (honestly, same!), you can opt for a look that still riffs on this impactful trend, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s not uncommon to see stone backsplashes fade into a ledge of sorts, trailing halfway up the wall and finishing in a stylish yet useful open shelf, as in Calderone’s kitchen and AT’s own CEO and founder Maxwell Ryan’s kitchen pictured just above. Likewise, you can opt for a slab backsplash only behind your cooktop (likely the place you’ll need it most anyway) and paint the rest of the exposed walls a bold, complementary hue.

Credit: Kate Pearce

One of the major perks of a slab backsplash is its lack of grout lines — I mean hello, show me one person doesn’t want to cross “scrub kitchen grout” off their cleaning to-do list forever. Hold up though; that doesn’t mean you don’t have to factor upkeep into the equation at all. You’ll want to talk to your stone manufacturer or provider about what selection is best for your kitchen and its level of use. If you are looking to go with something porous like marble, they may suggest opting for a polished stone versus a honed one, which is shinier, less likely to absorb splatters (though warning… it still will somewhat), and slightly easier to clean.

Credit: Joann Pai

Another big pro? That design drama I mentioned earlier. Uninterrupted slab surfaces might be less graphic than tile, but they still pack plenty of visual interest in a cookspace. There’s also reason to believe that this kind of backsplash could add value to your home down the line, too, should you want to sell one day. More stone equals more money, so consider this a feature that will have a pretty good return on your investment.

All in all, I’m very into this look, and I think slab backsplashes have major design staying power, especially when you consider the subset of homeowners that have long desired something cleaner and more modern looking than traditional backsplash tile. Stone has never really gone out of style in a kitchen or a bathroom, so this kind of backsplash just might be worth the splurge if you’re looking to renovate in the near future. You could probably even pair this feature with butcher block countertops, too, if you’re looking to save a little and shake this trend up. Here’s to hoping we see more slab backsplash applications in 2021 for inspiration.