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A High-Impact DIY Tile Backsplash to Give Your Kitchen a Facelift

Bonus: It’s totally removable

August 28, 2017

Josef Albers—an influential mid-century artist, educator, and author of the color theory tome Interactions of Color—is something of a household name in design savvy spheres. It’s another Albers, though, that’s captured my affection. Josef’s wife Anni Albers reluctantly turned her creative eye to textiles when the Bauhaus school barred her from enrolling in a glass blowing class. Women were meant to weave, Weimer’s (male) leadership believed in 1922. So, weave Anni did, becoming one of the most celebrated textile artists of the 20th century.

Annie Albers textile design #anniealbers #textile #pattern #screenprint #bauhaus #germany

A photo posted by Rob (@thoresen206) on

Fast forward to earlier this year, when I visited Fajalauza Ceramics on the outskirts of Granada, Spain. Founded in 1640, the tile shop has been family-owned for over 375 years. Browsing the stacks of ceramics on their floor (and mulling over the mess of tomato flecks on the drywall behind my Brooklyn rental apartments’ cooktop), I spotted a stack of navy and white diagonal tiles, haphazardly organized and teetering.

Anni Albers’ iconic éclat weave instantly sprung to mind.

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At $0.50 a pop I bought as many as I could carry, and bundled them into newspaper, sweaters, socks for their trans-Atlantic journey in my carry on-bag.

This is where we're headed! Photo by Biz Jones

In a traditional backsplash installation, you would secure tile directly to the wall, spacing the tiles evenly and filling the spaces with grout. This is not a traditional backsplash installation! Rather, it’s an attempt to offer renters—or homeowners wary of commitment—a simple, quick and temporary solution to stovetop splatter.

No grouting required, no permanent wall damage… just a few tiny screw holes that can be concealed with a swipe of spackle. Here's how to make it:

What You'll Need

Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • One piece of plywood, at least 1/2-inch thick
  • Ceramic tile of your choice, enough to cover the plywood
  • Type 1 mastic, pre-mixed tile adhesive
  • A notched trowel
  • One French cleat, with appropriate wall fasteners
  • An electric drill
  • Paint
  • A paintbrush
  • A circular saw (optional; you may be able to have your plywood cut to size at a local hardware or home improvement store.)
  • A pencil
  • Blue tape

How to Make the Backsplash

1. Determine your design and overall dimensions

Lay the plywood on a flat surface. Place the tiles on the plywood in your desired arrangement, butting them up next to each other. Be sure to begin in a corner to ensure that your backsplash has true 90-degree angles. (See my note above on grout! If you choose to grout, use plastic spacers to achieve the right distance apart.)

Stop your rows when you reach the approximate width of your range. Stop your columns when you reach the approximate height of the space between your countertop and upper cabinets. Because your tile size will determine the overall dimensions of your backsplash, it may not be perfect. That’s okay! The goal here is not perfection, but simplicity. My backsplash is about 2 inches short of my upper cabinets and 3 inches short of my cooktop width; it still looks (and works) great!

Photo by Mark Weinberg

For an Anni Albers effect, start by placing each tile in the same orientation. Once you’ve established the overall dimensions, randomly rotate individual tiles until you’re happy with the effect.

2. Document the layout

This step’s important! You want to remember your layout, particularly if you are using handmade tile, which can vary slightly in dimension. I documented my layout with a pencil, marking the back of each tile with:

  • An arrow to indicate the orientation (e.g.“this side up!”);
  • A grid designation (e.g. “A1, A2…B1, B2.” Think Battleship!)

I recommend snapping a photo as a backup, especially if you’re following along with the Anni Albers look, or otherwise risk mixing up the tile orientation.

3. Cut your plywood to size

Use your pencil to trace around the edges of your tile on the plywood piece. Remove the tile from the plywood, recreating the grid pattern on the floor next to the plywood—far enough away to be out of danger, but close enough that you can easily reach it once your mastic is ready for tile application. (Mastic has a quick dry time, so you’ll want to have the tile ready to go!)

Use your circular saw to cut the plywood along your pencil border. (If you don’t have access to a circular saw, you may be able to have your plywood cut at a local hardware or home improvement store when you purchase it! If you take this route, swap out the plywood in step for a large sheet of paper to determine your dimensions. Bring this paper with you to the store, to use as a template.)

4. Secure ceramic tile to plywood

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Using the notched trowel, spread mastic over the surface of the plywood. Make sure the channels are running in many different directions to enhance grip; the more textured the mastic, the stronger the hold! Quickly place your tile in the desired pattern and press into the mastic, giving each tile a small wriggle to settle into the mastic.

If your backsplash is particularly large (ten-burner range, anyone?) and you’re nervous about the mastic drying, you can apply it in stages. Check the back of the container for your window to place the tile.

Lay flat to dry 24 hours, or as directed on the mastic container.

5. Paint the edges

As the mastic dries, you might notice the plywood warping. It’s okay! The wood is responding to the presence of moisture on only one side.

I recommend waiting until the mastic is fully dry before painting the edges of your plywood, but if you’re in a time crunch, you can you can paint the edges while the mastic dries—just be very cautious not to disturb the tiles.

6. Attach the French cleat

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Once your mastic is fully dry and your tiles secure, you’re ready to install the French cleat you’ll use to secure the backsplash to your wall.

Follow the instructions on the French cleat packaging to install, being careful to preserve a parallel line with your countertop. (Pro tip: A paper template can be helpful here to make sure the backsplash is mounted at the appropriate height!) Be sure, too, to use the appropriate wall fasteners for the wall behind your stovetop.

7. Hang and enjoy!

Congrats! You’ve got yourself a renter-friendly, temporary backsplash. And, if you mimicked our pattern, an homage to a brilliant woman in design history.

Have you ever tried your hand at backsplash installation? Let us know in the comments below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As a Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns a commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

This post was originally published in October 2016.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • sirgroiney
  • Smaug
  • Alex Kalita
    Alex Kalita
An indoor and outdoor enthusiast. Happiest cooking at home with a podcast on, or hiking towards a campfire meal. Believes the best design is simple and approachable. (And thinks DIYs should be too!)


sirgroiney February 8, 2022
I was looking for a temporary solution to see if I even liked these tiles for the longer haul so it's a perfect plan for my stove backsplash! I had glass tiles previously and it took hours to remove most of it, trying not to destroy the drywall. In the end we had to cut the drywall out and replace it because as I tried to hack away the tile and grout I broke through the drywall! This trial backsplash will save me a lot of grief!
Smaug October 11, 2016
Well, it did say temporary, but plywood is a very poor tile backing; it moves too much. This piece has already bent and unbent in response to the moisture in the mastic; that side will now be relatively waterproof and it will continue to bend- the other way- in response to humidity (and possibly heat, especially if your oven vents from the top). Might last a few years, might not- depends on the conditions in your kitchen.
Alex K. October 12, 2016
Yep, you're absolutely right -- tile on plywood is strictly for limited engagements. Though this grout-free tutorial is really recommended for a temporary backsplash only, I suppose you could eke a slightly longer lifespan out of the plywood by adding a cement backer board or waterproof underlayment membrane (like you would in the application of tile to a plywood subfloor.) What do you think, Smaug? Would you recommend the additional step for readers concerned about warping, or those who take the extra step of grouting for enhanced longevity?