A sluggish economy and limited budget might put a kybosh on the dream kitchen that’s on the top of the home improvement bucket list, but even an old, dingy kitchen can be spruced up by installing a backsplash to showcase your style and creativity, and brighten outdated spaces. Tile is a top choice for backsplashes because of durability, but the following low-cost alternatives require only minimal expertise in exchange for big visual impact:
Wallpaper: Wallpaper is underrated for its durability and versatility in spaces other than dining rooms or hallways. In fact, it’s simple to use as a backsplash because you’ll be handling short pieces, plus heavy-duty vinyl coated paper can withstand lots of abuse and is easy to wipe down. It hides a multitude of sins, minimizing wall defects. Shop for wallpapers made for kitchens and baths, as they tend to be heavier weight, or textured papers. “Paintable” wallpapers come in every style imaginable – from geometric shapes to textured fabric to Venetian plaster – and they are an excellent choice when you want coordinate them with existing kitchen decor. After installing and painting this type of wallpaper, apply 1-2 coats of water-based acrylic polyurethane to increase water resistance. TIP: Run a bead of clear silicone caulk (non-glossy) along the top and bottom of the wallpaper to prevent the paper from lifting.
Pegboard: This material is no longer limited to the workshop or garage. Pegboard comes in a variety of materials – hardboard, metal (including stainless steel) and polypropylene. Metal pegboards are offered in a variety of colors by several manufacturers and are the most expensive, but have the widest variety of color choices. Hardboard is least expensive, but armed with a can of spray paint, a homeowner can convert the dull brown board into something bright and beautiful. A pegboard backsplash is a perfect choice to organize small spaces. Manufacturers offer a plethora of accessories including hooks in all sizes, bins, shelving and baskets.
Slat-wall systems fall under this category, utilizing horizontal grooves instead of holes for pegs. Originally manufactured to showcase retail merchandise, their popularity has increased in alternative applications because of their selection of organizing accessories and modern look. They also come in a variety of finishes – expect to pay slightly more than you would for pegboard to gain the advantage of being able to customize colors.
Wall Panels, Planking and Wainscoting: Can you say “cheap?” Melamine wall panels, or composite planking and wainscoting can be installed in less than a day and is probably the most inexpensive alternative for a backsplash. Cheap and easy doesn’t mean it has to be ugly – some panels are made of hardboard or MDF, but many are composed of wood veneers including birch, oak, or textured faux brick surfaces. Some are designed for high-impact, and resist mold and mildew as well. Cut to size, they can be fancied-up by edging them with decorative trim. TIP: If you choose a panel with a wood veneer, whether you leave them natural or apply a custom stain, but sure to apply 2-3 coats of clear polyurethane for water resistance, and seal edges between the board and countertop with clear silicone caulk.
Wine Cork: Feeling artsy and a tad ambitious? A wine cork backsplash is not for the weak of heart, but it’s absolutely beautiful and unique. Start collecting corks long in advance of this project (you’ll probably want to elicit the help of friends and acquaintances), because it takes a lot of corks! Installation is time consuming but not difficult: Purchase and cut a ¼ piece of plywood to fit the space you want to cover exactly. You’ll need to install, and then uninstall the board – marking places where you can hit a stud and attach it securely to the wall. Once you’ve completed this step, remove so you can lay it flat to glue the cork. Cut each cork in half lengthwise and glue them to the board in any pattern you’d like (herringbone or straight up/down). Leaving a cork-size opening in places marked for reattachment – you can fill these spaces in after it’s re-hung. TIP: Use strong adhesive made for cork material; otherwise, the cork will loosen up and fall off. To seal, use high-gloss or semi-gloss varnish for protection against water and seal top and bottom seams with a bead of clear silicone caulking.